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Sustainable AI: Green innovation towards better tomorrow

10/06/2024 minute read OneAdvanced PR

According to our 2023/24 Annual Trends Report survey, 42% of organisations invested in sustainability while 62% say they prioritise it to stay compliant and improve their business reputation. With this being said, today, sustainability is no longer an option – it’ a necessity. However, achieving sustainability is not just limited to environmental and social practices, it extends to the sustainable use of technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is where the concept of sustainable AI comes into play.

So, what does sustainable AI mean? How is it related to Environment, Social, Governance (ESG)? And why should organisations focus on creating sustainability in AI? These are some important aspects that we will explore in this blog.

What does sustainable AI mean?

Sustainable AI is a practice of creating AI solutions that focuses on reducing the environmental impact of AI technology and improving its long-term sustainability. It encompasses strategies, principles, and robust frameworks aimed at minimising the power consumption and carbon releases throughout the AI product lifecycle, from design and creation to operation and disposal. Sustainable AI also known as ‘Green AI’ or ‘Eco-friendly’ AI.

Google’s DeepMind is an ideal example of AI sustainability. It harnesses the power of AI to optimise the cooling systems in its data centres and, hence, reduce the energy usage by 40%.  Microsoft practices sustainable use of AI to become carbon negative by the end of 2030. Additionally, its AI-powered Earth program focuses on providing resources and support to organisations working on environmental sustainability. Other examples include IKEA’s sustainable use of AI to streamline the supply chain operations and lower waste.

What is sustainable AI from ESG perspective?

Environmental (E)

A study conducted by MIT Technology revealed that training a medium-sized generative AI model (LLM models) using a process called ‘Neural Architecture Search’ produces electricity and energy consumption equivalent to 626,000 tone of CO2 emissions.

Sustainable AI or AI sustainability, from environmental aspect, is a modern approach used to decreases the power usage and carbon emission associated with the use of AI technology. This involves optimising data centres, improving the energy efficiency of AI algorithms, and leveraging renewable energy sources.

Social (S)

From social standpoint, sustainability in AI underscores on the development and deployment of AI technologies in ways that respects human rights, protects user privacy, and encourage fairness, transparency, and inclusivity. By eliminating discriminatory outcomes in AI images, stressing on the ethical practice of AI implementation, this modern concept aims to exploit AI for social good.

Governance (G)

As AI has the potential to supercharge the creation of fake news about wars, elections, and natural disasters, it results in grave consequences such as undermining trusts, influencing decisions, ruining reputation, and societal unrest. Hence, its critical for businesses and governments to collaborate and take urgent action to address this issue.

Sustainable AI, from governance angle, is about creating robust governance framework to ensure the responsible and ethical use of AI. This framework incorporates transparency in AI decision-making process, adherence to data privacy rules, and clear policies for AI training and deployment.

The importance of sustainable AI in business

Based on our last year Annual Trends report, 54% of organisations are investing in AI. As they look to AI for innovation, productivity, and efficiency, it is crucial for them to consider the lasting impact of this technology on society and environment. That is where the significance of sustainable AI becomes relevant.

Here are some key reasons why AI sustainability is the key priority for our businesses.

  • Energy efficiency: Sustainable AI helps companies in enhancing energy efficiency. One example is Google. By employing sustainable AI algorithms to optimise the cooling systems, reduce energy usage, and minimise carbon emission, Google have significantly contributed to improve the energy efficiency of their data centres.
  • Encourage innovation and competitiveness: Sustainability, is an important responsibility for businesses. Incorporating sustainability in technology like AI makes your business stand out in the market and hence boosts competitiveness. Furthermore, sustainable AI encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking for organisations to develop AI solutions that maintain a perfect balance between technological advancement and responsible practices.
  • Create resilient and responsible future: Sustainable AI has the potential to build a better future. And that is one of the important aspects why organisations should prioritise sustainability in AI. Embracing the sustainable practice of AI solutions can help companies to contribute towards mitigating climate changes, encouraging social equity, and setting up ethical standards which are necessary for technological advancements.

What are the challenges in building sustainable AI?

While the advantages of sustainability in AI is immense, achieving it not a smooth task. Here are the key challenges involved in building sustainable AI:

  1. Data quality: The quality of data used to train AI models has a significant impact its effectiveness. If the data is biased, incomplete, or incomplete, it results into discriminatory outcomes and hinder sustainable practices of AI.
  2. Computational power: AI models require a significant amount of computational power, particularly in case of training and processing substantial data volumes. This leads to high energy consumption, which, results in a large carbon footprint.
  3. Hardware recycling issue: Recycling hardware is becoming increasingly difficult due to the growing quantity of electronic waste, creating a challenge for the sustainable advancement of artificial intelligence. A possible sustainable approach is to recycle and repurpose old hardware to reduce the demand for new resources.
  4. Lack of awareness: Though sustainable AI is gaining attention, businesses and developer are still struggling to understand its importance and implementation process. Training initiative and proper education are the only solutions to address this problem.

Sustainability is beyond just a check box!

As we step further into a tech-driven world, the need for sustainability will grow more. At OneAdvanced, our aim is to empower customers not just to meet but surpass their sustainability goals. A few of our initiatives aligned to sustainability goals are:

Paperless revolution: Through embracing digital transformation, we assist clients such as the NHS in reducing or eliminating their reliance on paper. With our Docman solution, we save six tonnes of paper a day by digitising letters and communications that would traditionally be printed. Additionally, our virtual learning platform has saved our education sector customers 1.5 million sheets of paper in 2023 alone.

Greener cloud infrastructure: We promote the adoption of cloud-based solutions that support digital workflows in collaboration with partners offering modern, eco-friendly cloud infrastructure. For instance, Amazon Web Services, the world’s largest cloud storage provider, has reached 90% renewable energy for its infrastructure. This transition offers significant environmental benefits, as energy-efficient data centres for cloud storage consume less electricity than traditional on-premises servers, thereby lowering the carbon footprint.

Movement towards waste reduction: Efficient material usage is crucial for many workflows, and our software empowers customers by digitising workflows, tracking shipments, and ensuring efficiency to minimise waste. This has proven effective with our distribution, logistics, and manufacturing clients, who save over £700,000 weekly by reducing human error.

With these actions in place, we at OneAdvanced, are committed to deliver software solutions that foster a more sustainable, efficient, and accountable corporate landscape and that have a positive impact on not only our customers, but their customers, people and communities too.

Now, what is next? Read “Earth Day: Unleashing software's potential for sustainability” by Sally Scott, Chief Marketing & ESG Officer, and unlock the insights on what OneAdvanced is doing to promote sustainability.