One Hundred and Fifty Years of Innovation: Harnessing new attitudes and emerging technology to ensure a sustainable future

Friday August 2, 2019 0 comments Tags: Dr. Isabel Yang, Advanced Energy

By Isabel Yang

Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President

Advanced Energy

Long before the sustainability movement went mainstream, Vermont Congressman George Perkins Marsh spoke about the critical connection between the environment and human survival in his seminal lecture to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County in 1847.

Challenging conventional wisdom, which at the time attributed unusual temperature and weather variations to unexplainable natural phenomena, Marsh brazenly stated: “Man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow, yet it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action.”yang-mug.fixed

Widely considered America’s first conservationist, he went on to reveal the destructive impact of human activities on the natural environment in his book Man and Nature that, published in 1864, quickly rose to high acclaim by supporters and critics alike. Prescribing reforms that when properly implemented would ensure the long-term welfare of both man and nature, his observations and ideas not only laid the foundation for environmental management in the United States and Europe but also significantly influenced the 150 years of innovation that followed.  

From the first environmental statute, the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 to the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, focus on sustainability in America and beyond has resulted in continuous innovation to address the ongoing challenges of an evolving planet.

Today, corporations are integrating sustainability into governance best practices, with forward-thinking businesses developing remarkable products and services that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In addition to electric vehicles and solar panels and windows, which provide an energy alternative to coal and natural gas and reduce greenhouse gases and carbon footprints of individuals and organizations, companies are finding solutions to pressing societal and environmental concerns -- and turning a healthy profit doing it.

  • Pedestrian-powered electricity

British clean-tech startup PaveGen launched in 2017 to create high engagement with citizens by converting their footsteps into energy. Installing a 10-square-meter stretch of connected pavement in the heart of London, the intelligent slabs turned the kinetic energy of pedestrian steps into electricity while generating power for the nearby streetlights illuminating their path. Today, PaveGen has expanded interests to 36 countries worldwide, generating over £1,8 million ($2.25 million) in revenues in 2018, with installations including transport hubs, smart city developments, retail destinations and education institutions in the US, UK, Korea, India, Hong Kong, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

  • Biodegradable packaging that’s good enough to eat

By now, most people are aware of the enormous impact of plastic on our oceans and sea life. National Geographic estimates that 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations every year -- the equivalent of placing five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world. Recognizing the critical need to preserve such an important ecosystem and find a solution to reduce the 300 million tons of plastic produced every year, a UK sustainable packaging start-up called Notpla (formerly Skipping Rocks Lab) has developed a potential game changer. Made from seaweed and plants that biodegrade naturally, its flexible packaging for beverages and sauces can hold almost anything a plastic container holds, plus they are edible and cheaper. At the April 2019 London Marathon, runners were treated to Notpla’s Ooho drink bubbles in an effort to reduce to just 215,000 the estimated 760,000 plastic bottles that were tossed onto the streets by runners and spectators in 2018. Meanwhile, the company is contributing to the UK’s position as a global innovation leader in sustainable packaging.

  • Artificial trees that clear the air

Addressing the need for purification solutions to combat increasing traffic and industry pollution in inner cities across the globe, Berlin startup Green City Solutions has developed the world’s first bio-tech filter to quantifiably improve air quality with the CityTree. A moss-covered screen attached to a bench and placed in public spaces, each can filter the equivalent amount of dust and other pollutants of 275 real trees. Cost effective and low maintenance, the CityTree can also cool the surrounding air through water evaporation technology which counteracts urban heat islands.

  • Digital factories reshaping manufacturing

In collaboration with McKinsey & Company, the World Economic Forum released a white paper in January 2019 revealing 16 “Lighthouses” of technology and innovation in manufacturing in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0). Reflecting the globalization of industrial manufacturing and the opportunities available for factories of all sizes anywhere on the planet, these beacons are pioneers of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connecting a network of machines and sensors that communicate with each other and humans to transform every aspect of production -- from the plant floor to the end-user experience. At the core, consistent, specific and reliable energy supplies are providing the lifeblood of the smart factory, ensuring against voltage sags, which can create a domino effect of detrimental consequences for robots and PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) controlling motors, pumps, lights, fans, temperature, circuit breakers and other machinery. With high power consumption inevitable, companies are designing a resilient smart IoT-enabled power supply to meet the tight performance and efficiency parameters for today’s most advanced machines and sensors powering smart factories.

Thanks in large part to the Internet and the speed at which information can be shared, people are increasingly aware of the consequences of our collective actions and doing more than ever to ensure a sustainable future. In fact, the results of a CGS survey reveals that nearly 70 percent of customer respondents consider sustainability when making a purchase, with 47 percent willing to pay more for products and services that align with their values and ethics. This striking difference in consumer behavior -- compared  to those of the first, second and third industrial revolution -- gives hope as we enter the fourth industrial revolution while addressing the environmental problems of today.

 It is extremely encouraging to see our youngest generations embracing sustainability as a way of life and have a greater understanding of our inextricable connection to the earth and all of its natural, life-giving resources. As Industry 4.0 progresses, these young minds will not only spark innovation and shift the focus to preserving the planet but also help influence members of previous generations that may not be as well-informed. As George Perkins Marsh prolifically preached, when we act on that understanding, we tend to prosper; when we do not, we suffer. With a unique opportunity to harness new attitudes and emerging technology, incorporating sustainability -- and best practices -- will lead to a clean revolution that results in a happier, healthier planet while keeping economies and entire communities thriving.


Dr. Isabel Yang is chief technology officer and senior vice president of Advanced Energy, responsible for leading the execution of the company’s global technology vision and strategy. Prior to joining AE, Dr. Yang served as VP of corporate strategy and VP of strategy and operations for IBM Research, where she focused on driving leading-edge innovations in such areas as artificial intelligence, healthcare solutions, and high-performance computing. Prior to her strategy role, Dr. Yang spent several years in IBM’s Technology and Intellectual Property Licensing where she formulated strategy and execution for IP asset mining and licensing across broad technology areas including software, IT services, consumer electronics, computers and networking, semiconductors, electronic materials and healthcare and life sciences. Dr. Yang’s early years in IBM were spent in the Semiconductor Research and Development Center developing leading edge technologies for memory and logic chips.

In addition to having over 20 years of industry experience, Dr. Yang holds multiple patents, has written extensively for more than 40 technical publications and was the recent recipient of Most Influential Women in Manufacturing Award as well as well Denver Business Journal C-Suite Award. Dr. Yang completed all of her higher education at MIT, receiving a bachelor’s degree in material science, a master’s degree and Ph.D. in electrical engineering, specializing in solid state physics and semiconductors.