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Jul 04, 2022

The Future of Our Planet in AI’s Hands

by Hugues Foltz Executive vice-president

Artificial intelligence

According to the Royal Bank of Canada, the country will need to spend nearly $2 trillion by 2050 to reach its carbon neutrality goal. This exorbitant amount, at a cost of $60 billion per year, will be divided among all of Canada’s economic actors in order to actively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. However, businesses and consumers are the ones who will have to bear the brunt of this environmental debt.

There is no longer any debate on the seriousness of the current climate emergency which is intimately linked to GHG emissions. In recent years, the rhetoric surrounding the environment and global warming has greatly influenced our decisions, but it has not always been the case!

Remember that not so long ago, the idea of a green and sustainable economy was far from being a government or societal priority. For most businesses, an energy transition used to be a complex and costly change and only the most “eco-friendly” of them adopted concrete measures to protect the environment.

Today however, the tides have turned. Not only is GHG reduction the talk of the hour, but it is also becoming a requirement for many companies.

More drastic measures have already been implemented to deal with the crisis and set things in motion. The province of Quebec, like many other places in the world, has adopted a "carbon tax", a bill sent to major polluters based on their CO2 emissions.

And this is only the beginning. Soon, companies and organizations that want to stay running and ensure their success will have no choice but to completely rethink their business model and make it less polluting in the long run, or else they will have to pay a steep bill – or worse, close down.

This is where new technologies come into play. Among them, artificial intelligence represents one of the most promising solutions to ensure the future of many Canadian industries, especially when it comes to reducing their ecological footprint.

Its ability to provide in-depth information on multiple operational facets of an enterprise makes it the perfect tool for predicting, controlling, and managing polluting processes. Moreover, a study conducted by Microsoft and PwC has shown that, on an international scale, artificial intelligence could help reduce GHG emissions by 1.5% to 4% by 2030! In addition, the advances undertaken in this field over the past few years have made AI much more accessible and affordable for all businesses.

There are so many uses for AI that we generally lack perspective on the positive impact that these projects can have on the environment. For example, it is easy to automate, monitor and thus predict the energy requirements of plants, which can greatly improve the consumption of energy-hungry processes. Supply chain optimization is another key driver of change. This includes reducing plant inventories, offering products that are better suited to customer needs, and optimizing supply and transportation routes.

In the agri-food sector, prediction algorithms for harvests, sales and logistics make it possible to produce the right thing at the right time and thus avoid food waste.

Let us remember that in Canada, we waste no less than 58% of the food we produce annually, which is about 35 tons!

Of course, the financial benefits of an energy transition are also a great source of motivation. Optimized and less-polluting processes are often less expensive, in addition to considerably minimizing the energy consumption of industries. Even giants like eBay have opted for zero-carbon processes and are now reaping the benefits.

As new technologies unfurl, the business world is changing at a bewildering speed. More than ever, consumers are looking for eco-responsible and sustainable products and services reflecting their values and beliefs. Like it or not, we will have no choice but to transform our industries and factories if we want to achieve the government's carbon neutrality goals. To remain competitive, Quebec businesses will have to be innovative, show openness to new technologies and get rid of their reluctance to change.

We are at the crossroads. Now is the time to invest in technologies to avoid being stuck at an impasse. Beyond the desire to become ever more efficient and profitable, we must see Ai as one of the keys that will ensure a sustainable future for us and our children.