Applying technology to sustainability is a win-win for business and profit

This week, business executives, tech entrepreneurs, and investors met in Aspen, Colorado at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2019 conference. This annual gathering brings movers and shakers together to discuss the latest tech trends and how businesses can find a competitive edge in a fast-paced marketplace. From retail to transportation to entertainment, technology advances are changing every industry, and knowing where the trends are heading can mean the difference between Netflix and Blockbuster.

Yet there was one key topic missing from this year’s Brainstorm Tech: how technology can be leveraged to improve a company’s environmental performance as well as the bottom line. Technology is changing the way we do business but it can also accelerate efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Technology enables measurement

Sensors aren’t new, but they have proliferated in recent years, with the global environmental sensors market predicted to be worth more than $3 billion annually by 2027. These sensors are making it easier and more affordable for companies to detect, visualize and manage a wide array of environmental impacts.

For example: Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas responsible for 25% of the warming we’re experiencing today. The largest source of industrial emissions is the oil and gas industry, which loses $30 billion worth of methane each year from operations. That’s why companies like ExxonMobil and Schlumberger are working with Stanford and Environmental Defense Fund to uncover best in class mobile methane monitoring technologies that can help the oil and gas industry find and manage emissions in a faster, more efficient way.

In London, a coalition including Environmental Defense Fund is using data collected by state-of-the-art sensor technology data to provide Londoners and businesses with a visual tool showing their exposure to air pollution around the city. As study after study shows how air pollution is bad for businesses, it’s in executives’ best interest to gain an understanding of the problem and of the solutions.

Technology improves efficiency

Google is using AI and machine learning to consume less energy, cut energy bills, and reduce emissions. Its DeepMind team has been able to use AI to reduce the amount of energy for cooling in their data centers by up to 40 percent. The company is also using machine-learning algorithms to harness the power of wind energy by predicting wind output 36 hours in advance and delivering optimal hourly delivery commitments to the power grid. Google reports that “machine learning has boosted the value of our wind energy by roughly 20 percent, compared to the baseline scenario of no time-based commitments to the grid.”

Research from PwC estimates that using AI for environmental applications in agriculture, water, energy, and transportation could contribute up to $5.2 trillion to the global economy, 38.2 million net new jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4% in 2030 an equivalent to the 2030 annual emissions of Australia, Canada and Japan combined.

Technology minimizes risk

The climate risk analysis industry is also on the rise. Jupiter Intelligence, for example, recently raised $23 million to expand its business into new areas like wildfire risk assessment for companies and cities.

Forward-thinking companies like AT&T are also using supercomputers to analyze climate change risk and inform business decisions. AT&T has collaborated with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to create climate model datasets that help zero in on extreme weather risks.

The company then uses the data to determine how climate change will affect its business and ensure the safety of its employees, customers, and communities. In addition, AT&T is sharing the climate data with the public from communities to universities to help all become more climate resilient.

Looking ahead

Technology is playing a major role in helping us find solutions to the most pressing environmental challenges our planet has ever faced. At EDF, we refer to this megatrend as the Fourth Wave of Environmental Innovation. It’s the latest stage in environmental progress driven by cutting-edge technology to give people the power to take action on climate.

The majority of business leaders are already investing in cutting edge-technologies to drive business growth and maintain their competitive edge. But they may be missing out on the opportunity to leverage these same technologies to improve their environmental performance.