By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the process of using machines to think and act like humans. These machines can help us extract insights to leverage real AI capabilities and advance our progress toward environmental sustainability.
Emerging technologies have brought new dimensions to AI and environmental sustainability, and our AI usage has increased exponentially. With artificial intelligence, companies have a new way of thinking about improving internal processes, processing large quantities of data and developing solutions that are sustainable for the long term.
Thanks to AI, we can look at numerous options to improve our business efficiency and develop technology that is environmentally friendly. For example, microchip manufacturers can create better waste management strategies to ensure more recyclable parts and less waste in landfills.
Similarly, AI can help farmers manage to raise crops more efficiently and make better use of fertile land. AI can also ensure that food can be transported more efficiently through supply chains by identifying bottlenecks. Overall, AI can reduce our environment impacts, which include reducing carbon emissions.
The Use of Green Data Centers
Green data centers can build environmental sustainability by helping companies move toward carbon neutrality. AI will play a role to reduce waste and to increase productivity using machine learning. As more companies collect big data, there is an increasing need to have high-powered computers to analyze and store that data.
This need to process vast amounts of data creates a huge demand for energy resources and can increase a company’s carbon footprint. The servers at these data centers, for example, expend heat and need copious amounts of energy to keep them cool.
As a result, some countries, such as the Netherlands, have put a moratorium on creating data centers. Building environmentally sustainable data centers means developing construction requirements that utilize renewable energy to create an energy-efficient environment.
Lower carbon footprints can be achieved by using alternate energy sources such as solar or wind power and incorporating thermal energy techniques into a building’s design. Thermal energy usage includes redirecting heat and air conditioning to lower overall usage. For example, the heat expended from large mainframe computers could be redirected to heat offices in the same building.
Five critical areas that need to be addressed to enhance AI and environmental sustainability include energy consumption, digital trust and responsibility, the circular economy, digital inclusion, and supply chain management. To maximize our use of digital technologies and diminish any problems, there needs to be a common purpose that embraces the principles of transparency and collaboration.
We need to create an environment where technology, innovation, and collaboration can transform the energy usage of countries around the world. Standardization and accountability are also key to ensure the maximum impact on our environment. We must deliver on our ambitious promises for climate change, which include providing AI solutions to societal and environmental challenges.
How AI Can Improve Our Environment
What are some ways to that AI can be used to improve our environment on a long-term scale? Here are some suggestions:
- Sustainable environmental technology solutions can be developed to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. For example, cell phone companies have trade-in programs where the customer receives a discount on an updated phone. In exchange, the company can reuse toxic materials from the phone.
- Behavioral incentives could be used to encourage people to make a significant impact on their environment and understand the benefits of becoming eco-friendly. This effort will include informing the public of their environmental impact and creating programs that will actively benefit the environment. For users who are less likely to switch to renewable energies they perceive to be unreliable, for instance, awareness campaigns can help inform them of the benefits of new environmental technologies.
- Environmentally friendly processes and systems need to be implemented to achieve an optimal green impact. Data protection and security are two weak points in using AI. People should have confidence that using AI technology does not compromise their privacy, and stronger data protection standards should be employed. Likewise, cybersecurity safety measures need to be explained to the public in an easy-to-understand manner.
- Education, policy and partnership are needed to sustain long-term environmental sustainability. The public needs to receive practical information about our evolving AI environment. Also, we need to develop policies to shape future AI initiatives. AI and environmental sustainability are a global effort, so partnering with like-minded companies at the local, state, national, and global scale is imperative to achieve any type of sustained environmental impact. Collaborating with public institutions and governments is crucial to allow for educated and impactful policies and implement innovative solutions.
- There needs to be a global awareness of how AI and environmental sustainability crosses international borders. For example, humanitarian and disaster relief organizations can use AI to pinpoint areas that need assistance, provided that both the distributing and receiving countries utilize the same AI technology. Likewise, transportation advancements, such as autonomous vehicles and more efficient air traffic regulations, need to be an international effort to achieve sustainable results.
- Utilizing robotics and machine learning can optimize the management of data centers. Energy clouds enable companies to expend energy into data centers by using renewable energy and indirect evaporative cooling to develop greener, more sustainable centers and reduce carbon footprints to a net-zero level.
- Since 2010, the number of internet users worldwide has doubled, while global internet traffic has grown around 30% per year. The demand for data and digital services is expected to continue its exponential growth. With this expanded demand, there has been a 21% increase in e-waste over the last five years worldwide. Electronic devices can be refurbished, reused and reallocated to decrease the amount of electronic waste.
Sustainable, long-term progress in improving our environment requires contributions at local, state, national, and international levels. We need to encourage a corporate commitment to the amplification and acceleration of sustainable environmental goals through AI.
Lowering our carbon usage and emissions cannot be an afterthought. For the benefit of future generations, companies need to develop metrics to address an organization’s commitment and connect its core business model to environmental sustainability goals.