Five ways AI is building on sustainability

This transformational technology is bringing meaningful and positive change

In Summary
  • The ability to predict, prepare and respond to such situations can be life-saving.
  • Conservationists rely on camera traps to monitor wildlife populations, but one camera can take hundreds of thousands of pictures every month.
Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence

AI today majorly revolves around building solutions that can learn from experiences, spot patterns in terms of data analytics and make predictions better than any device has been able to do before.

This technology can give present-day governments, businesses and citizens the tools they need to make systematic change.

Here are five ways different organisations like Google and its partners are using AI to help reduce emissions, protect nature and build cleaner environments.


1. Helping communities to predict and prepare for natural disasters

The impact of climate change in communities around the world is something we are already seeing, with natural disasters affecting millions of lives almost every year.

The ability to predict, prepare and respond to such situations can be life-saving.

With AI, companies like Google can predict the trajectory of, for example, hurricanes, typhoons and floods so as to share forecasts and advice on how to stay safe on SOS Alerts and Maps.

By combining satellite imagery with AI analysis, Google is able to identify which areas need help after a disaster has struck.

This in turn helps rescue organisations reach those most in need quickly.

2. Recovering global wildlife populations

Tools like Wildlife Insights aim in recovering global wildlife where it uses AI to help conservationists and nonprofits better track, understand and share insights on wildlife populations.

Conservationists rely on camera traps to monitor wildlife populations, but one camera can take hundreds of thousands of pictures every month.

Processing and analysing them is time-consuming and inefficient.

Using AI, Wildlife Insights can analyse and classify each photo making it easy for users to filter to see photos of a particular species or geo-location.

Google Cloud enables different organisations from across the globe to upload, store and share their findings on the platform.

This according to the tech giant removes silos and helps assess results on a global level.

In the Philippines, ZSL uses Wildlife Insights to track endemic species, while in Columbia, the WWF and UNDP are helping build a wildlife corridor for jaguars.

3. Cleaning up fashion’s supply chain

The fashion industry is one of the largest contributors to the global climate crisis, with much of their

impact occurring at the raw materials stage of the supply chain.

For instance, when cotton is farmed, or trees are cut down.

According to Google, when brands source these materials, they often have little visibility on their environmental impact.

For instance, Enter Global Fibre Impact Explorer is a tool that gives companies the data needed to make more sustainable sourcing decisions.

It was developed in partnership with NGIS, Stella McCartney, Textile Exchange and WWF Sweden.

The tool, which is expected to formally launch later this year, uses Google Cloud and Earth Engine to help brands identify the environmental risks of over 20 fibres.

“This provides recommendations for risk-reduction which include opportunities to work with local communities,” said Google.

4. Preparation for extreme heat

Heat Islands are caused by their surrounding infrastructure leading to poor air quality, dehydration and other public health concerns.

Cities across the world are trying to reduce these heat islands which are basically patches of a city that become particularly hot in a heat wave.

Tools like Tree Canopy, which is part of the Environmental Insights Explorer, use imagery and AI to help local authorities identify heat islands and plant trees to combat them.

Currently being rolled out to nearly 350 more cities globally, the tool has already been used across the US to plant trees in vulnerable areas and parkways, as well as bus stops in tree-shaded areas.

5. Giving more sustainable options

A lot of people are most probably already using AI to reduce emissions without even realising it.

Features like Google Maps use AI to suggest the best walking or cycling routes as well as suggesting the most fuel-efficient routes for journeys where someone needs to drive.

Google said that electric vehicle drivers with software built-in are now using AI to recommend the best charging stops based on factors like current traffic, the charge level and expected consumption.

Since 2011, Google’s Nest Thermostats have saved over 120 billion kWh of energy, enough to power one million electric vehicles for over 320,000 miles each.

The thermostat uses AI to learn user schedules and adjust the heat accordingly, even turning it off when someone is out.

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