How AI is leading to a more sustainable world

At first glance, sustainability and technology seem diametrically opposed. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can add value for companies looking to make their operations more sustainable.

Tonnes of data

Technology and sustainability are undoubtedly two trends that are increasingly becoming part of our lives and business processes. Johan Fastenakles, Responsible Investing Expert at KBC Asset Management, makes the link between the two trends.

‘Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a broad umbrella term to describe technology in which computers approach aspects of human intelligence, such as logical thinking and problem-solving. That technology can be useful for businesses, which are sitting on literally tonnes of data. AI makes it possible to analyse data quickly and efficiently, leading to concrete solutions. AI can thus help companies address sustainability challenges in tangible ways.’

AI applied in sustainable solutions

The power of AI in sustainability can be demonstrated in practice. ‘Take the challenge of energy efficiency, for example: with AI you can identify the times at which you consume high levels of energy. Electricity meters could suggest the best time to charge an electric car or do the laundry based on the energy supply at any given moment. This could enable wind or solar energy to be distributed more efficiently.’

Another challenge is mobilitySelf-driving cars could serve as a kind of taxi that people can summon using an app. The system then automatically calls the nearest taxi. People therefore no longer need to own cars themselves, and we do not manufacture too many cars. Self-driving cars could also reduce the pressure on parking, leading to less traffic in our towns and cities, increasing road safety and, given the lower production levels, bringing an improvement in air quality.’

Agriculture can also benefit from AI. Data collected using AI can help farmers make decisions, for example by enabling them to detect at an early stage whether certain crops are infected with a disease. Johan Fastenakels concludes by giving examples of automatic waste sorting, smart water management and customised clothing advice. ‘These examples show that investing in AI can add value not only for the companies themselves, but also for the environment and society’,  he concludes.

‘AI can help companies address sustainability challenges in tangible ways’.

Johan Fastenakels, Responsible Investing Expert at KBC Asset Management

AI applied in sustainable solutions

Ethics and technology can go hand in handThere are any number of examples, yet some people continue to have doubts: isn't there an ethical tension between AI and sustainability? ‘I like to refer to what Professor Katleen De Stobbeleir from Vlerick Business School calls the ‘paradox mindset'’, says Johan Fastenakels.

'It isn't an 'either...or' narrative, but a 'both....and story. You have to look at the opportunities that AI can bring and within what ethical framework.'This is also the reason that KBC focuses on aspects such as data privacy and personal data security in its own RI methodology. Using AI for data collection can lead to infringements of privacy and we want to avoid that’, explains Johan Fastenakels.'We rate companies on how they collect, use and secure the confidential data of their customers, patients or visitors to their website. We also incorporate cybersecurity measures and transparency when sharing information with government authorities', he concludes.

You have to look at the opportunities that AI can bring and within what ethical framework.

Johan Fastenakels, Responsible Investing Expert at KBC Asset Management

AI as a solution for greater sustainability

KBC uses an ethical framework for its AI solutions. 'Data protection and privacy, equality and non-discrimination, responsibility, security and transparency are the basic principles', recounts Johan Fastenakels. 'We offer training on AI and ethics to encourage our employees to put these principles into practice.'

Provided you act from the basis of an ethical framework, AI can form part of the solution for a more sustainable world. AI is about more than chatbots that answer customers' questions, or compile a playlist of your favourite music. Sustainability and innovation go hand in hand. As an investor, you therefore stand to benefit from playing the AI angle.

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This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice.

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