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The Blue Economy: Combining Technology and Sustainability to Defend the Seas

Technological development is an important vehicle to achieve sustainability, but companies must open up to innovation. Developments in the Blue Economy – protecting our marine environment and sustainably using ocean resources for improved social and economic life – offer inspiring examples of how technology is helping to protect and enhance the most vital element of our planet’s natural resources.

01 September 2021 • 4 min read

The fight against climate change is humanity’s great challenge of the 21st century. Finding a way to stop the disintegration of terrestrial ecosystems is one of the main objectives for contemporary society; among these, those most in difficulty are the seas and oceans. To try to stop this negative process, a lot of support can come from technology. For this reason, the Sustainability Goals Championship was born in NTT DATA in 2019, whose goal is to make technological skills available to achieve the UN goals of the 2030 Agenda.

In particular, great attention is paid to the Blue Economy. The sea has always been one of the greatest human challenges: space to be conquered and at the same time a resource to be protected; man constantly obtains food, raw materials and jobs from the sea resource. In short, this is the economy of the sea which in the European Union had a turnover of €750 billion in 2018, according to the Commission.

The Blue Economy is the evolution of the Green Economy: while the latter asks companies to invest to reduce the environmental impact, the Blue Economy wants to completely eliminate the environmental impact and emissions harmful to the planet, starting from the ocean and approaching it as a unique and fundamental tool for sustainable growth.

The Blue Economy is the evolution of the Green Economy: while the latter asks companies to invest to reduce the environmental impact, the Blue Economy wants to completely eliminate the environmental impact and emissions harmful to the planet, starting from the ocean.

The European Union supports the economy of the sea through various instruments: the European Fund for Strategic Investments, for example, has invested over €1.4 billion in Blue Economy projects, such as building new ports and creating cleaner shipping. Added to this are the creation of a new fund, BlueInvest, and the financing by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development of a series of projects concerning the Blue Economy. In total, €45 million has been allocated to support startups and SMEs that develop innovative products, materials and services, capable of contributing to improving the conservation of the oceans and the sustainability of the blue economy.

Training, automation, monitoring: how technology can help the economy of the sea

The concept of Blue Economy is very broad and there are many facets that can be found within it. As NTT DATA, we have focused on the role that technology can play in guaranteeing the sustainable development of this sector, which has not yet fully opened its doors to technology: for this reason the ideas and projects that go in this direction take on even greater value.

We are therefore working to develop, in collaboration with universities, partners and centers of excellence, business models and technological solutions that are future-proof for the Blue Economy.

The first aspect that we have studied in depth in which technological experience can be very useful is the training of port operators: through virtual reality, they are trained in less time and in total safety; this aspect is fundamental above all with regard to emergency situations. Certain circumstances, in fact, even if properly studied and analysed, cannot be adequately managed if not personally experienced. Virtual reality allows us to recreate these emergency scenarios, preparing port operators to deal with them in a safe and considered way.

With regard to the structure and functioning of the ports, the intervention of technology can still be greatly increased, for example through the automation of many service structures which, through artificial intelligence, can guarantee a higher level of safety of the port docks.

It is possible to devise a model for the oscillation of cranes in container loading and unloading operations, by predicting the effects of wind. Careful and precise monitoring, which only technology can guarantee, can be applied to the entire coastal area, so as to always have under control any meteorological criticalities that can represent a great danger for ports and their workers; thanks to this, it is also possible to schedule maintenance, having the certainty of always operating in maximum safety.

To be truly successful, we must also look beyond the Blue Economy’s use of technology, and embrace open collaboration: all companies operating in the maritime sector need to open up to innovation.

Another area where we are applying our technological approach is with a view to safeguarding biodiversity, and in particular fish farming: the idea is increasingly spreading that breeding must respond to quality standards, which are always controlled and certified to prevent the unlimited exploitation of marine resources for commercial purposes.

This verification operation is made possible thanks to the use of technologies such as blockchain, a very useful tool for identifying problems and monitoring farms: it is possible to map the life cycle of each fish, from when the eggs are raised, in in order to certify that the final product respects all the quality standards in the entire supply chain.

Beyond technology

To be truly successful, we must also look beyond the Blue Economy’s use of technology, and embrace open collaboration: all companies operating in the maritime sector need to open up to innovation (for example, appointing an Innovation Manager dedicated to achieving collaborative innovation goals). Awareness is certainly increasing but the gap is still wide, because the maritime sector still lacks real know-how on exploiting the potential of technology for business and the environment – not only from the technical perspective but also the conceptual and organisational point of view (despite the benefits being evident and clearly higher than the costs, as certified by all the realities that have already started this process).

The concept of education and information takes time, but it is important not to waste even a minute. The funds of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan can give a big boost to this transformation process, which is why it is essential that these steps are already taken by 2025. The process, by its nature, is slow and long-term, but many companies have already started it, thanks to the entry into the world of work of the new generations, more open to innovation and with a greater awareness of sustainability.

It is important that these examples are not isolated cases but become the rule: the economy of the sea offers a great opportunity for companies, for the financial sector and for each of us, to enhance the ocean, coastal areas and marine ecosystems, create jobs and boost social development.

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