By Daniel Hill of Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps.
We use tech in just about every aspect of our lives. It’s changed how we communicate, shop, travel, to how we get the food on our plate. It’s also changed how companies do business.
Technology like artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, blockchain, are enabling companies to provide cutting-edge products and services for consumers — from virtual gyms to smart water dispensers — and increase operational efficiency as they do. But the bulk of companies are missing out on a big opportunity: using tech that’s already at hand to meet their sustainability goals and reduce climate-related risk.
According to EDF’s second annual “Business and the Fourth Wave of Environmentalism” report, while 92% of business leaders agree that technologies can improve ROI and sustainability only 59% of leaders are investing in technology for sustainability. That’s a 33-point gap between what businesses think versus what they’re doing.
The reasons for this disconnection cited in the report, ranges from “uncertainty about climate polices”, which jumped from 15% in 2018 to 28% in 2019, to “lack of awareness or education around specific technologies”, 32% in ’18 to 37% in ’19.
But the main reason is return on investment: About 4 in 10 leaders site the “lack of clear return on investment”; and 33% cite the lack of a quick return on their investment. What they don’t realize, though, is their competitors are proving this otherwise.
Companies across the globe are applying technology to sustainability to produce a win-win for business and the planet. Here are five companies, from start-ups to global giants, leading the way in the Fourth Wave of environmentalism:
1. The Bowery
Backed by Google Ventures, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, and a host of other investors, The Bowery is an indoor farming startup that uses no soil and 95% less water than traditional agriculture. It’s all possible thanks to a system of sensors, AI, and a proprietary machine learning OS that controls the amount of water, light and nutrients that plants receive. The Bowery sells its greens and herbs at stores like Whole Foods, and online at Amazon and Peapod in the New York metro area.
SkyCell is a Swiss-based provider of temperature-controlled containers equipped with IoT (“internet of things”) sensors that connect to a cloud-based, blockchain-encrypted software. Pharmaceutical companies want safe and reliable protection of their multimillion-dollar shipments that need to be stored at a specific temperature range.
These sensors monitor temperature, humidity and other factors to ensure the best possible protection against temperature spikes or drops. And, it cuts down on delivery days, costs, and CO2 emissions.
3. Jackson Family Wines
Jackson Family Wines agreed to be part of Tesla’s pilot stationary storage solution. Tesla’s sophisticated algorithms have been at work using data like historical temperatures, energy use, time of day, electricity rates and more to understand when to use battery storage to save energy and money. “It is expected that the Tesla battery systems will reduce electricity costs … by nearly 10 percent” said Julien Gervreau, JFW’s Senior Sustainability Manager.
4. Stella McCartney
Earlier this year, Google Cloud partnered with designer Stella McCartney to build a tool that uses data analytics and machine learning to help fashion brands estimate their environmental impact of their production process. The tool, which is expected to launch next year, will analyze data from a number of sources and measure soil quality, water run-off, wastage and greenhouse gas emissions.
Water is a growing risk factor to business. So membership-based warehouse giant Costco partnered with Apana, an analytics tech startup, to utilize software that analyzes the company’s water use to reduce utility bills and improve how the company measures and manages water.
But, these are just a few examples. CEOs that can’t see the benefits are missing a huge opportunity to chalk up wins for their business, the planet and their legacy.