State of Green Business

How emerging tech can counteract climate change

Walden Kirsch/Intel
RESOLVE’s Eric Dinerstein holds the internal workings of the TrailGuard AI anti-poaching camera system during a recent demonstration in the mountains south of Monterey, California. The Intel Movidius Myriad 2 chip in the camera uses artificial intelligence to identify potential poachers.

A recent United Nations Environment report suggested that nations must triple mitigation efforts in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. While it is still possible to course-correct on climate change, we are quickly running out of time — the U.N. suggests that we have until 2030 to close the emissions gap.

The private sector must increase its efforts and further collaborate on industry-wide solutions to help bridge the gap. At Intel, we believe that global climate change is a serious environmental, economic and social challenge that warrants an equally serious response by both governments and the private sector. Our Climate Change Policy outlines the steps we take to reduce our own footprint and how we work with others to influence the development of sound public policies. In addition, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G communications and the Internet of Things (IoT) have incredible potential to address long-standing environmental challenges — from energy efficiency to resource management to predictive analytics, to name a few. As we and other technology companies work to reduce our own climate footprint, our technologies also can help dramatically reduce society’s footprint.

We recently conducted a survey with research firm Concentrix of more than 200 U.S. business decision-makers who work in environmental sustainability to better understand how emerging technology can be applied today and in the future. The results show that emerging technology holds enormous potential: 74 percent of respondents agree that AI will help solve long-standing environmental challenges; and 64 percent agree that IoT will help solve these challenges.

Looking deeper at the expected benefits, 92 percent of respondents agree that emerging technology will help organizations detect issues and develop solutions more easily through predictive analytics, while 90 percent agree that emerging technology will enable a broader toolset where multiple specialists can interact and collaborate to improve environmental sustainability.

Despite this, emerging technology remains a largely untapped source of environmental solutions for businesses.

Our survey reveals that a third of business leaders identify cost as the biggest challenge. We discussed cost as a potential barrier at an Intel-hosted workshop with sustainability and technology leaders from organizations across academia, the Fortune 500, private-sector companies and environmental nonprofits at GreenBiz’s VERGE 18 conference. Participants found the survey results surprising because emerging technology solutions can produce significant savings.

Our survey also reflected this ambivalence: While cost is the top perceived barrier, 86 percent of respondents agree that emerging technology will decrease the cost and time associated with addressing environmental sustainability.

As IoT devices and machine learning algorithms become commonplace, companies are finding greater access to real-time data and insights, helping companies make cost-effective decisions while eliminating inefficiencies. Those considering adopting emerging technologies should look at total cost of ownership, factoring in long-term benefits and savings; not simply focusing on short-term expenditures. 

As emerging technology is widely adopted, industry collaboration and private-public partnerships will be key to long-term systemic change. For the last several years, we’ve seen promising applications of emerging technologies being used to address environmental challenges, such as smart city IoT technology, digital solutions that use natural resources more efficiently and smart, green buildings. Each required collaboration among multiple players across public and private sectors to achieve the end result.

Currently, Intel is working with a leading forest management non-governmental organization (NGO) and drone manufacturer to deploy drones in Costa Rica in order to build 3D models of forests’ surfaces. By capturing information about tree health, height, biomass and other factors to provide estimates of the amount of carbon storage, the project is providing unparalleled access to highly precise information about carbon capture that will be used to determine long-term implications for scientific research, management, conservation, monitoring and other uses.

Emerging technologies also can be applied to other environmental challenges. Backed by funding support from the National Geographic Society and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the nonprofit RESOLVE is employing Intel AI technology to detect poachers entering Africa’s wildlife reserves and alert park rangers before endangered animals are harmed.

As we move forward, we’ll need to place a greater emphasis on creating strategic partnerships for an even greater environmental impact. In doing so, we jointly can build new systems that are smarter, more efficient and able to help address the changes our planet is experiencing. And we need to work with governments at all levels to foster public policies that enable the expansion of market demand for smart technologies.

The opportunity is now to come together. It’s the only way to drive true transformation and create positive change for the environment.