As the way we live has changed, so has the world around us. Fossil fuels revolutionized industry, transportation and power generation but have also contributed to an alarming rise in global temperatures and pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased by a whopping 32 percent between 2000 and 2010, and by 2020 had reached 34.81 billion metric tons. Unseasonal storms, floods, droughts, and forest fires are posing a threat to human existence and causing economic misery worldwide. In 2021 alone, weather catastrophes caused global financial losses of US$ 329 billion. When the resulting degradation of water bodies, air and noise pollution and their impact on public health is considered, the situation becomes even more dire.
Governments – both national and local – have come under increasing pressure to set and achieve sustainability agendas. China and the U.S., for example, have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and 2060, respectively. The E.U.’s Green Deal and Climate Law has a binding target of cutting emissions by 55% by 2030 and becoming climate neutral by 2050.
But what's in it for businesses beyond adhering to policy mandates?
As governments respond, so are businesses. Many countries now impose green taxes on environmentally harmful industries and offer subsidies for green initiatives like electric vehicles and renewable energy. Besides regulatory pressure, companies know that sustainability can be a competitive advantage. Supply-chain efficiencies, for example, reduce costs as well as emissions.
Customer preference for sustainable products is also not news. A recent survey estimated that 55% of consumers consider environmental responsibility a critical factor when choosing a brand.
Employees, too, are demanding sustainable workplaces – a post-Covid US study showed that 65% of employees would be more likely to work for a company with sound environmental policies.
The question is, what can ensure that these sustainability initiatives work?
On-Ground transformation: Cities play a vital role
I have always maintained that the worm’s eye view is as important as the bird’s. Setting targets and agendas is commendable, but following up on them locally is easier said than done. Increasing urbanization poses a challenge. The UNEP estimates that cities are responsible for 75 percent of global CO2 emissions. Therefore, managing urban climate change issues must be vital to any sustainability plan.
Where Technology Can Help: Our Experiences Building Sustainability Solutions
Disruptive technologies like AI, data analytics, IoT and cloud now offer governments and businesses the means to unravel the complexities of implementing sustainability initiatives. These include climate risk management, ESG reporting, infrastructure management, operations, energy management and supply chain rationalization.
Acuvate has undertaken pathbreaking initiatives in these areas, all with the intention of simplifying sustainability initiatives and taking them from thought to action.
Intelligent Noise and Exhaust Emission Abatement:
Vehicular noise is the second largest environmental cause of health concerns, according to the WHO. Besides increased traffic, illegal modifications like modified mufflers and exhaust systems add to the problem. While most countries have legal limits for vehicular noise levels, identifying and penalizing offenders remains difficult.
Recognizing this, we recently built Anois to help city departments control vehicular pollution. A no-code AI-ML solution, Anois uses Acuvate’s A.I., IoT, and cognitive search capabilities, combined with AI-enabled ‘sound cameras’, to capture precise noise levels and audio and visual data of offenders. We have also ensured that it integrates with existing CRM or LOB systems for secure and seamless accessibility. Anois delivers administrative unit-level violation and violator information with a real-time dashboard and analytics for instant updates and access to critical information. Using Anois, a leading metropolitan authority, witnessed 12x cost savings per violation, increased fine revenue by USD 60 million, and reduced analysis time from 15 minutes to 2 minutes.
Another significant area where we have innovated is in identifying idling vehicles. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that, just by idling, personal vehicles generate 30 million tons of CO2 annually. It also forecasts that eliminating idling will be equivalent to taking 5 million vehicles off the road. Acuvate’s Idling Vehicle Detection solution combines A.I. & ML, IoT, and data analytics to identify vehicles idling for longer than the permitted period. The solution has enabled government agencies to fast-track evidence verification from hours to minutes, tightening enforcement and reducing pollution.
Vehicular Counting & Classification:
Vehicles contribute a staggering 29% to US greenhouse gas emissions. Collecting and analyzing traffic data accurately allows administrators to make informed traffic management decisions that enhance public safety and reduce carbon emissions.
Acuvate’s Vehicle Classification & Traffic Monitoring solution combines analytics, vision-based methods, IoT cameras, and ML to help administrators on multiple fronts. By classifying and knowing the count and type of vehicles commuting during a typical day, for example, they can take steps to ease traffic congestion. Tighter surveillance makes identifying and penalizing polluting or dangerously driven vehicles. It also offers insights on safety measures like pedestrian crossings, additional lighting, and separate lanes for different vehicle categories. All these make commuting faster, safer, and several times more sustainable.
Our ESG tech efforts address another primary sustainability goal across enterprises of all sizes and sectors – reducing paper uage. Approximately 1 billion trees’ worth of paper is thrown away annually in the U.S., making up 26% of waste dumped in landfills. Paper also takes up valuable real estate in already-congested cities, increasing their carbon footprint.
Recognizing this, we took our efforts in the sustainability solution field further by making inspection workstreams paperless. Built on the Microsoft technology stack, Acuvate’s Inspection App combines Power B.I. dashboards and data analytics to improve organizational efficiencies while reducing reliance on paper-based systems. Reports are logged in in real-time and not post-facto, increasing the accuracy and speed of operations. Paper trails between departments have given way to seamlessly collaborative electronic systems. Users have been able to access an easy-to-use workplace solution on which to log their activities, submit them in real time and save time on documentation. All this while diminishing the carbon footprint of erstwhile paper-intensive inspection workstreams.
Sustainable Water Management:
In 2012, the US Director of National Intelligence warned that, by 2030, global water demand would exceed supply by 40%. This has led many to believe that wars over water could become the next global flashpoints. Therefore, providing access to clean water is a high-priority sustainability objective and could even contribute to global stability if we were to believe that water wars are coming.
Acuvate has had rewarding experiences in sustainable water management. One of our standout projects was to revamp the operations of one of the world’s most prominent metropolitan water supply authorities. Tasked with supplying 8 million people and another million living in bordering counties with potable water, it pumps over 1.2 billion gallons daily. Acuvate implemented a self-service Data Modernization system with Data Governance best practices for the water department, which enabled it to identify and correct water quality issues in real-time. We helped it develop proactive models to avoid future problems and improved water quality resolution timelines. All with one goal: improving the city’s water quality with tech and data.
Supply Chain Rationalization:
By their very nature, supply chains often involve energy-intensive production and transportation. The supply chain accounts for more than 90% of most consumer goods companies’ environmental impact, as goods are made and shipped across the world. Businesses have, therefore, acutely felt the need to streamline their supply chains, both for sustainability and profitability.
Acuvate has been at the forefront of leading a global consumer goods giant’s supply chain transformation. Our end-to-end self-serve data solutions and IoT-based automated data capture framework incorporate ML models, real-time OEE insights and workplace productivity tools, which have accelerated the client’s net-zero journey by 30-50%. As a result, the CPG major achieved a 20% OEE increase in manufacturing units, 8% more output reliability, significant workforce productivity improvements and OPEX savings with enhanced process reliability and robustness. All of which demonstrates that sustainability and economic benefits go hand in hand.
Investing in sustainability can be an expensive process, but many companies do so without taking a key factor into account. Which is, how do they measure their progress. With internationally mandated deadlines looming nearer, it’s now crunch time. Companies must, therefore, urgently find ways to track their ESG progress to ensure that they meet their commitments to governments, regulators and employee and consumer expectations.
In my view, no matter where your organization currently is on its sustainability journey, it needs to stop and take stock. Are your sustainability investments serving the needs of your enterprise, or are they in silos? If they’re doing the latter, managements need to recognize this and ensure that all their sustainability initiatives work in lockstep to achieve a common objective. Data needs to be consolidated so that every bit of it is accounted for, without which accurate ESG measurement becomes impossible. And lastly, companies need to invest in the right ESG measuring tools, such as cloud powered A.I., analytics, and automation tools, with live dashboards on ESG metrics. Only when they do so and track their ESG metrics in real time will they be headed down the path to a sustainable future.
2023 is a crucial year for sustainability initiatives, most of which either generate economic benefits like cost savings for commercial enterprises or fine revenues for public sector organizations.
With the economic headwinds of this year, organizations will rely more on technology to optimize costs wherever possible. Sustainability will be a natural outcome of many of these measures, apart from being an essential goal. And we Acuvators are ready for it.