Solutions for Environmental Sustainability

Solutions for Environmental Sustainability

We apply our expertise, research and technology to develop solutions that help our company, our clients and the world operate in ways that are more efficient and protective of the environment.

Our world's sustainability requires a balance among many interdependent and competing needs—of society, its economies, and the planet itself. As the world has become increasingly instrumented and interconnected, we are witnessing an extraordinary growth of “big data.” A range of technologies and capabilities—from cloud computing to analytics, from mobile and social platforms to cognitive learning—is transforming this data into a resource that can lead us to better choices and new opportunities for improving environmental sustainability.

IBM is leveraging these technologies and applying our expertise to understand these competing needs and develop innovative solutions to help build and live on a smarter, more sustainable planet. These efforts reflect our longstanding commitment to environmental leadership and one of IBM's core business values “innovation that matters—for our company and for the world.” Examples of IBM solutions that are advancing sustainability follow.


Water is one of the world's most abundant natural resources but it is also fast becoming one of the most stressed. Growing populations can strain the supply of clean water, while changing weather patterns challenge our ability to sustain agriculture through droughts or to prevent floods during storms.

Digital Delta—The Netherlands

With 55 percent of the Dutch population located in areas prone to large-scale flooding, the Netherlands has vast experience in flood prevention and water management. Every water-related event is critical and can impact businesses, agriculture, and citizens' daily lives.

While the Netherlands has one of the best-monitored water systems in the world and collects large amounts of data, relevant data can be difficult to find, and the data quality can be uncertain. Since the data is also in many different formats, integrating it is challenging and costly for water managing authorities and hinders the development of complex decision support capabilities.

Digital Delta, a solution developed by IBM in collaboration with the Dutch Ministry for Water (Rijkswaterstaat), the local Water Authority Delfland, Deltares Science Institute and the University of Delft, is harnessing insights from big data to transform flood control and management of the entire Dutch water system.

This new management system is helping address far-reaching concerns ranging from the quality of drinking water and the increasing frequency and impact of extreme weather-related events, to the risk not only of floods but also droughts. By modeling weather events, the Netherlands can determine the best course of action, including storing water, diverting it from low-lying areas, and avoiding salt-water intrusion into drinking water, sewage overflows, and water contamination. The initiative is providing water experts with a real-time intelligent dashboard to harness information so it can be shared immediately across organizations and agencies.

As water stress, droughts, flooding, and failing infrastructure strain economies and quality of life in many regions of the world, the Digital Delta solution offers a smart model that is now being replicated for better water management in other areas of the world.

Digital Delta is harnessing big data insights to transform flood control and management in the Netherlands.

Digital Delta is harnessing big data insights to transform flood control and management in the Netherlands. Click for larger version.

Water distribution systems—Bangalore, India

The World Bank estimates that global costs from leaky water pipes total $14 billion annually. Our water infrastructure, in service for upwards of 100 years in many regions, is under pressure, to say the least.

Along with these “aging pipe” challenges, developing economies like India are facing a serious water crisis associated with its rapid urban population growth and economic development.

Last year, IBM began collaborating with Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), which supplies water across nearly 800 square kilometers of the city, to create systems for monitoring and managing increasingly complex water distribution systems. Bangalore's massive population growth—from 5.4 million in 2000 to over 10 million and counting has put tremendous strain on the city's water supply and distribution systems.

IBM worked closely with BWSSB to create a water management system with operational dashboards and analytical tools to serve as a central command center for monitoring, administering and managing the city's water supply networks. By setting and adjusting thresholds at key points, engineers can ensure that supply meets their expected goals.

Implementing this solution helps minimize water loss by:

The Bangalore water authority is using analytics to monitor and manage its complex water distribution system.

The Bangalore water authority is using analytics to monitor and manage its complex water distribution system. Click for larger version.

Agriculture & food

The land and water we use for our food supply are both limited and at risk. At the same time, it is estimated that, by 2050, our planet will need to feed more than 9.2 billion people, 34 percent higher than today. Exacerbating this huge challenge are failing water infrastructures and changing weather patterns resulting in floods and droughts. Fortunately, there is a wealth of one resource that we can use to be more efficient—information. Using big data and analytics, we are creating smarter food systems across the value chain. Two examples:

Flint River Partnership—Georgia, United States

Data-driven precision agriculture is the focus of a collaboration in which IBM and the Flint River Partnership (which includes the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District, the US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and The Nature Conservancy), together with the University of Georgia, are helping farmers in the Lower Flint River Basin of Georgia conserve water, improve crop yields and mitigate the impact of future droughts.

Building upon a successful irrigation model and other water conservation measures already in place, the Flint River Partnership is using IBM's Deep Thunder™ precision weather forecasting to help farmers make more informed irrigation scheduling decisions. Because the forecasts will be available on mobile devices, farmers will have 24-hour access to critical weather information in conjunction with other relevant field data.

The Partnership is also leveraging IBM SoftLayer® to manage data flows and automate irrigation recommendations, allowing farmers to determine how much water a specific crop needs at various stages of its life cycle.

“Our job is to help farmers conserve water. Irrigation scheduling based on highly accurate weather forecasts and real-time field data will optimize decision making and consequently reduce resource use. Having access to such forecasts and field data on a mobile platform makes the data relevant, so that we can make proactive irrigation scheduling decisions on the fly.” Marty McLendon, chairman, Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District

Deep Thunder weather forecasting technology is helping farmers in Georgia to conserve water and improve crop yields

Deep Thunder weather forecasting technology is helping farmers in Georgia to conserve water and improve crop yields. Click for larger version.

The integration of complex data streams generated by GPS-enabled farm equipment and in-field sensors with IBM's Deep Thunder weather forecasting technology delivered to mobile devices will provide 72 hours' advance notice of weather in the Flint region, allowing farmers to be more prepared to make decisions on when to irrigate, plant, fertilize, and deploy labor resources.

“Farming operations are highly sensitive to weather. In the United States, that sensitivity is about $15 billion per year. For example, the USDA estimates that 90 percent of crop losses are due to weather. In addition, improving efficiency in irrigation will reduce the impact in areas with limited water supplies. By better understanding and then predicting these weather effects, we can help mitigate these impacts. Innovators like the Flint River Partnership are showing how they can leverage IBM's advanced modeling and analytics to increase crop yields. When we consider the need to increase food availability to a growing population, their leadership is helping to create a more sustainable approach to agriculture.” Lloyd Treinish, distinguished engineer & chief scientist, IBM Research

Collaborate or be left behind: leading the digital frontier

IBM helps create a sustainable food supply.

Food safety

In China, pork is a major pillar of the economy in the Shandong Province, one of the country's most important agricultural regions. To limit the impact of porcine diseases and prevent tainted pork from being sold to consumers, experts from IBM China Development Lab and China's National Engineering Research Center for Agricultural Products Logistics have created a pork monitoring and tracking system. It can extract and store information from millions of interconnected sensors. The system brings an unprecedented level of accountability and efficiency to every stage of the pork production process, from production to distribution to retailer.

IBM is also focused on helping address food-related crises after they occur. These situations have the potential to affect thousands of people, leading to significant healthcare costs, loss of revenue for food companies, and—in the worst cases—death. According to the US Department of Health, in the United States alone, one in six people are affected by food-borne diseases each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations, 3,000 deaths, and a nearly $80 billion economic burden.

IBM scientists have built a system that automatically identifies, contextualizes, and displays data from multiple sources to reduce the time to identify the most likely contaminated sources by a factor of days or weeks. It integrates pre-computed retail data with geo-coded public health data to allow investigators to see the distribution of suspect foods and, selecting an area of the map, view public health case reports and lab reports from clinical encounters. The algorithm effectively learns from every new report and re-calculates the probability of each food that might be causing the illness.


Smarter energy use is critical for a sustainable energy future. Smarter energy ranges from providing the intelligence that enables us to manage our consumption of energy from any source to the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Smart grids

IBM is helping utilities in mature and emerging markets around the world add a layer of digital intelligence to their grids. These smart grids use sensors, meters, digital controls and analytic tools to automate, monitor and control the two-way flow of energy across operations—from power plant to plug. With this intelligence, power companies can optimize grid performance, prevent outages, restore outages faster and allow consumers to manage energy usage right down to the individual networked appliance. IBM is actively engaged in this area as a founding member of the Intelligent Utility Network Coalition and through our own research and solutions.

Advancing the efficiency and availability of renewable energy

IBM's Hybrid Renewable Energy Forecasting (HyREF) solution is an advanced power and weather modeling technology to help utilities increase the integration into and reliability of renewable energy resources on the electric grid.

The solution combines weather prediction and analytics to accurately forecast the availability of wind power and solar energy. Using weather modeling, advanced cloud imaging, and turbine and solar photovoltaic sensors combined with analytics, it can provide accurate estimates of 15-minute to one-month energy output projections. Experience with the system has reduced forecast errors from 25 percent to 8 percent; increased the quantity of intermittent generation dispatched to the grid by 10 percent; and improved the planning for and matching of conventional output with renewable-generation sources.

This capability enables utilities to integrate more renewable energy into the power grid, helping reduce carbon emissions while significantly improving clean energy output for consumers and businesses.

IBM is involved in more than 150 smart grid engagements around the world, in both mature and emerging markets.

An IBM solution can help power utilities better integrate energy from solar and wind into their power grids.

An IBM solution can help power utilities better integrate energy from solar and wind into their power grids. Click for larger version.


The planet's urban population is expected to almost double by 2050—to 6.4 billion people—and account for 70 percent of the world's population. IBM is helping many cities leverage their data with analytics to address the challenge of meeting the needs of all these people effectively and sustainably. One example:

Accelerating data-driven cities: water, transport and emergency management

Cities are “systems of systems”—with separate but interconnected challenges. The cities of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Montpellier, France, are working with IBM to make data-driven decisions to rapidly transform the way they provide water, transportation and emergency management.

Built in partnership with cities, these new Smarter Cities Management Centers for transportation, water and emergency management bring together IBM's portfolio of leading Intelligent Operations software, IBM Global Business Services expertise, and IBM's broad analytics capabilities. They provide cities repeatable models for urban development. The solutions are available via the cloud or on premise through a combination of hardware, software, services, and preconfigured analytics models for best practices in city management. Rather than complex, customized projects, cities can begin getting insight from their data in a little more than a week.

These and other cities around the world are increasingly using data to make better decisions and allocate resources to sense and respond to challenges in city infrastructure. By improving traffic management, responding rapidly to incidents, using effective communication channels with citizens, and ensuring sustainable natural resources, data and analytics are providing new insight to create more effective cities.

Sustainable development

Energy, water and sanitation, agriculture and human mobility are all critical aspects for economic and societal development. One example is IBM's initiatives to help Africa tackle these challenges.

Africa, IBM Watson™ and “Project Lucy”

The last decade has been a period of tremendous growth for Africa—but the continent's challenges, stemming from an increasing population, water scarcity, disease, low agricultural yields, lacking infrastructure and other factors have impeded inclusive economic growth. IBM is actively working to help change that through two new initiatives.

In November 2013, IBM opened its 12th global research lab. Located in Nairobi, Kenya, it is the first commercial technology research facility in Africa. Supported by the Kenyan Information, Communication and Technology Authority and located at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, it features one of Africa's most powerful cloud-enabled computing hubs. It is giving researchers the ability to analyze and draw insight from vast amounts of data to develop solutions for Africa's most pressing challenges ranging from energy and water to transportation, agriculture and healthcare.

In February 2014, IBM announced a 10-year, $100 million initiative to bring IBM Watson—our cognitive computing technology—and other systems to Africa. Under “Project Lucy,” named after the earliest known human ancestor, IBM researchers in Africa, along with business and academic partners, will use Watson to leverage its cognitive technology to fuel development and spur business opportunities across the world's fastest-growing continent.

Watson technologies will be deployed from IBM's new Africa Research laboratory and provide researchers with a powerful set of resources to help develop commercially viable solutions in key areas such as:

In addition, to further leverage Watson's capabilities and help fuel the cognitive computing market, IBM is also establishing a new pan-African Center of Excellence for Data-Driven Development. We are recruiting research partners such as universities, development agencies, start-ups and clients in Africa and around the world to participate in this initiative. By joining, these partners will be able to tap into IBM's unparalleled expertise in cognitive computing across our 12 research labs and our new Watson business unit. This access will be invaluable for solving the continent's most pressing challenges, creating new business opportunities and assisting in development that is more sustainable.

IBM Watson technology is being deployed in Africa to help develop a range of commercial solutions for economic development

IBM Watson technology is being deployed in Africa to help develop a range of commercial solutions for economic development. Click for larger version.