With the increasingly urgent discussions of climate change and global warming, there is also a growing awareness of the importance of sustainable activities. But treating the environment thoughtfully isn’t just a moral question: environmental degradation is also a serious danger for the global economy. Artificial intelligence can be an important tool in the effort to adopt responsible business practices.
“If we properly incorporate artificial intelligence, we can achieve a revolution with regard to sustainability. AI will be the driving force of the fourth industrial revolution,” says Hendrik Fink, head of Sustainability Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Germany’s largest auditing and consulting company. His comment aptly describes the opportunities opened up by new technical developments. In business, for example, it is now common to use systems that analyze and intelligently interpret meaningful data, with one application being the optimization of work and manufacturing processes.
Optimization for the environment
In the future, moreover, it will also be in the interest of small and medium-sized businesses to pay attention to sustainability and environmental issues. For example, information that arises during the production process could be used to improve the energy consumption and capacity of machines. The positive effect for the environment then stems from the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. A similar idea applies to sustainability-related risk assessments of company locations. AI can also be used to optimize materiality and stakeholder analyses, or general calculations of emissions. As a result of comprehensive digitization, the data needed for this is increasingly available – it just has to be harnessed with intelligent algorithms.
Such systems are already in use in many areas where work is being carried out specifically for the purpose of environmental protection. Whether it be global climate models for predicting problematic weather scenarios, smart farming for sustainable agriculture or intelligent electricity grids to regulate energy consumption – innovative, intelligent technologies have already been adopted in all of these fields. But this is just the beginning, as shown by a recent study in the series “Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth,” which was commissioned by PwC and the World Economic Forum.
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Eighty applications of AI
The authors of the study identify the six most important problem areas of global environmental degradation. Within these areas, they see significant opportunities for sustainable practices with the help of artificial intelligence. The study outlines over 80 possible uses for AI solutions. In the field of climate protection, for instance, there is potential in the areas of autonomous e-mobility, intelligent energy grids or weather modeling. Green energy, sustainable land use, “smart cities” or “smart homes” are further economic sectors in which meaningful data can be intelligently analyzed and exploited to greater effect in the future.
Species conservation presents another urgent problem. Here, good results can be achieved through AI-based pollution control, control of invasive species, disease control and prevention, and “green economics.” The same applies to the fields of water protection and air pollution control. Here, the possibilities include smart air filtration systems, efficiency enhancement in water consumption, sustainable prevention strategies for droughts and water shortages, clean fuels, or integrated, adaptive urban management in real time.
In all of these areas, it will come down to companies – whether publicly traded or small and medium-sized companies – acknowledging their responsibility and at the same time recognizing the benefit for their own commercial activities. Increasingly, there is useful data available for almost all areas, data that can be analyzed and incorporated into practices that allow companies to satisfy their corporate social responsibility, an ideal that is becoming ever more important. And the more meaningful data there is, the smarter the artificial intelligence gets, and the larger the synergy effects from economic benefits and sustainable impacts become. In that sense, thinking about the environment pays off twofold.