Earth Day

Bringing AI and Blockchain to Bear on Environmental Challenges

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IBM began focusing on environmental sustainability before the first Earth Day was ever celebrated. Addressing environmental challenges requires sustained action because even as we make progress, new challenges emerge.

The digital transformation of our business and our clients’ businesses is improving the degree to which we can both examine and address global environmental challenges. Today, we are able to do some extraordinary things by extracting value from data using analytics, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and the cloud – none of which we were able to do before.

Let’s take water for example. As fresh water becomes an increasingly scarce resource globally, what if we had a way to ensure groundwater sustainability by monitoring and tracking groundwater use including how much is being used and by whom? IBM is working with The Freshwater Trust, SweetSense, and the University of Colorado to use a blockchain platform hosted in the IBM Cloud and IoT technologies to monitor the extraction of groundwater in California’s Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta. The project aims to demonstrate a way to transparently measure groundwater extraction in real time, record the withdrawals, and manage those withdrawals of groundwater in a blockchain-based ledger.

Another example involves energy. With growing awareness about a changing climate, there is a greater understanding that we need to use less energy. There are many obvious actions one can take, such as replacing older lighting with more energy-efficient lighting. But what about being able to pinpoint where a loss of energy exists within your infrastructure on a continual basis so that you can correct it immediately?

IBM’s Smarter Building program started as an internal pilot that applies analytics to existing building system operational data and sends out automatic alerts when systems are operating outside of optimal conditions.

This allows personnel to take corrective action and then modify operations to prevent a recurrence. We have deployed this solution at 25 major IBM campuses, capturing 41 percent of the company’s energy use. Over the past five years, the solution has helped IBM reduce energy consumption by more than 150,000 megawatt-hours, with associated savings of nearly $8 million.

And then there is the global food supply. With an increasing world population, it is more important than ever to maintain the sustainability of our food supply and ensure that it continues to meet the growing demand. But how do we do this with the equally-increasing uncertainties around climate, the availability of water and the health of soil?

IBM is addressing these challenges in a number of ways. We developed a way to make it easier for farmers to monitor the health of their soil and water using AgroPad, an exploratory prototype, which enables real-time, on location, chemical analysis of a soil or water sample using AI.

IBM has also designed and built agribusiness solutions to help the agriculture industry make more informed decisions about crops utilizing the IBM PAIRS GEOSCOPE platform. And we just announced that another major company – Albertsons – has joined our blockchain-based IBM Food Trust network, which connects growers, processors, wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers, retailers, and others to enhance visibility and accountability across the food supply chain.

When we have important problems that we need to solve at our homes and businesses, or when we need to fix important things that are in disrepair, we usually want to acquire the best tools we can and put them to use. The same thinking must apply to our shared environment. Today’s leading-edge information technologies represent a breakthrough in how we can understand and address difficult environmental challenges.

Let’s put tech to good use.

Vice President, Corporate Environmental Affairs & Product Safety, IBM

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