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AI, blockchain, sensors, IoT, and mobile ubiquity are not the usual buzzwords you associate with corporate sustainability, but there’s a new wave of environmentalism afoot, and business and tech executives are already getting on board.


How Tech Is Turbocharging Corporate Sustainability

AI, blockchain, sensors, IoT, and mobile ubiquity are not the usual buzzwords you associate with corporate sustainability, but there’s a new wave of environmentalism afoot, and business and tech executives are already getting on board.

AI, blockchain, sensors, IoT, and mobile ubiquity are not the usual buzzwords you associate with corporate sustainability, but there’s a new wave of environmentalism afoot, and business and tech executives are already getting on board.


Innovation is upending business as usual. The same disruptive innovations and technologies that are changing our lives and revolutionizing virtually every sector of the economy can be used to scale solutions to our most urgent environmental challenges.

Today, companies are joining forces to use technology to make environmental problems not only visible but actionable. At the recent Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco, 21 companies, including Bloomberg, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Lyft and Salesforce, announced the launch of the Step Up Declaration, a new alliance dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors.

As we accelerate climate action, the path forward requires embracing the solutions available today while driving the innovation and new technologies needed to create a better future. One where companies, communities, and the environment thrive.

21st Century Tools For 21st Century Challenges

In any era, under any administration, the hard work of environmental and social change uses the best available tools, and today those tools include technological innovations that are turbocharging transparency, corporate responsibility and action.

Executives working to raise the bar on corporate sustainability have a new wind at their back. Emerging technology is empowering business leaders to accelerate sustainability. Environmental Defense Fund* (EDF) surveyed over 500 high-level executives for a benchmark report exploring how emerging technology is driving business sustainability. The results are extremely promising, especially in the tech industry.

86% of tech executives agree that emerging technologies can help businesses’ bottom line as well as improve their impact on the environment — a figure that increases to 91% among those in the C-suite.

It’s clear that business leaders across industries already understand the important role that tech plays in aligning business and sustainability goals. And recent on-the-ground innovations are advancing environmental solutions at a frenetic pace; here’s a small taste.

Mapping Pollution from Your City Block to Space

The local effects of pollution are significant, variable, and often invisible. EDF’s work with Aclima, the University of Texas at Austin and Google showed that air pollution can be as much as eight times higher on one end of the block than the other. Now, EDF is working with the city of Houston and connected vehicle technology maker Geotab to deploy “future fleets” across the city. These low-maintenance air pollution monitoring systems sit atop city vehicles, and are matched with telematics technologies that offer location, speed, and other data. With telematics, information can be aggregated, anonymously, across multiple fleets to create maps that pinpoint the exact locations of pollution hotspots.

EDF scientist Dr. Elena Craft set out with a handheld pollution monitor after Hurricane Harvey damaged a Houston refinery

In addition, a new generation of inexpensive, portable air-quality sensors is making it easier for citizen groups and individuals to monitor the air around them.

While local action is important, we also need to use new technology to monitor harmful pollution at the global level. EDF will develop and launch a new satellite that is built to locate and measure methane emissions from sources worldwide, starting with the oil and gas industry. Free and open data from this satellite is intended to give both countries and companies robust data to spot problem areas, identify savings opportunities, and measure their progress in reducing methane emissions over time.

The Technology Revolution in Farming

Agriculture is one of the last major sectors to experience the digital revolution and it’s a market ripe for growth. In 2017, tech startups in the agriculture sphere raised $670 million to develop software management, big data analytics, automated equipment and other cutting-edge tools that help farmers grow crops with scientific precision.

Farmer Scott Henry tracks plant health data for his crops

Now, a new generation of tech-savvy, data-hungry young farmers have reinvented large-scale agriculture. By analyzing data gathered from new sensors, tractors and satellites, today’s farmers can track crop health, make planting decisions and guide soil heath practices to improve the efficiency of their businesses like never before.

Advances in precision agriculture  are leading to better farming and conservation outcomes, and have been especially helpful in tackling fertilizer loss, a particular concern for farmers, as nitrogen fertilizer is one of their biggest expenses. It’s also a major contributor to water pollution and climate change.

Big Data and Hackathons Helping Fishermen

Top coders are competing in hackathons to thwart illegal fishing, strengthen human rights protections for fish workers, improve the market power of small-scale fishermen, improve fish species identification, democratize fishing regulations and more.

Swedish fishermen are using an open data platform called FishRight to track, purchase and trade quota allocations in accordance with fishing regulations. And in the US, innovations in global broadband coverage, sensor technologies and machine learning are helping to bring fisheries into the information age.

Blockchain: Driving of Transparency across global supply chains

The potential for blockchain to revolutionize electricity markets holds great promise. In LO3 Energy’s microgrid project in Brooklyn, New York, residents use a simple app to trade electricity they generate from solar panels to neighbors in need of extra power.

Walmart is working with IBM to use blockchain to track every bag of spinach and head of lettuce across its massive supply chain to pinpoint and eradicate food contaminants. The upside for the environment is less food waste. For business? Increased supply chain efficiencies. For consumers? Improved food safety.

The time to accelerate sustainability is now

Emerging technologies are enabling businesses to fast-track sustainability as never before: making global supply chains more transparent and trackable; surfacing valuable data on previously invisible emissions; and helping reduce packaging, waste and energy use.

Executives charged with balancing business and environmental goals must recognize the influential role that technology plays in raising the bar for corporate sustainability. New opportunities are at their fingertips.

Tech innovations empower business leaders to balance profitable growth with environmental stewardship. This is no longer an either/or scenario; we need both.

[About the author: Tom Murray is VP, EDF+Business at @EnvDefenseFund @EDFBiz. Sharing thoughts on the #environment & #sustainablebusiness. Husband, dad, skier, diver. Follow @tpmurray]

*This post is supported by EDF; images courtesy of the company

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