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Your company already has a recycling program, has invested in training around minimizing waste of all kinds, and routinely seeks to purchase materials and services ethically. But is that really enough? Could you be pushing the boundaries a little bit more to do your part in creating a future where we aren’t worried about sustainability?

The answer is a tough one because most of us want to do all we can to ensure future generations are left with a planet that is healthy. But there may be ways you can do even more using technologies you previously wouldn’t have considered. 

How VR and AR Can Be Used to Further Corporate Sustainability Initiatives

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) likely weren’t what you guessed when you thought of technology to improve corporate sustainability initiatives. But these two related technologies are some of the best for helping corporations to reduce their environmental footprint and increase their long term sustainability. 

Sustainability encompasses more than the environment though. There are four pillars to sustainability:

  1. Human
  2. Social
  3. Environmental
  4. Economic

When evaluating the different corporate sustainability initiatives that your organization could invest in, be sure to look at all four pillars. Human sustainability relates to how business activities impact communities around the world, and ensuring that all humans involved in the services and products provided are supported, especially in terms of health and wellbeing.

Social and economic sustainability are closely tied. Both are in support of equality and the rights of all people, as well as the environment. Economic sustainability looks to improve and maintain the standard of living, and to utilize assets as efficiently as possible. And lastly, environmental sustainability, which most are familiar with, is ensuring that businesses are doing everything they can to ensure their impact on the planet itself is not doing any harm to the ecosystems or environment. 

Here are three different examples of how VR and AR could be used to further your sustainability commitments.

1. VR Can Bring the Overseas Suppliers to You

Living through the COVID era of remote work, it’s now easier to see how people could be employed, from their homes, without needing to travel. Extend that even further to how business meetings are conducted, and there would also be limited requirements for in-person meetings when it comes to new suppliers, new partnerships and forming teams of external contractors.

VR can be used to take the current Zoom-intensive remote workforce to the next level. By immersing people into a different environment, they are able to “meet” with new business contacts in a way that is very close to in-person meetings. All the while, there’s been no air travel, no car rentals, and tons of time saved. All of these efficiencies are benefits to sustainability. Jeff Ross, VP of Engineering at MasterpieceVR describes the technology and its benefits eloquently:

“VR is a technology that allows people to work in a completely immersive environment either individually or collaboratively. As such, it is much more suitable for remote working than existing tech like teleconferencing and WebEx. People can share their work and collaborate effectively in a workspace unconstrained by the need for physical spaces.” 

–Jeff Ross – Vice President of Engineering at MasterpieceVR

In addition to the environmental benefits of VR in the workplace, the social and human sustainability pillars are also deeply impacted. No longer do cities need to accommodate skyscrapers and transportation options that are not helping the environment. Cities can actually become more human-centric. 

“Cities could focus infrastructure development on social living rather than on office space. We could build a global workforce without a single building. You could work wherever you have internet connectivity.”

–Jeff Ross – Vice President of Engineering at MasterpieceVR

2. Realistic Portrayals of Climate Change via VR

VR is already being used to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of both positive and negative actions. The technology allows users to be immersed in another world, where they can visualize firsthand the impacts of our environmental sustainability initiatives, and what will happen if we don’t commit to preserving our planet and doing business more sustainably.

If your enterprise is committed to planting trees to offset its environmental footprint, or is donating to charities that will help clean up oceans and do good in global communities, you could be using VR to drive home how important these steps are today. To show employees, leadership and shareholders the results of your corporate sustainability initiatives, VR can show how the world will change. Nihanth Cherukuru explains:

“The inherent immersiveness of VR combined with the realism of AR can help us connect with people at a visceral level, thereby highlighting the importance of sustainable living.”

–Nihanth Cherukuru – Project Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

As an example, a few large enterprises and organizations teamed up to show how the Rimbang Baling wildlife reserve in Indonesia would be impacted by tree planting initiatives. VR let people see rainforest conservation in action. The project was completed in 2017 by the WWF, Google, Lenovo and the ArtScience Museum.

Corporate Sustainability Initiatives

3. AR Will Help Train Employees More Sustainably

AR can be used in large training exercises, where employees can experience a near-real world scenario. Getting new hires as close as possible to the real thing, without needing to immerse them right away into the job will help to prevent costly mistakes in businesses (aiming to reduce unnecessary expenditures and thus improve economic sustainability). 

Big businesses are already using AR to train their employees in controlled environments. For instance, WalMart and Chipotle are both using AR to train their employees right now. AR allows employees to train for their jobs without materials, consumables and office space needing to be purchased. Environmental sustainability is also met by limiting the production and consumption of resources.

VR and AR Will Be a Part of the Corporate Future

There are many articles about how VR and AR can be used to further business’s bottom line and to stay ahead of the competition. But the heart of the matter is that technology should also be doing good in our society, both for our efficiencies in resource/capital management at work and in our efforts to leave the planet better than we found it for future generations.