How Sustainable Are Industry 4.0 Technologies?

The fourth industrial revolution is popularly known as Industry 4.0. This revolution is known for the application of intelligent and disruptive technology in business. These technologies have substantially enhanced the production efficiency. These technologies can impact the sustainability goals of society and the environment. Industry 4.0 increased production efficiency, brought flexibility to the manufacturing system, and improved productivity. Traditional production systems are known for creating environmental and social hazards, including increased global pollution, higher resource consumption, natural ecological degradation and loss of flora and fauna. These faulty practices have contributed to increased disparity between rich and poor, global poverty, social inequity and global peace and prosperity. Should Industry 4.0 be better than current traditional manufacturing, and if so, how can we look at Industry 4.0 practices as more sustainable and less hazardous for society in general?

Industry 4. 0 Technologies are more complex as they integrate communication, information, manufacturing and intelligent technologies that provide higher profit potential, efficiency, productivity and improved workplace conditions. These can be grouped into two sets of technologies, i.e. physical and digital. Physical technologies refer to manufacturing technology like additive manufacturing, sensors and drones. Digital technologies mainly refer to modern information and communication technologies such as cloud computing, blockchain, big data analytics and simulation. Industry 4.0 Technologies

Following table explains the different types of industry 4.0 technologies

  Technologies Definition
Additive Manufacturing This is a manufacturing technology that creates three-dimensional solid objects (3D) using a series of additive or layered development frameworks.
Artificial Intelligence This area of computer science emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans.
Augmented Reality This is a type of interactive, Reality-based display environment that uses the capabilities of a computer-generated display, sound and other effects to enhance the real-world experience.
Autonomous Robots These are used to replicate human actions in the workplace.
Big data analytics This refers to analyzing enormous volumes of unstructured data used when traditional data mining techniques cannot discover the insights and meanings of the underlying data.
Blockchain This distributed database maintains a wholly distributed and non-tampering continuously growing list of records using new encryption and authentication technology and network-wide consensus mechanisms.
Cloud This refers to any IT services provisioned and accessed from a cloud computing provider.
Robotic Systems This robot is intended to interact physically with humans in a shared workspace.
Cybersecurity This refers to preventive methods to protect information from being stolen, compromised or attacked.
Un-crewed Aerial Vehicle (Drone) This is an aircraft without a human pilot on board and is commonly known as a drone.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) This is a technical marvel made possible by satellites in Earth’s orbit that transmit precise signals, allowing GPS receivers to calculate and display accurate location, speed and time information to the user.
Industrial Internet of Things The various hardware pieces that work together through IOT connectivity to help enhance manufacturing and industrial processes.
Mobile technology This is the wireless communication technology integration based on wireless devices.
Nano Technology Also known as molecular nanotechnology, is used to control individual atoms and molecules to fabricate macro-scale products.
RFID This refers to technology that uses wireless communication between an object (tag) and an interrogating device (readers) to track and identify such objects automatically
Sensors and Actuators This is a device that responds to a physical stimulus (heat, sound, pressure, magnetism or a particular motion) and transmits a resulting impulse (as for measuring or operating a control)
Simulation This refers to a set of technologies that use the computer to imitate a natural world process.


This may sound weird for understanding this high-technology application and further linking it with sustainable development goals. However, any new technology aims to improve profitability and generate greater good for the environment and society.

Sustainability can be understood from various dimensions, e.g., sustainability involves meeting the current generation’s requirements without compromising the future generations’ requirements (inter-generational philosophy). Some authors define sustainability using the triple bottom line concept (economic, environmental and social dimensions). Others associate sustainability with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as they are more actionable. The following table explains the relationship between SDGs and Industry 4.0 and specifies each of the goals that can be achieved by implementing Industry 4.0.


SDGs Explanation Relationship with Industry 4.0 technologies
1.      Poverty End poverty in all its forms and everywhere Industry 4.0 technologies can bring access to information, education, healthcare and greater economic opportunity that provide more basic resources and services to the poor people and bring them out of poverty. These technologies can alleviate the unexpected economic losses during disasters
2.     Zero Hunger End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture Industry 4.0 technologies can promote sustainable agriculture and fair distribution systems to make sure that nobody will ever suffer from hunger again. These technologies will help in food security and avoid malnutrition.
3.      Good Health and Wellbeing Ensure healthy life and promote wellbeing for all at all ages Industry 4.0 technologies are enabling the digitization of healthcare, it promotes healthy life style , preventive measures and modern efficient healthcare services for everyone
4.     Quality Education Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all Industry 4.0 technologies can help enjoy affordable, equitable and quality primary and secondary education
5.     Gender Equality Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Industry 4.0 technologies will provide the equal opportunity to succeed  to every function and at every level for both men and women
6.     Clean Water and Sanitation Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Industry 4.0 technologies can help provide affordable equipment and education in hygienic practices that access to clean drinking water and sanitation.
7.      Affordable and Clean Energy Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all Industry 4.0 technologies will bring sustainable energy efficiency to enable both increased quality and cost savings to users.
8.     Decent Work and Economic Growth Promote exclusive and sustainable economic growth Industry 4.0 technologies have significant direct and indirect economic impact while not harming the environment. Economic growth will create decent and fulfilling jobs
9.     Industry Innovation and Infrastructure Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation Industry 4.0 technologies as new industries and information and communication technologies are the important ways to promote sustainable industries, investing in scientific research and innovation, upgrading infrastructure.
10.   Reduction of Inequities Reduce inequity within and among countries Industry 4.0 technologies can help to connect the unconnected and helps to bridge the digital divide in reducing inequities within and among countries and people
11.    Sustainable Cities and Communities Make cities inclusive, sustainable, resilient and sustainable Industry 4.0 technologies can help build modern, sustainable, intelligent public order, safety and secured cities with green and culturally inspiring living communities
12.   Responsible Consumption and Production Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns Industry 4.0 technologies are already bring used to bring greater efficiency  across industries, greater transparency in supply chains and improved production and consumption practices
13.    Climate Action Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts Industry 4.0 technologies can lead to a reduction of CO2 emission by data centered and targeted timelines
14.   Life Below Water Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources Industry 4.0 technologies can contribute to more sustainable use of ocean resources by working against plastic and other toxic dumping, developing recycle processes and protecting sub-sea level flora and fauna through sustainable practices
15.    Life on Land Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss Industry 4.0 technologies are keys to management of forests and biodiversity by using drones and other IOTs to protect deforestation and protection of land
16.   Peace, Justice and Strong Institution Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies Industry 4.0 technologies can ensure and promote a responsible farm or supply chain, human rights and freedom of expressions
17.    Partnership for the Goals Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development Industry 4.0 technologies can help collaborate with a broad range of stakeholders in order to drive sustainable development forward


Industry 4.0 will alter how we understand competition and counter challenges like ecological imbalances, global competition, volatile markets, non-transparent value chains, and information asymmetry and help shape demand through customized, sustainable consumption, scientific use of information and communication technology and big data warehouses. Applying new technologies will help managers make informed decisions based on logic and scientific advances rather than managerial gut feelings.


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