How Are Digital Transformation Enablers Driving Sustainable Businesses

Date

July 6, 2020

4 min read

With only a decade left to the agreed deadline for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it will be of utmost importance for corporates to align business interests more closely with the standards of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) sustainability.

A study published in 2018, surveying 200 business-decision makers found that over 74% of the respondents are confident about the scope of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in combating various sustainability and associated issues. Against this optimistic trend, key digital transformation enablers are emerging as potent tools for decision-makers to address topics related to sustainability. Here are a few ways AI can be leveraged:

Renewable energy adoption

Each energy generation method is unique in its usability and deployment conditions. Despite the best intentions, companies often find it difficult to optimize their energy mix and usage, aligning it with their business goals. AI-enabled decision support systems can recommend best approaches and possible deployment bottlenecks by comparing diverse streams of data with minimum cost and latency. For instance, by using machine learning algorithms, a computing giant had been able to reduce the energy consumption for the cooling of its data centers by over 40%.

AI-driven systems can also assist renewable energy businesses to establish sustainable operations with minimum ecological footprints and maximum utility. Such technologies find broad applications, ranging from better renewable energy generation forecasting, ensuring grid parity, stability, and reliability to improved demand predictions. International Renewable Energy Agency in its Artificial Intelligence and Big Data: Renewable Landscape Brief reports that a global IT business while working with the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, successfully demonstrated a 30% improvement in solar forecasting through AI implementation.

Water resources management

Although 71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water, only 0.3% is available for human consumption. Unsustainable exploitation of the natural resources left an indelible impact on the earth’s major water bodies and reserves. As a result, we can find unprecedented pressure on the groundwater reserves. According to NASA satellite data, 13 of the largest 37 aquifers in the world are considered significantly distressed. It is predicted that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.

It is here, where Digital Water or water managed through AI and machine learning technologies are proving to be an active force multiplier to promote sustainable water usage. AI is geared to work with large data sets and learn on the go using data analytics, probability logic, and regression models. AI platforms running in tandem with neural networks and sensor arrays can strategize water operations in real-time.

Using intelligent supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and shift-dashboards, STL digitally supervises water consumption and waste management at its production plants. This has helped the company reduce over 20 percent of its freshwater usage for manufacturing as well as recycle and reuse over 78,000 cubic meters of wastewater from manufacturing. Data-driven technologies are also central to monitoring its CSR initiative, Jaldoot, aiming to augment community water harvesting capabilities in the drought-stricken district of Aurangabad in Maharastra, India.

Driving social transformation

AI and data analytics combined with human ingenuity are capable of establishing a levelled social landscape and become instrumental in improving the quality of human lives around the globe.

For instance, Neox Analytical Call Centre, a product by STL is being used to fill the monitoring and assessment gaps in Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), spearheading the Indian Government’s push against illiteracy. Operating in Gujrat, this command and control platform uses live data streams to track and report the performance of over 39,000 government schools, 2.4 lakh teachers, and over 69 lakh students in real-time.

Also, STL has been involved in achieving urban transformation in Gandhinagar, Jaipur, and Kakinada through its Smart City Solution. Along with revamped utility services like electricity, water supply, solid waste management, and sanitation, the solution has also improved urban mobility, road safety, IT connectivity, citizen-centric governance, health, education, and security for women children and senior citizens. Indeed, Gandhinagar has realized a 39% reduction in crime rates with smart surveillance and improved law enforcement systems and 40% reduced energy expenditures, with profound climatic implications.

A techno-human approach to sustainability

The use of AI is not without its share of risks and business challenges. But the tangible outcomes will be ascertained by the successful integration of the digital transformation forces with human judiciousness and integrity. In the present context, the role of AI in the fight against COVID-19, from predicting the path of disease transmission, assisted prognosis, susceptibility assessments to the quest for a cost-effective and accessible vaccine, aptly demonstrates the malleability of the technology. Today, the case is stronger than ever for businesses to invest in artificial intelligence, for the technology is pivotal to addressing the tenets of the Triple Bottom Line. It will not be an overstatement to acknowledge that harnessing the power of AI-driven digital innovations is of prime requisite to scale and ensure business continuity and social-equity in a dystopian world, fraught with uncertainties.


About Author
Akanksha Sharma
Akanksha Sharma Head - CSR & Sustainability Sterlite Tech Foundation

Akanksha Sharma is an internationally acclaimed International Development & Public Policy Specialist on a mission to empower people. She is a ‘Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum’, Writer and TEDx Speaker.

She is a notable voice in the socio-economic development space and is noted amongst '100 Most Impactful CSR Leaders Globally' by World CSR Congress; 'Asia’s Top Sustainability Superwomen List of Honour' by CSRWorks International; ‘Young CSR Leader’ by India CSR and is also conferred with the “Sustainability Leadership Award” by World Sustainability Forum.

Sharma has more than a decade of experience in leadership roles at both large corporations and UN agencies, where she led change for development through strategic decision-making and policy discourse on CSR, sustainability, business responsibility, social entrepreneurship, and impact investments. She currently leads CSR and Sustainability for Sterlite Technologies and has worked with UNICEF and other large MNCs in the past. Her role with the corporates is to advise Boards on Responsible Business and Impact Investments through Sustainability & CSR along with developing organizational approaches to establish strategic partnerships for development ranging across public, private and civil society.

She has mentored non-profits and has served on several boards and policy committees.

Sharma has worked extensively on international development issues such as poverty alleviation, health, education, environment, climate change, gender issues, post conflict development, governance and more in diverse regions of the world.

After completing her Master’s in Business Administration, Sharma has done her specialization from Harvard Business School in CSR.

She is a member of notable national/ international CSR and Sustainability Policy Making Forums of the UN, CII and others. She has been advocating for integrating CSR with SDGs with the UN and the Government.

Sharma is widely recognized for writing a Peace Series between India and Pakistan that was published in the Dawn, Pakistan. Later, she became a “Peace Ambassador” of an international organization, Postcards for Peace, a UK based organization for her contribution on issues related to peace and conflict. Besides, she is a regular writer for Forbes, Times of India, Economic Times, Huffington Post and Dailyo (India Today) amongst many others.

She is a “Global Climate Force Ambassador” and was chosen to represent India on “International Expedition on Climate Change at Antarctica” in 2017.

She has been a notable speaker at various forums on issues related to Public Policy, Business and Government.