The intersection of technology and sustainability

Underscoring the pivotal role of AI and foundation models
The intersection of technology and sustainability
Technology enhances how companies like IBM support sustainability

In a recent IBM study, almost half of regional executives highlighted sustainability as a paramount concern for the upcoming years. At IBM, we have been at the center of the rapid development of AI and generative AI (GenAI).  We are convinced that the intersection of technology, particularly AI and foundation models, and sustainability is proving to be a pivotal force in addressing the pressing challenge of environmental sustainability. 

AI’s role in enhancing environmental reporting is crucial. Today, companies recognize the need for automated, scalable, and reliable reporting mechanisms for Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) data. Gen AI and large language models (LLMs) streamline reporting, improve data quality, and reduce costs. They use specialized software platforms to capture and calculate emissions, monitor sustainability initiatives, and ensure transparency. Automated data collection also enhances accuracy and identifies patterns for informed decision-making. Generative AI aids regulatory compliance, strengthens ESG reporting, and streamlines processes.

However, AI goes beyond reporting to identify sustainability opportunities. Foundation models, trained on vast generic data and fine-tuned for specific tasks, process large datasets. Additionally, they interact using natural language and extract tailored insights. AI-driven analytics monitor energy consumption, identify improvement areas and offer actionable frameworks for reducing carbon footprints. 

Current projects highlights

IBM is at the forefront of innovative projects that leverage AI and advanced technologies to address pressing global challenges. At COP28, IBM announced the development of a new groundbreaking foundation model for weather and climate in collaboration with NASA. This aims to address climate change by accelerating environmental insights discovery. This new foundation model works, unlike LLMs with geospatial data. And is an extension of IBM’s previous work on foundation models for satellite data.  

The geospatial foundation model for satellite data was leveraged in the UAE in partnership with Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI). The goal is to understand the urban environment in Abu Dhabi. It also aims to explore how the underlying landscape in the UAE influences the formation of urban heat islands.

We have also recently partnered with the University of Sharjah. This collaboration focuses on creating models to monitor and forecast water access conditions in arid regions. It can be done by leveraging the IBM Sustainability Accelerator. We will also be working on a first-of-its-kind roadmap of sustainability skills courses, available for free through IBM SkillsBuild, which will empower future climate action. 

technology sustainability

To help close the global artificial intelligence (AI) skills gap, we recently announced a commitment to train two million learners in AI by the end of 2026. We are particularly focusing on underrepresented communities. To achieve this goal at a global scale, IBM is expanding AI education collaborations with universities globally. We are collaborating with partners to deliver AI training to adult learners. Also, we are launching new generative AI coursework through IBM SkillsBuild.

In tandem, we are working with the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) to utilize geospatial AI models and satellite data to quantify CO2 emissions and identify hotspots for potential mitigation. 

Beyond climate endeavors

Our impact extends beyond climate-related projects. We are reaching into areas such as energy planning in Kenya with Sustainable Energy for All and supporting farmers in Malawi, East Africa, to increase food and cash crop productivity while mitigating climate change risks.

IBM’s diverse range of projects showcases its commitment to using technology as a catalyst for positive change, from addressing climate challenges to revolutionizing supply chain transparency and fostering sustainable development globally.

Read: Sustainable technologies reinforce efforts to preserve environment

Insights into sustaining these efforts post-COP28

Post-COP28, IBM remains steadfast in its commitment to sustained positive change. Building on our innovative ecosystem and collaborative ethos, we envision a future where technology addresses sustainability challenges and propels transformative impact. Our focus extends beyond individual projects, with a comprehensive strategy that includes ethical training for 1,000 technology suppliers and diverting 90 percent of non-hazardous waste from landfills by 2025. Empowering 30 million individuals with skills by 2030 is also a core objective.

To ensure the enduring impact of our efforts, IBM will continue pushing the boundaries of technology, fostering transparency, and nurturing impactful partnerships. Our holistic vision aligns with a commitment to embed sustainability in every facet of our operations. By staying true to our principles and actively contributing to a more sustainable future, IBM aims to be a trailblazer in fostering positive change long after the conclusion of COP28.

technology sustainability

Hendrik Hamann is the chief science officer for climate and sustainability at IBM.

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