How technology can foster sustainability objectives

How technology can foster sustainability objectives
May 3, 2023  |  BY

For many years, corporate America resisted the call from activists to be more environmentally conscious. They said it would be too expensive. Besides, they felt, the planet’s doing just fine.

But time and facts changed the attitudes of executives. They realized that fighting off sustainability was a losing battle. In fact, they recognized that embracing environmental causes could only benefit their organizations: One hand they could improve the health of the planet, and on the other they could improve the organization’s financial health. Everyone gains.

So companies began to recycle. They started to use environmentally friendly building materials. They implemented green transportation and energy usage policies.

Organizations are now taking their sustainability efforts to new heights by investing in smart technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and blockchain. And there’s proof that this strategy makes a measurable difference: According to a PriceWaterhouseCooper study, “over two-thirds of sustainable development goals can be bolstered by emerging tech.”

For example, smart tech helps to boost energy efficiency initiatives. One way it does that is via connected sensor technology, which adjusts lighting and air conditioning levels based on the amount of employees occupying the space at any given time. In this way, organizations reduce energy costs while lowering carbon emissions.

Forward-thinking companies are also using AI combined with renewable energy sources to gain even more efficiencies. Some are using AI to get the most from the clean energy sources that drive data centers. Here, AI ensures that energy-intensive processes are properly calibrated to the times when the maximum amount of electricity is available. Once again, organizations save on energy and do their part to reduce climate change.

The supply chain has historically been overlooked in discussions about corporate sustainability. However, leaders now understand how every link in their supply chain can affect the environment, for better or worse. Now, blockchain technology can address this issue, as it ensures sustainable sourcing methods throughout the supply chain. This applies to raw materials as well as pre-assembled parts and other essential elements of the supply chain. Along with reducing emissions, blockchain can also streamline operations and improve worker productivity.

Companies can also improve their sustainability efforts with their actual product design process. Using AI algorithms, management can analyze product performance data, which can then be applied to improve performance and energy efficiency. Ultimately, this leads to more durable products, meaning less waste and a greatly reduced carbon footprint.

That’s an important point to keep in mind, as sustainability goes beyond how products are developed – companies need to think of the entire product lifecycle. Consider that waste is responsible for approximately 20% of global methane emissions.

Thankfully, smart technologies can also positively impact waste management. In this role, sensors and metering technology identify areas where waste can be minimized. Specifically, the technology monitors the types and volumes of waste, and suggests strategies to improve recycling initiatives.

AI-assisted waste management programs have also been implemented by local governments. Smart technology detects garbage and recycling left on city streets, automatically maps the area in real time, and then shares this data with the proper sanitation departments. Innovative programs like this allow cities to become cleaner and healthier, propelling them to meet their sustainability goals.

Beyond the execution of sustainability initiatives, smart technology assists with the administrative side of the equation. Soon, organizations might be required to deliver more accurate ESG reporting (environmental, social, and governance reporting). AI and sensor technology are perfect technical allies for this task, as they provide a high-level of data quality. And because the data get automatically compiled, companies save significant time and costs for compiling ESG reporting. Even more, due to the accuracy of the data, companies can more precisely forecast trends and proactively adapt to future government regulations.

ESG scores aren’t only important to meet governmental standards. Today, many investors use ESG reporting as part of their assessments about the financial health of potential purchases. They understand the connection between lower emissions, lower operating costs, and higher profit margins. Accordingly, implementing AI, blockchain, and other smart technologies can increase the appeal of the organization to financial suitors.

As you can see, when it comes to sustainability, the means justify the ends. Some executives have genuine environmental and ecological concerns. Others understand how green business practices improve the bottom line. Either way, smart technologies accelerate the speed at which companies achieve those goals.