Rethinking AI In The Context Of Sustainability

Guy Courtin, Forbes.com, February 28, 2024

Large language models (LLMs), natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), cognitive AI and a litany of other “hot” artificial intelligence technologies have flooded our discussions since early 2023. From media coverage to overzealous CEOs, the message ringing in our ears is clear—get on the AI train or be left behind.

From helping solve your supply chain planning problems and enhancing customer service to improving patient care, determining better product mixes and reducing the number of HR memos, AI has been bellowed from the rooftops as the next elixir to all our ills. There’s no doubt that AI holds great opportunities for businesses and society but at what cost? And how does it impact another hot topic—sustainability?

A Hidden Conflict?

How soon we forget. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilityor sustainability—was once the subject of every headline. It was deemed a vital business driver and commanded above-the-fold ink not that long ago. However, being more sustainable remains an elusive target. Companies across all industries are striving to better understand, control and reach sustainable levels. Providing more transparency and reporting on ESG will soon become a requirement for publicly traded companies.

Is there a conflict between these two trends? Potentially. By some accounts, the environmental footprint needed to train OpenAI’s GPT-3 was the equivalent of “driving a car to the moon and back”—480,000 miles—and evaporating 700,000 liters of freshwater. Amplify that by the number of queries that are being pumped through LLMs like ChatGPT and the necessary computation power needed and the ecological toll becomes clear. However, there’s a fine line that companies can walk to leverage AI and still uphold their ESG commitments. Here’s what companies need to consider when it comes to ensuring AI efforts don’t conflict with ESG goals.

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Onepak’s Sustainability Initiatives

Connectivity as a right: ending the digital divide and digital poverty

Neil C. Hughes, CyberNews.com, April 2, 2024

The digital divide represents an expanding disparity between individuals with access to online resources and those without access. This phenomenon is pervasive and affects various regions globally.

In the UK, nearly half of all families find themselves outside the reach of modern digital society. At the same time, internet providers’ neglect in the US has resulted in rural communities being significantly underserved. This issue underscores a critical challenge in ensuring equitable access to digital infrastructure and services.

However, this divide spans more than just geographical lines, distinguishing between developed and developing nations and urban and rural locales. It also cuts deep through societal strata, affecting diverse groups based on age, education, and gender.
The effects of the great digital divide are profound and widespread, not just on paper but in the real lives of countless individuals. It can intensify feelings of isolation and limit the opportunities available to many. It can even hinder a family’s ability to get crucial healthcare, chase educational goals, or keep their mental health in check. It’s a stark reminder of the tech’s impact on society and the urgent need to address such gaps.

From connectivity to opportunity: eradicating digital poverty

Digital poverty is more than just being unable to afford a decent internet connection. It’s also about having the right equipment and knowledge to navigate today’s digital jungle. To some, the digital age can feel like a parallel universe where opportunities for learning, working, and staying healthy seem out of reach. This is where the stark reality of digital poverty hits home, making it an issue far beyond being online or offline.
Now, throw AI into the mix. AI is revolutionizing education, promising personalized learning paths and innovative educational tools. But here’s the catch: its benefits are only as good as people’s access. If we don’t bridge this digital divide, AI might be another hurdle for those already lagging, making the leap from digital poverty to digital empowerment even harder.

To access the full article, click here.

Learn more about Onepak’s pledge to help end the digital divide

How to Overcome Challenges to Creating Sustainable Supply Chains

Kelsey Polansky, SupplyChainBrain.com, March 26, 2024

For global supply chains striving to meet growing expectations of sustainability, transparency and traceability are essential capabilities.

Those qualities can be tricky to achieve in a complex supply chain network. The first challenge is ensuring smooth data flow across disparate systems across multiple organizations, and paying attention to data privacy norms and conflicts of interest, such as supply chain partners working with more than one company. The second challenge is ensuring that the data is secure, accurate and captured in a way that supports reporting and sustainability.

Following is a step-by-step approach to overcoming these challenges, with a particular focus on sourcing.

Data consolidation. The process starts with gathering certifications and ingredient data for materials, using a Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) to standardize product traceability across organizational boundaries. Harmonizing all collected data ensures consistency and clarity, while checks and balances ensure compliance with local and international laws. In addition, cross-functional and cross-entity data integration creates a unified source of truth, laying a solid foundation for transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain.

Traceability modeling. The next step involves structuring the data to efficiently monitor and examine a product or material’s entire lifecycle, from raw-materials acquisition to final consumer delivery.

For instance, farmers may report their corn’s organic status or their farming certifications. This information needs to be translated into a standard format to calculate key performance indicators such as the percentage of sustainably sourced agrarian materials. While seemingly simple at first, the complexities escalate for large companies procuring hundreds of materials worldwide, all needing to comply with numerous regional and global certifications. Thus, traceability modeling becomes a nuanced but critical step, requiring precision, efficiency and comprehensiveness to establish data-driven supply chain sustainability.

Supply chain reporting. Once data is centralized and formatted to support KPI measurability, reports can be generated to track suppliers’ performance from the first tier to the nth tier. These reports can create transparency for internal teams, external partners and auditors. Automated disclosures of a regular frequency can flag risks, such as deviations of the KPIs from acceptable norms, so they can be mitigated quickly.

To access the full article, click here.

Learn more about Onepak’s reverse logistics services and sustainability initiatives

Why is IT sustainability so underrated in businesses?

Elizabeth Hackenson, TechRadar.com, January 12, 2024

Do you know the carbon footprint of your IT infrastructure and operations? It’s a question increasingly being asked of CIOs and digital decision-makers as companies examine the true impact of their operations upon the planet.

But today, less than half of business leaders are aware of the carbon footprint of their end-to-end IT landscape, from end-user devices to the cloud. Even fewer – 18% – have a mature and comprehensive strategy to reduce it.

Here’s why IT is the next frontier in decarbonization, and the steps that companies need to take to accelerate its efficiency as we all face critical climate change goals.

Data’s carbon footprint is bigger than we imagine

Every major business in the world talks about driving digital acceleration by adopting new technologies. However, this can imply a growth of their businesses’ carbon footprint because of the increased energy consumption of IT resources, devices, tools, and platforms. But how does this translate into figures? The number of connected devices is expected to reach 55.7 billion by 2025, of which 75% will be connected to an IoT platform. The data generated by those devices is expected to be 73.1 zettabytes in just two years’ time. This growth in data volumes will also lead to growing adoption of technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, which is the key to drawing value from massive stores of data.

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Innovating Environmental Justice: Tech For Impact In Black Communities

Monica Sanders, Forbes.com, February 28, 2024

Society has to confront a multitude of existential challenges all at once: political instability, the digital divide, climate and environmental justice. Historically, Black communities have been left out of the resource race in all of these challenges, particularly when remedying environmental justice and access to technology. That does not mean innovation cannot take place in Black communities. When deployed thoughtfully and not as a hack, technology can play and pivotal role in advancing environmental justice. We can and should showcase innovative solutions led by Black innovators.

Bridging The Digital Communications Divide

The digital divide poses a significant barrier to environmental justice for Black communities. Limited access to high-speed internet, digital devices, and technological literacy hinders participation in environmental decision-making and access to vital information. Despite the challenges posed by the digital divide, Black leaders are harnessing technology to address environmental issues in their communities creatively. For example, platforms like “Black Millennials for Flint” utilize social media and digital tools to raise awareness about environmental injustices and mobilize support for clean water initiatives. Others, like the Black Hive not only organize communicators in areas with access to technology and information to raise awareness of the plight of divested communities, but they work to provide resources to those areas. One role technology and the tech industry more broadly, can help advance environmental justice is by facilitating access and communications tools.

Where Tech Meets Justice

Then there are the more traditional uses of tech, from mobile apps that monitor air quality to community-driven mapping projects, innovative solutions are emerging from Black communities and leaders.

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5 ways to reduce an organization’s digital carbon footprint

From optimizing video conferences to minimizing unnecessary data storage, learn practical strategies that can help shrink an organization’s digital carbon footprint

Carolyn Heinze, TechTarget.com, March 1, 2024

Even sustainability-minded people can forget the environmental impact of digital technologies.

But all tech and the processes to power it have a digital computer footprint. That goes for obvious areas, such as computers and servers, as well as less obvious ones, like networking and software engineering.

Here are some practical tips companies can use to lessen the organizational digital carbon footprint.

1. Adopt a solid information governance strategy

As data has grown, so too has indiscriminate information and data retention. That can drive up the digital carbon footprint.

Ian Hodgkinson, a professor of strategy and research, and Tom Jackson, a professor of information and knowledge management, at Loughborough University in Loughborough, U.K. are developing the Data Carbon Ladder. This tool helps organizations determine how large data sets should be for projects and where to store them. They argue that to reduce the digital carbon footprint, companies need to practice sound data retention policies.

For example, organizations tend to hold onto a significant number of spreadsheets year over year. Many of these files are single-use — such as the dinner menu options for the end-of-the-year office party — and remain stored long after they’re needed. Files that could be of considerable use to employees — but are too difficult to find and access — are also an issue.

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New Survey Finds 9 in 10 K-12 Tech Leaders Predict Surge in IT Asset Management Workload

February 28, 2024, Yahoo.com

Despite growing challenges and smaller budgets, leaders remain focused on maintaining student device access and 1:1 initiatives, according to Incident IQ survey.

Atlanta, Feb. 28, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Nine out of ten K-12 tech leaders expect their IT asset inventories will grow in 2024, while almost half (48%) predict their IT budgets will diminish, according to a new survey by Incident IQ, the workflow management platform built for K-12 schools, which recently polled Technology Leadership Council members.

Nonetheless, these IT leaders were clear in their determination to minimize the impact on students of any budget cuts. Nearly three-quarters (73%) said that maintaining device access is one of their big goals for the year, and a solid 87% of respondents stated that sustaining 1:1 initiatives at their current levels is a top priority for 2024.

“Even as we remain committed to providing districts with all the tech support they need, the reality is that today, IT leaders may have to do more with less,” said Sarah Lawrence, Assistant Director of Technology Support at Mukilteo School District. “To meet these growing demands, we’ll have to shift our processes and platforms to focus on workflow technology that is efficient, cost-effective and streamlined. Only in doing so will we be able to make progress in our core mission, which is to help students learn.”

Three-quarters of the surveyed IT leaders named device loss or breakage as the biggest challenge they had faced for student devices in 2023. When asked what kept them awake at night for 2024, 78% reported it was cybersecurity threats and 61% pointed to staff shortages, with 44% stating they won’t be able to sustain their current staffing level over the next three years.

“Our survey participants have highlighted a major trend for 2024, which is the need for a laser focus on IT operational efficiencies and program sustainability,” said R.T. Collins, CEO of Incident IQ. “That’s why one of our primary objectives this year will be to support districts in lowering their device loss or breakage rates by continuing to enhance IT workflow and asset management tools for our users.”

To access the full article, click here.

Capturing the climate change mitigation benefits of circular economy and waste sector policies and measures

Waste and circular economy actions contribute to reducing the need for new primary materials and the associated greenhouse gas emissions linked to the extraction and processing of resources. Including circular economy and waste activities in the reporting on climate change mitigation policies and measures can help provide a fuller account of a country’s mitigation efforts. This approach can further reveal policy opportunities to unlock additional emission reductions and help countries reach their net-zero targets.

February 22, 2024, European Environment Agency

Achieving the EU’s 2050 net-zero climate target demands actions across economic sectors. These include those actions related to materials and how we produce, use, re-circulate and dispose of them. In this briefing, we explore this dimension further by analysing how European countries include circular economy and waste actions[2] in their reporting on climate change mitigation policies and measures (PaMs)[3] and how the introduction of additional measures can help accelerate future reductions of GHG emissions.

Waste management and the circular economy hold considerable potential for mitigating climate change. Therefore, countries would benefit from including PaMs in these areas as part of their climate policy mix.

The inclusion of such measures in national climate change mitigation reporting can also provide a more comprehensive and transparent account of countries’ climate PaMs. This integration can help reveal key areas where countries could increase mitigation efforts while also increasing circularity and improving waste management. Guidelines for improving interlinkages between these two policy areas and for modelling the national decarbonisation potential of a circular economy are at the end of this briefing.

The briefing is based on the European Topic Centre (ETC) ‘Circular economy and resource use’ and ‘Climate change mitigation’ technical reports Circular economy and climate change mitigation — analysis and guidance on including circular economy (CE) actions into climate change mitigation reporting and policy making and Climate change mitigation through policies on waste — intersectoral analysis.

Circular economy’s potential key role in climate change mitigation

The International Resource Panel (IRP, 2019) highlights that the extraction and processing of materials (fossil fuels, biomass, metals and non-metallic minerals) account for around 50% of global GHG emissions. A key aim of the circular economy is to retain the value of products and materials in use for as long as possible.

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Why Corporate Sustainability Goals Fail (And What Leaders Can Do About It)

Mary Riddle, TriplePundit.com, Mar 5, 2024

A new report from GlobeScan and the software giant Salesforce pinpoints exactly what’s keeping business leaders from reaching their sustainability goals.

Ninety-three percent of sustainability, finance, and technology leaders think sustainability is key to the financial success and longevity of their businesses, but only 37 percent say sustainability is well-integrated into company operations, according to the report based on   a survey of over 200 professionals across North America, Europe and Asia.

While sustainability excellence is often linked with long-term business success, many corporate leaders are not giving sustainability the capital it needs to succeed, the report found.

TriplePundit spoke to Robert G. Eccles, founding chairman of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and co-author of the report, about how companies can address the gaps that are stalling their progress.

“Our results sadly show that, despite all the happy talk about the importance of sustainability, senior management teams aren’t giving it the attention and resources it needs to really contribute to value creation,” Eccles said. “Companies either need to dial back their claims about the benefits of their sustainability initiatives, or face this challenge head-on with more senior management commitment and capital.”

How companies can close the gaps that stand in the way of their sustainability goals

While companies face significant barriers to implementing sustainability programs and realizing the value created by those programs, some solutions and strategies can close the gaps.

To access the full article, click here. 

Urban Mining: A Golden Opportunity Amidst the E-Waste Challenge

Anthony Raphael, Medriva.com, February 28, 2024

In the heart of our digital age lies a paradox: as our appetite for the latest electronic devices grows, so does the pile of discarded gadgets, leading us into an era of unprecedented electronic waste (e-waste). Yet, within this mounting challenge, there emerges a silver lining – or, more accurately, a golden opportunity. This is the realm of urban mining, a process that could redefine our approach to e-waste by extracting valuable metals from our old electronics, offering a strategic solution to both waste management and resource scarcity.

The Rise of Urban Mining

The concept of urban mining isn’t new, but its importance has skyrocketed in recent years, thanks to the increasing awareness about the environmental hazards of e-waste and the critical shortage of raw materials. Urban mining taps into the vast reservoirs of precious metals lying dormant in our discarded devices. From smartphones to laptops, these gadgets are a treasure trove of valuable resources like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and rare earths, essential for powering our transition to a digital and net-zero economy. The European Union has recognized the strategic role of urban mining in securing these critical raw materials, highlighting its potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of traditional mining practices.

Challenges on the Path to Circular Economy

However, the journey towards a fully realized circular economy, where waste is minimized, and resources are reused, is fraught with challenges. One significant hurdle is the design of electronic devices themselves, often not made with disassembly and recycling in mind. This, coupled with consumer behavior that leads to ‘electronic hibernation’ – where old devices are forgotten in drawers rather than recycled – and an inefficient collection and recycling infrastructure, complicates the urban mining process.

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