At the global level, the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations play a major role. Agenda 2030 is an expression of a new quality of policy: everything should be considered and addressed with a view to sustainable development. In contrast to previous programmes on sustainable development, the Agenda applies equally to industrialised countries, emerging economies and developing countries. The 17 sustainable development goals have therefore also been incorporated into the German government's strategy. In 2019, the German Advisory Council on Global Change issued a report on "Our Common Digital Future" and made concrete research recommendations in the context of sustainable digitisation. OFFIS also orients its research towards sustainable development goals such as health and well-being, high-quality education, affordable and clean energy or sustainable cities and communities.
But sustainable consumption and production will also receive more attention in the future. For example, industries will be increasingly challenged to respond to rising demand coupled with increased volatility on the raw material markets and shortages of certain raw materials. Furthermore, the importance of extended producer responsibility (EPR) for consumers and legislative institutions is growing. For these reasons, end-of-life products are becoming increasingly important as a source of secondary raw materials, as new raw materials and products normally require more resources for their production than secondary raw materials or remanufactured products. There will be increased requirements for the traceability of raw materials in industrial supply chains. The objectives pursued by the German government in this context are (a) to increase the sustainability of products through reuse and (b) to avoid "conflict raw materials”. Problematic here is the monitoring of the complete supply chain of raw materials and the proof that raw materials from recycling processes are used. A so-called "reverse supply chain" is, due to many actors, much more difficult to trace than a traditional supply chain, which usually has few actors.
It is precisely the digitization of the traceability of raw materials from recycling processes that is the focus of a new preliminary research project of OFFIS. First approaches are based on methods of data storage and processing and their traceability within reverse supply chains. Big data methods as well as distributed ledger technologies, but also artificial intelligence have to be investigated in this domain.
In general, an IT-supported tool for closed loop supply chain management (within a company) and for open loop supply chain management (across several companies) will be needed in the future. It should enable the traceability of product flows to close loops across entire value chains, including reverse logistics for goods. Several players are already active in the logistics and production phase. However, very few are currently concerned with the end of a product's life. Who knows whether our waste/scrap cannot be the raw material source of tomorrow? All in the sense of a truly sustainable (digital) recycling management.
Contact: Dr.-Ing. Alexandra Pehlken