As environmental sustainability becomes a top business priority, CIOs can look to AI, IoT, and blockchain to drive sustainability outcomes.

Kristin Moyer, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner, Inc.

April 14, 2023

4 Min Read
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Katarina Gondova via Alamy Stock

Environmental sustainability continues to make its way higher on business executives’ list of priorities. Gartner’s annual CEO survey showed that in 2022, environmental sustainability issues became one of the top 10 CEO priorities for the first time in the survey’s history. Leaders across the organization are also treating sustainability as a priority to drive business efficiency and revenue growth.

Digital technologies are critical to help enterprises reach environmental sustainability targets and enable new business models and revenue streams. Digital technologies are already impacting environmental sustainability, and they will continue to play a role in sustainability for the foreseeable future. In particular, there are three digital technologies with massive potential to support sustainability goals: artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain.

CIOs can lead the way in addressing climate change with AI, IoT, and blockchain by deploying the best digital use cases and mitigating negative technology externalities. CIOs need to have a solid understanding of the different use cases and where technologies like these can best help their organizations.

Use AI to Assess, Predict and Mitigate

AI solutions can be used to assess, predict and mitigate climate change and support sustainable waste management. For example, AI techniques such as computer vision can be used to monitor environmental issues like global warming or ice melt. The data gathered from this is then processed, leveraging machine learning techniques, to predict environmental changes. Adaptive systems and continuous intelligence techniques are used to regularly adjust business and engineering systems to cope with environmental changes and challenges.

When it comes to waste management and accelerating recycling processes, AI techniques have also become commonplace. Perspective analytics and market knowledge graphs are used to map the movement of waste materials and reduce unnecessary shipping while improving material reuse.

Leverage IoT to Increase Transparency

CIOs can leverage IoT to increase transparency when it comes to energy reduction and smart buildings. For instance, CIOs can run connected assets to focus on energy reduction to benefit the enterprise and society. It is particularly important to run connected assets in industries such as manufacturing.

Smart building technologies adapt dynamically to the times people work and types of office environments. Smart buildings can leverage IoT by adjusting lighting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) based on occupancy to reduce energy waste.

Use Blockchain to Provide Traceability

Blockchain offers an opportunity to more effectively measure, track, and account carbon credits to improve governance. CO2 credits use blockchain and tokenization to authenticate and certify carbon assets and liabilities. Additionally, nonfungible token (NFT) green certification provides verified certification of “net zero” business activities via the use of smart contracts. These certificates provide evidence of the outcomes of projects and verifies authentication capabilities used.

Climate prediction technologies that use blockchain can provide a decentralized mechanism for directing research initiatives and informing policy directives on climate-related sustainability initiatives. Blockchain infrastructure can aggregate policy-relevant information to enhance decision-making. Additionally, climate prediction markets offset climate change resistance through the use of open market transparency and outcome-based payouts enabled by smart contracts.

Green financing, risk management, and reporting also use blockchain and tokenization to facilitate risk monitoring for projects and assets. This enhances the tracking, management, and reporting of sustainable initiatives.

Mitigate Digital Externalities

Technology plays a key role in driving sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impact, but at times it can unintentionally harm progress. When this occurs, it is called a “negative technology externality,” which is an unintended, harmful outcome that affects a third party. All technology solutions create negative externalities that need to be mitigated in order to help enterprises reach their sustainability goals.

Some examples of negative technology externalities in relation to environmental sustainability include:

  • The enterprise needs technology to reduce its environmental footprint, but technology also comes with its own footprint across domains such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water, and waste.

  • Technology can break down social barriers, but it can also exacerbate inequality and discrimination if not used wisely.

  • Technology can strengthen the rule of law; however, malefactors can also use technology to undermine and commit fraud.

Knowing how to manage negative technology externalities is crucial to drive sustainability outcomes.

As business executives and organizations continue to prioritize environmental sustainability, it is important for CIOs, along with other industry leaders, to begin implementing digital technologies to achieve their sustainability goals. Technology will continue to impact environmental sustainability, so now is the time for leaders to be adopting these innovations to further their sustainability efforts.

About the Author(s)

Kristin Moyer

Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner, Inc.

Kristin Moyer is a Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner, Inc. covering sustainability and digital business transformation.

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