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Harnessing the power of AI to meet our sustainability goals  

by uma



By Ana Paula Assis, General Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, IBM 

There has been increasing conversation across Europe about AI. Its uses, its role in business transformation, its ability to help connect businesses closer to customers and, importantly, its ethics and how it can be deployed in a responsible way, However, not enough has been said about the role AI, and the data behind it, can have in sustainable transformation. Most organisations are reviewing how AI can help them to modernise, but now is also the time to explore how it can help them reach their sustainability ambitions and set out implementable programs. And the need has never been greater.  

With rising energy costs, and the ongoing climate crisis, there is a need for business to urgently accelerate the speed and scale of action, while ensuring investment remains reliable, affordable, and sustainable for business. Digitalisation is thus a vital enabler and accelerator in this journey – with AI technology a crucial tool to be harnessed.  

Pressure on sustainability targets and action  

There is no doubt that the climate crisis is creating strains on businesses, including damage to assets, disruptions to supply chains, and increased pressure from consumers and regulators to meet sustainability targets.  

There remains a goldmine of valuable data, observations about our planet as well as business operations, that we are not yet taking advantage of to make better decisions. Taking advantage of weather and climate data, responding to operational challenges related to climate disruptions, and planning for the long-term impacts of climate change on businesses’ strategies and investments are all necessary to address climate risk. 

 AI’s unique ability to collect, analyze and generate insight from complex data sets within the area of climate and sustainability is a powerful tool for stakeholders. In fact, IBM’s latest survey on Global AI Adoption Index 2022, found that two-thirds of the 7,500 IT chiefs surveyed either used or planned to use AI to achieve sustainability goals. 

 Zooming out to achieve an effective sustainability approach 

Taking a 360-degree sustainability approach means more than reducing emissions. Businesses must focus on building a sustainability strategy including areas such as ESG data, climate and weather insights, intelligent infrastructures, green IT, supply chains, and more.  

The following are some ways in which AI in climate data can help us take more sustainable actions and fight climate change: 

        Extending the life of physical assets: AI software can help organizations extend the life and improve the efficiency of physical assets such as building, machinery and critical infrastructure. 

        Creating more efficient and resilient supply chains: AI’s ability to analyse large amounts of data, provide visibility into operations, and support better decision-making makes it a potential game-changer for creating more efficient and resilient supply chains. Moreover, AI also enables a circular economy by creating transparent, equitable, and net-zero supply chains through intelligent workflows. 

        Managing the impact of climate on business operations: Integrating AI with environmental, climate, and weather data can help adapt to and mitigate climate change by analysing climate risk accurately at scale and accounting for carbon emissions precisely. By measuring emissions at both the macro and micro level, reducing emissions and greenhouse gas (GHG) effects, and removing existing emissions from the atmosphere, AI can assist in mitigating the climate crisis. 

        Creating more efficient IT and data centres: Using AI, organizations can proactively manage their IT infrastructure, such as servers, storage, and networking, by proactively monitoring its health. With minimal manual intervention, AI can also be used to provide data centres with deep monitoring capabilities coupled with the ability to instantly adjust to need. 

Enabling businesses to embrace AI  

The use of AI to tackle sustainability challenges isn’t hypothetical, it’s already happening. One example of a business that is fully maximising the benefits of AI is Yara. IBM together with Yara, a global leader in fertilizer, created the app FarmWeather for small-holder farmers.  
It helps them to maximize crop output in spite of unpredictable weather conditions. The app leverages AI and IoT to provide risk forecasts and crop advice for a 3-4km radius of a farm and allows information sharing – including via SMS for farmers without access to the internet or a smartphone. It provides instant agronomic advice to millions of farmers globally through accurate weather data and AI solutions to improve yields, reduce fertilizer and costs, and combat the impacts of climate change. AI truly has the power to help businesses globally meet sustainability goals. 

The need for responsible AI 

As we seek to use AI to tackle some of the biggest sustainability challenges we face, it is also right that we make sure these tools are deployed responsibly and sustainably. Organizations reviewing their use of AI must ensure that this powerful technology is used responsibly and that its benefits are felt broadly across society. We believe it is critical that the development of AI is human-centered, meaning it is explainable, fair, robust and transparent. Without the responsible use of AI we hamper the sustainable progress we can make. 

Organizations should seize the opportunity to roll out AI in a responsible way that not only helps them modernize – absolutely critical in this challenging economic environment – but also helps them to transform to achieve their sustainability goals.  

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