AI and Green Tech: The Key to a Sustainable Future

By Zuko Mdwaba

Over recent months, people around the world have been experiencing the impact of climate change first-hand. It’s no surprise that we’ve seen an increased drive for businesses to meet growing expectations for environmental accountability.

More and more, investors, customers, employees, and partners want to know that corporations are living up to their environmental, social and governance [ESG] commitments. With growing regulation and disclosure requirements, effective ESG reporting has become a critical element of an organisation’s core business activities.

At COP28, world leaders will gather to discuss environmental issues. Yet every government, organisation and individual has a role to play in tackling climate change.

Zuko Mdwaba, Salesforce Area VP | Africa Executive & South Africa Country Leader

According to Salesforce research, 78% of customers say environmental practices influence their decision to buy from a company.

The world has shifted from voluntary to mandatory ESG disclosures, and while this is still daunting for most businesses, generative AI will become a key partner in meeting these challenges.

In doing so, businesses can also cut costs, reduce complexity, and realise more efficient ways of doing business. They can boast a happier workforce and a healthier financial outlook, too.

Making ESG Easier with AI

Meaningful corporate transparency benefits us all, yet businesses can find themselves lost in the complex landscape of regulatory frameworks.

Many companies view ESG reporting as an operational challenge, citing inconsistent and unreliable data and a lack of clear global reporting standards as pain points.

In a 2022 EY survey, 60% of respondents indicated that their ESG information is found across a patchwork of software applications, while 55% of respondents are housing their ESG data in spreadsheets. 51% percent also reported that within the past 12 months they had spent “substantial time and effort” addressing ESG data collection, aggregation, and disclosure.

There exists tremendous potential in the power of generative AI to meet these challenges, drive further ESG reporting efficiencies and to add value for organisations — helping them save time and costs while improving the state of the world.

Harnessing the power of AI, companies can better track their carbon footprint and help ESG managers shape their company’s ESG program and reporting strategy more effectively.

They can, for instance, manage their data in real time and easily generate framework-specific reports. Delivering actionable reports, forecasting, and visual dashboards to easily identify areas of inefficiencies and high emissions can create tangible plans to become more sustainable and adapt and prepare for evolving regulatory standards.

In addition, suggested responses based on prompts that are in line with specific framework criteria can help companies streamline the ESG report authoring process.

For example, by leveraging a company’s ESG data from previous year’s disclosures, uploaded documents, and other data such as a company’s emissions, teams can benefit from automatically populated responses for each written question in the report.

Upskilling in AI for a Net Zero Future

Today, good engineering is sustainable engineering, especially as industries pivot towards digitalisation. Ensuring the sustainable development and implementation of emerging technologies like generative AI is crucial. One effective strategy is “green coding” whereby technologists reduce carbon emissions associated with the software development lifecycle. Getting started can be as simple as reusing existing code because developing new lines of code requires energy.

While technologists want to act, however, they report little knowledge or training around sustainable development at their job. Nearly half [45%] surveyed confess they don’t know how to develop software applications that do less harm to the environment.

Achieving a just and equitable transition to a net zero future will take an army of qualified individuals — from carbon accountants to scientists to ecopreneurs — working together. But without the qualified talent to fill the roles, an already daunting task is nearly impossible.

When it comes to AI skills specifically, Salesforce research on generative AI skills in the workplace found that 62% of workers say they don’t have the skills to effectively and safely use generative AI.

With an emerging workforce waiting to help, it’s important that businesses turn their attention to training, to make the most of emerging AI and green technologies.

By upskilling existing workers who want to make the jump into sustainability careers, companies can source talent for hard-to-fill roles, support employees to work on something they’re passionate about, and create a workplace where everyone is a sustainability expert.

Zuko Mdwaba is the Salesforce Area VP | Africa Executive & South Africa Country Leader

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