The role of AI in business sustainability

AI in business sustainability

As the latest IPCC report reminds us, only drastic and swift action can avert irrevocable damage to the world. We urgently need to halve emissions by 2030 to save the planet. Businesses, big and small, have significant roles to play in mitigating the climate crisis and protecting the planet and society. In some ways, digitisation and sustainability are like twins. 

In other words, both have big potential to alter the way businesses operate and how people work. AI provides businesses with a myriad of insights and real-time visibility as they take the road toward net zero. The challenges of embracing sustainability will only grow if businesses do not act now, and one way they can act to enhance their efforts is by deploying AI. 

Continue reading to learn more about the role of AI in business sustainability and how you can kickstart the business sustainability journey today. 

The rise of artificial intelligence 

Nowadays, it is difficult to find an industry that has yet to be touched by artificial intelligence (AI). Unsurprisingly, a large body of research suggests that AI could be harnessed by businesses to help better fuel their sustainability efforts. AI can be utilised in several economic sectors and situations to help with managing climate change and environmental impacts. 

Some examples of its application can include helping to spark more sustainable supply chains, developing AI-infused clean distributed energy grids, and environmental monitoring and enforcement. Not to mention, precision agriculture, enhanced weather and even, disaster prediction and response. Microsoft commissioned PwC UK to conduct research that modelled the economic effects of applying AI to manage the environment across four industries. 

These sectors include water, agriculture, transport, and energy. The study found that using AI in environmental applications may increase global GDP by $5.2 trillion by the year 2030. This is a 4.4 percent increase relative to business as usual. It also found AI levels could limit global greenhouse gas emissions and create 38.2 million new jobs. 

Efficient energy management and clean energy are crucial to tackling the environmental emergency. When technology and human skills come together, AI’s true potential for energy management is realised. When data-based insights and digital technologies are added into the loop, we get quicker decision-making, better-informed corporate plans, and enhanced operational efficiency. 

Whilst AI is still quite new to the scene, and many have yet to develop an informed opinion, we have some big climate goals to meet. Unfortunately, meeting these goals without technology or serious intelligence will be rather challenging. Many are already applying AI to test, analyse, simulate, use logic, predict, learn, and adjust over time. These exact capabilities are what companies need to drive decarbonisation and greater energy efficiency but also the transition to net zero. 

How AI can help businesses embrace sustainability 

AI is incredibly impressive, and it has so many different applications that can be useful for business growth and success. Most fascinating, there are lots of ways businesses can use AI to enhance their sustainability efforts. Below are some of the ways AI can help you bolster sustainability within your organisation and examples of businesses that are already harnessing AI. 

AI can help businesses in reducing energy consumption

Naturally, updating inefficient and old systems can improve product quality and processes. However, artificial intelligence allows us to take things a step further. In factories and buildings, AI is being used to collect and monitor information concerning energy consumption. It evaluates the images, numbers, text, and videos it collects and manages energy usage. 

In a lot of cases, this kind of technology is then reducing energy consumption during peak hours. On an even greater scale, AI has the potential to analyse and compress data and information to optimise energy consumption in the long term and predict future potential issues. Google is one big company that has been utilising AI for this exact reason. 

Due to its size, the corporation requires a vast amount of data centres for all of its operations. If not managed well, these centres can consume a significant amount of power. Together with a major AI company called DeepMind, they have researched and built incredibly efficient servers to cool down data centres in order to combat this. 

This partnership has seen Google being able to cool its data centres in a much more efficient manner through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The partnership has enabled them to reduce energy consumed for cooling by a whopping 40 per cent through the development of a more efficient framework. Effectively, they can maximise the efficiency of heating and cooling systems. 

Increasing transparency with AI and satellite data

Another way AI can help businesses become more sustainable is by increasing transparency. We are already seeing this with The Global Fishing Watch platform, which originated as a partnership with Google, Oceana, and SkyTruth. 

Unreported, unregulated, and illegal fishing costs the global economy a significant $23 billion per year. The number of fish stocks across the world is also declining. A solution is needed to increase awareness of this issue, as well as transparency. 

The Global Fishing Watch utilises machine learning to train the system to identify suspicious boat activity at sea. Automatically highlighting hotspots that need further study, it plots suspicious locations on the map. 

Computer vision technology can help to reduce food waste

Businesses are harnessing AI to reduce food waste, a common issue in the hospitality industry. Winnow Vision is cutting-edge food waste technology that enables kitchens to automatically track their food waste. 

It utilises computer vision, a form of AI, to help chefs easily determine waste, curb costs and save time. The social and environmental impact Winnow has by reducing food waste is major, with over 36 million meals saved from entering landfills annually. 

Tokyo Hilton Bay was the first pioneer of Winnow Vision, bringing its technology into its kitchens to tackle food waste and build the kitchen of the future. With this, they have altered their approach to food management and engaged in more responsible operations. 

It can be used to reduce the amount of chemicals sprayed on agricultural produce

AI also has huge potential in the agriculture industry. It can boost both efficiency and productivity whilst being sustainable. Technology such as predictive modelling, machine learning and image recognition is already being used in the sector. For example, Plantix is a mobile app that uses image recognition to detect plant pests, soil deficiencies and diseases. All the user has to do is snap a photograph, and the app tells them all of this information. 

Additionally, aWhere offers agricultural information and insight for real-time agriculture decisions worldwide. They utilise satellite imagery to gather more than 7 billion data points across the globe each day. Then, it uses machine learning to forecast weather, help farmers increase profits and yields, and analyse crops. These AI tools can help farmers to reach a higher crop yield, which means fewer resources are needed to create delicious food. 

The environmental footprint of AI

While AI can help businesses become more sustainable, it is also important to acknowledge AI also has some way to go. Some experts worry about the environmental costs of AI and its associated carbon footprint and greenhouse gases. 

MIT reported that the cloud now has a bigger carbon footprint than the complete airline industry. Additionally, a single data centre could consume an amount of electricity that is equivalent to 50,000 homes. One AI model’s training alone might result in the emission of more than 626,00 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to the MIT Technology Review. 

Therefore, although AI has impressive applications in terms of business sustainability, we must make this intelligence greener. Luckily, there are several ways we can do this. For instance, estimating the carbon footprints of AI models and improving carbon accounting by delivering more accurate and quicker data on sustainability impacts and carbon footprints. 

Analysing the data’s storage methods is also important because some of the biggest machine-learning tasks could be moved to places with lower carbon emissions. Measuring more and increasing transparency is also a must. AI researchers should include measurements of how much energy their model emitted in their reports, as well as accuracy and performance metrics.

Summary

AI can enhance business sustainability efforts. For instance, by balancing electricity supply and demand needs in real-time whilst improving energy storage and use to reduce rates worldwide. Sustainable AI is crucial for reducing and optimising energy. 

Many industries are already using AI, and these technologies are changing the game. However, AI does have a significant environmental footprint. In saying that, if this footprint can be reduced and more businesses begin using AI to enhance their environmental efforts, the use of AI could attain a level close to carbon neutrality.

To pave the way to a genuinely green digital revolution, we need to begin making conscious decisions and leveraging technology that will help us make the big reductions that are needed. Businesses have a big role to play in bringing about a more sustainable planet, and the clock is ticking to act. Our corporate sustainability training can help you build a more responsible business, so you can experience success whilst positively impacting society.

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