AI and Sustainability

How can AI contribute to our world, society or environment? With global technological changes on such a large scale, beneficial changes and innovations can be seen throughout many sectors. Today we will focus on sustainability, and how AI can help us reach different sustainable development goals and build a world which is kinder to our environment and surroundings.

“There are multiple ways to approach the interconnectedness of AI and Sustainability in practice, since we can regard the direct improvements AI can bring to sustainable technologies and industries closely correlated to this, such as the energy or water industry, agriculture and waste treatment. However, AI can also bring more general awareness about sustainability practices and goals, help us grow new projects and consider “”indirect”” industries where changes can be made, such as working to develop sustainable finance or improve humanitarian help efforts through AI.

In this article we will focus on the correlation between AI and our aim of reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
Through AI technologies many of the SDG’s could see a great improvement in the speed or efficiency of different solutions that could help us reach a more sustainable future. According to various studies, AI is expected to affect many relevant SDG targets, such as diversity and inclusion, environmental outcomes, global productivity and resource use. Sustainability relies on three main pillars – economy, society and environment – and SDG’s aim to ensure sustainable practices in all three of these domains by reaching the set targets. “

So what are SDG's actually?

“The SDG’s are a collection of 17 goals implemented by the UN in 2015, which are supposed to be achieved by 2030 in order to ensure a more sustainable future for all. They are aimed at improving the quality of life for all humans and protecting our nature and planet as well.

The idea is to design a better planet, one which is more kind and more sustainable concerning both the environment and our surroundings, but also the economic and social situation of all people in our world.

SDG’s encompass all relevant areas related to our quality of life and the amelioration of future life on this planet. This includes the reduction of poverty, hunger and inequality, as well as the protection of natural resources, animals and habitats. We need to ensure the health and well-being of all the people in our world, the future developments and growth of cities, the level of education and access to clean and renewable resources, the safety and peace of nations, as well as climate action to ensure our future existence and environmental wealth.”

How can AI help us reach different SDG’s?

“AI has seen major new uses in the sustainability sphere, which makes it a great tool for SDG attainment. It has enabled the development of smart grids to monitor city electricity use, as well as managing supply and demand of water and energy. Agriculture is made more efficient by technological advances which enable planning crop production and resource use, as well as monitoring the production. It is also now possible to turn waste and compost into energy to reuse and optimize our consumption.

Similar tracking and optimisation technologies can also be applied in other sectors, and can be very useful for economic developments and financial planning. We are now capable of better risk management concerning disasters and crises, reducing the hazard people live in, which is especially useful for people in high-risk areas, who often tend to be of lower economic status. Renewable energy can benefit people in remote areas who have lower access to power or resources and help us make cities as well as remote communities more safe and comfortable. Traffic jams, industry production, error control and prediction – all these benefit from innovations in AI systems and new technologies.

AI helps us develop new materials and production techniques, making recycling more efficient and helping us innovate in every sector. Hotels and supermarkets can rely on AI-powered tools to reduce food waste and plan their supply. Textile manufacturers can reuse old fabrics in new ways, create smart fabrics which incorporate technology into them, or even 3D-print pieces in order to move towards a zero-waste practice.
Smart city planning also relies on green technologies powered by AI, such as the use of smart vehicles and different greener transportation systems, as well as energy distribution plans, vertical farming incorporated in city plans or new waste management and recycling systems. AI can truly bring much more ease and structure to certain green strategies and their implementation. “

The other side of the story

“However, it’s important to note that AI can also be seen as an inhibitor to the attainment of certain SDG’s, and the carbon footprint and environmental impact of different AI models must be considered as well.

It is also important to note the social implications of such developments. AI is still not very widely used among all economic and social groups, and such intensive progress by some may deepen existing inequalities in the world. Having these advancements can be a great support to many, but we need to try to make such new technologies beneficial to all humans and use them in a way that helps reduce inequality and societal issues instead of making them more profound. “