Why AI is central to sustAInable thinking in 2024

Posted on February 7, 2024 by Sean Farrance-White
An AI search bar in which someone is asking: How an AI help tackle the climate crisis?

At Man Bites Dog we spend a lot of time thinking about megatrends. Over the last year we have calculated the financial returns on climate adaptation in emerging markets, delved into the impact of the global energy crisis and explored the role of technology leaders within organisations in pushing through sustainability initiatives. Often our thinking on these megatrends involves trying to find a new counterintuitive angle, or exploring how trends currently impacting businesses might interact with each other. 

But in 2024, one megatrend – and two letters – is dominating our thinking more than any other: AI. Depending on your perspective it’s either coming for your job or it will save humanity. The reality is probably somewhere in between, but what is certain is that it will change (almost) everything. Recent trials of Microsoft’s GPT-powered Copilot found 70% of knowledge workers said they were more productive when using the AI tool. Repetitive tasks in the accounting and legal professions are set to be automated out of existence, whilst the application of AI to some of the complex industrial processes or the creation of “digital twins” will create huge real-world efficiencies. And anyone who has attended a marketing event or scrolled through a social media timeline recently (i.e. everyone) is met with fevered speculation about how generative AI will disrupt the marketing industry.  

AI as a carbon cruncher 

However, it is perhaps using artificial intelligence to tackle the biggest and most complex challenge of them all – the climate crisis – where it will have the greatest impact. To achieve a global net zero, the next 25 or so years will require a transformation of business the likes of which the world has never seen. The energy sector needs to decarbonise first and fast (see Supercharging Net Zero, our research project with Arcadis) whilst hard-to-abate sectors such as steel manufacturing will need to revolutionise their processes to produce products without fossil fuels. The full might of international capital markets will need to be thrown at millions of decarbonisation projects across the globe and, in a world of rising sea levels and increased extreme weather events, we will need new and innovative technologies to help communities adapt. 

The good news is – it’s already happening. AI is already being used to intelligently manage power grids to ensure supply better meets demand and it is running as efficiently as possible. The technology is being integrated into accounting software to help businesses track their scope 3 carbon emissions. And the potential for ‘industrial AI’ to optimise processes – and therefore reduce emissions – in the advanced manufacturing, built environment and infrastructure sectors is huge. However, even to the giddiest techno-optimist, it's clear that the huge amount of data centre capacity needed to underpin ubiquitous AI will lead to an equally huge carbon footprint. According to some estimates, the tech sector as a whole could account for a whopping 14% of global emissions by 2040.

Thought leadership opportunities 

But what does this mean for B2B marketing teams and their thought leadership? As with all disruptions for forward-thinking B2B organisations, the AI revolution creates opportunities for growth as their clients seek guidance on what happens next. By undertaking research-backed thought leadership around the impact of AI on the sustainable transition within their sector, marketing teams can cater to that demand – helping their customers navigate the disruption and seize the opportunity of AI. 

Does this sound relevant to the conversations you're having with your clients? Get in touch with the Man Bites Dog team to find out how we could help. 

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