Powering a sustainable future: what role can AI play?By Holly Clarke on August 14, 2020
What is sustainability, and what does it mean for the world?
Over the past few years, sustainability has gradually become a greater and more important part of each of our lives. As human beings, we strive to sustain many things; our relationships with others, local and global economies, our livelihoods and the world we live in. We see the act of sustainable living encouraged and documented everywhere – think ‘Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.’ It’s becoming increasingly apparent that every individual in every organization can have a unique and significant impact in creating a more sustainable future.
If humans can have such a measurable impact, what about AI?
The meaning of sustainability has changed
Our minds usually jump to the environment when we talk about sustainability, but its meaning has changed over the years as global priorities have shifted. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it began to represent what we now recognize as the accepted definition: creating lasting and efficient methods through which to live our lives in order to maintain our world for future generations. Be that environmentally, economically and socially.
Why is it so important?
Our planet is ever-changing. This has been highlighted this year, as we watched the COVID-19 pandemic sweep across the world. Countless images began surfacing on social media showing unusual wildlife encounters, and whilst it may be unlikely that Venice has been invaded by dolphins, there has been a huge and relatively quiet impact on the sustainability sector and the environment. Carbon emissions have shown a rapid decline, there has been an uplift in interest in green technologies such as solar power, and the environmental sector is being used across the globe to boost the economy – just this month it was announced that investment would be made in a large green space in the heart of Manchester, just down the road from Peak HQ. Of course, this has all been the product of a tragic global event, and we all long for the day we are all able to get back to the safety and comfort of our normal lives.
But if there’s anything we can learn from this difficult time it’s that we, as both individuals and as key parts of larger businesses, are responsible for the world around us, and that going forward we can have more of an impact than we may realize.
The future of sustainability – what can AI do?
We’re living in an era in which we must develop and utilize technology to ensure we’re leaving our world in a better place than when we came into it. Through collaboration and innovation, we can use technology to ensure we’re all doing our bit to tackle these problems in a dynamic and agile way.
Here are three of the key areas we’re seeing AI help in terms of driving sustainability:
1. Navigating complex sustainability goals…
Businesses are aligning themselves with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to do their bit for the environment. However, actually achieving these goals can be difficult, especially without the technology in place to help.
This is where AI comes into play. By looking holistically at business processes and unifying previously siloed data, AI and machine learning models can factor in far more complexities than the human brain can manage. For instance, this could be balancing availability with inventory levels and working capital. Or, reducing costs, growing profits and increasing efficiency without impacting customer service. These are just two examples, but by underpinning business decisions with the intelligence of AI, organizations can achieve and exceed their sustainability goals even as the world around us changes.
2. …and achieving them in the most effective way
Two businesses may have the same sustainability goals, but the best way of achieving these goals will be different for each of these businesses.
Since every organization is underpinned by unique data, the optimal way to achieve strategic goals will be unique, too. For example, a 5% reduction in wastage might be best tackled through a reduction in waste using dynamic inventory levels and intelligent replenishment, or a reduction in returns by better understanding each customer. A reduction in carbon emissions may be best achieved with logistics optimization, or may be best achieved by optimizing production scheduling to minimize production time. AI gives you the power to deploy bespoke solutions at speed.
3. Being dynamic and adaptable as the world changes
If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us (other than the speed of our home WiFi), it’s that some things just can’t be predicted, and the world is constantly changing. This makes working towards a sustainable future even more challenging.
It’s hard to keep making an impact as the world around us changes and our immediate priorities shift, and the best way to have this impact will constantly change as customers, processes and the environment around us changes. Utilizing AI allows you to be dynamic, respond rapidly to change and ensure you’re always achieving business targets in the most optimal way. If you have a flexible technology which helps you to react rapidly and is accurately underpinned by your unique data, it no longer matters if we can’t ‘see into the future’.
AI is already having a profound impact across many different sectors, by implementing solutions which are faster, more efficient and more intelligent. Every business is different, as are their sustainability targets. But technology can make sure that these targets are achieved and exceeded, helping to drive truly sustainable growth.
For more key reading on AI for sustainability, look here 👇