Environmental threats, ranging from the rise of extreme weather events to global climate change, do not impact all people or groups equally. The populations at greatest risk are those in developing countries that have fewer resources to devote to large scale programs.
While many enterprises have embraced efforts to reduce the environmental impact of doing business, including employing renewable energy sources and using recyclable materials in products and packaging, fewer are focusing on larger challenges and global programs.
At the recent 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, IBM announced that five organizations focused on accelerating clean energy projects will become members of its global pro bono social impact program, the IBM Sustainability Accelerator. Let’s consider IBM’s efforts and the company’s sustainability goals.
IBM’s Sustainability Accelerator
What exactly is the IBM Sustainability Accelerator? Launched in February 2022, it is a social impact program designed to help at-risk communities address multiple global environmental threats, including climate change, pollution and extreme weather.
I wrote about the company’s effort shortly after IBM announced that the three initial members of the Sustainability Accelerator (focusing on sustainable agriculture) had successfully completed the first phase of the program in December 2021. In essence, the IBM Sustainability Accelerator follows a three-step process over a two-year period:
- Define – Annually, IBM defines a theme for the RFP (request for proposal) process and project selection from nonprofit and governmental organizations.
- Determine – Engagements kick off with Phase One discussions at IBM Garage facilities which apply IBM design thinking and agile techniques to speed innovation and project development. IBM experts work with beneficiary non-profits to identify their needs and establish a clear roadmap to determine public challenges and potential solutions.
- Design/Deploy – In Phase Two, IBM cross-industry experts configure resources and technology designed to scale their projects and help participants meet their community and environmental impact goals. Potential technologies include IBM Watson, IBM Cloud, and the IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite. In addition, beneficiary organizations will receive monthly IBM Cloud credits, weather data credits mentorship, and access to the IBM partner ecosystem. IBM experts will also support pilot deployments of solutions to help facilitate optimal implementation, scale long-term impact and drive key societal outcomes.
During the launch event, the company also invited nonprofit and governmental organizations to apply to a public RFP for the 2022 cohort’s focus on clean energy. During last week’s COP27 event, IBM announced the five organizations chosen for the 2022 program.
The Clean Energy Cohort
The selection process for 2022’s Sustainability Accelerator considered the applicants’ commitment to support communities especially vulnerable to environmental threats, their ability to increase access to affordable clean energy services, their strategic focus and transparency on measurement and reporting, and other factors.
After evaluating more than 100 submissions from around the world, IBM selected these nonprofit and governmental organizations to become the clean energy cohort of the program:
- United Nations Development Programme: UNDP is working with IBM to increase access to sustainable, affordable and reliable energy in African countries, focusing on those furthest left behind. The goal is to use UNDP’s technical knowledge and IBM’s artificial intelligence and geospatial analytics technologies to forecast electricity access and improve policy and investment decisions.
- Sustainable Energy for All: IBM is working with Sustainable Energy for All to build an intelligent model to project energy needs based on current and future human activity. This model will be designed to help to address key development challenges (e.g., lack of energy access and poor healthcare) and support the development of robust infrastructure planning, such as electrification plans. IBM machine learning and IBM Cloud technology and expertise will be used to build and scale open-access datasets and an energy needs model using temporal and spatial data. Kenya and India are being explored as the first regions to pilot the model.
- Net Zero Atlantic: Net Zero Atlantic is collaborating with IBM to create an interactive digital tool that will geospatially display environmental and socioeconomic impacts of possible energy system futures for Nova Scotia. Ultimately, the goal is for Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia to leverage advanced modeling capabilities to inform their input into energy and development planning. The tool aims to be easy-to-use, locally relevant and time efficient. It will be designed to produce easy-to-understand visual results using IBM technology such as the IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite and IBM Cloud.
- Miyakojima City Government: The Miyakojima City Government is working with IBM to support the development of a renewable energy strategy, including a microgrid on Miyakojima Island, a distant community facing severe climate issues due to typhoons in Japan. The goal is to help their residents, who rely on a clean local environment for the tourist industry and agriculture. Miyakojima City Government and IBM will collaborate to leverage technologies such as IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite weather data and IBM Cloud to model electricity demand and advise energy infrastructure development.
- Environment Without Borders Foundation: Environment Without Borders Foundation’s collaboration with IBM will be aimed to develop a platform to forecast, track, and communicate clean energy usage options in Egypt. The goal is to enable resilient and sustainable infrastructure and operations for clean energy in Egypt, helping residents of remote villages for whom energy is currently both expensive and unreliable. The clean energy management platform will leverage IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite and IBM Cloud.
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At one level, it is no surprise that IBM is focusing substantial time, attention and resources on efforts like the Sustainability Accelerator. The company has a long history of developing successful solutions for often seemingly intractable challenges.
Those solutions include advanced analytics technologies, hybrid cloud services and AI-based offerings. Some of these are specifically designed to help organizations successfully plan and manage the impact of severe weather and climate change events, like IBM’s Environmental Intelligence Suite, which will be used in many Sustainability Accelerator projects.
It is worth noting that since IBM operates in over 175 countries and serves clients and communities in virtually every corner of the world, “thinking globally” is deeply embedded in its DNA. Additionally, the company understands “acting locally”—addressing often massively complex, widespread problems and challenges one client or market at a time.
Finally, IBM is highly adept at applying lessons learned and new innovations across broader applications and use cases. The key is to maintain hope, learn everything you can, act with a sense of mission and find or build, and then use the required tools to get the job done. The IBM Sustainability Accelerator is just such a tool.