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With the climate change crisis looming, many are betting on new technological solutions such as carbon capture. We definitely need these kinds of solutions and as soon as possible. But if we want to start reducing emissions now, software could be the key.
As regards 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere every year, most of it in manufacturing and energy. Global producers of goods such as cement, steel and plastic account for about a third of greenhouse gases (GHGs), while the electricity sector accounts for a quarter. While some emission sources are obvious, others are the result of indirect activity (scope 3), making them difficult to measure and therefore reduce.
While researchers work to make carbon capture cheaper and more effective, it is critical to find ways to reduce emissions today. Software offers such an opportunity. Using software, processes can become up to 10% more efficient, reducing the amount of carbon that continues to build up in the atmosphere.
Here are three ways companies can implement software to reduce their environmental impact:
1. Eliminate waste
The production of consumer and industrial goods has never been optimized to minimize waste. In other words, a certain amount of waste has always been justified to make products on an economic scale. As a result, engineers who are reluctant to produce products of inferior quality tend to add extra raw materials, overestimating rather than underestimating what is actually needed.
Software can transform this process. Using machine learning, a piece of software can learn the intricate production process of an item in minutes, across a wide range of industries: from a steel beam to a pint of ice cream. Such software can then figure out how to produce the same item with the minimum amount of waste required, immediately reducing CO2 emissions.
2. Optimize energy consumption
In the energy sector, software has already become an important driver of efficiency. Once a small investment area, software now serves as a means to energy processfrom generation and storage to distribution and consumption. Last year, the energy sector issued an estimated $3 billion worth of software to optimize the performance and cost of generation and network assets.
Other industries that rely heavily on fuel and electricity are following suit. AI software is used to optimize logistics and truck routes. In freight transport, many companies are taking over: machine learning (ML)-based route optimization. Such software can design routes based on the most efficient routes, reducing fuel consumption and allowing shippers to maximize their profits.
Traditional production also relies on production methods that cause high emissions, such as burning coal and fossil fuels. Software can optimize for energy consumption and facilitate the exploration of more energy-efficient ways of manufacturing. Without software, this would be costly, time consuming and a significant amount of physical experimentation. With software, we can shorten the duration of the experiment and adopt more energy-efficient approaches to manufacturing high-value goods.
3. Minimize resource dependence
In addition to direct emissions, many companies rely on the addition of materials and resources that emissions require to produce. By using software to determine how to use these resources more effectively, they help minimize emissions throughout the supply chain.
in agriculture, digital surveillance and planning can use fertilizers more efficiently while increasing crop yields. likewise, steel producers reduce reliance on mined alloys by more than a third by leveraging new machine learning technology. These efficiencies push existing resources further and help reduce the environmental impact of production.
Software has led to efficiencies in many sectors. Amazon, for example, uses AI-powered software to squeeze efficiency from every corner of its logistics system, with inventory management algorithms continuously upgraded based on real-time data. The company’s warehouses are a model of efficiency — leading to higher profits.
If we apply the Amazon model to industries such as manufacturing, shipping and energy, we can see that companies are using software to make their processes more efficient, eliminate waste and optimize for energy consumption and resources. With increased efficiency translating into increased profitability, software adoption would benefit both bottom line and environmental impact.
In all sectors, we need to see software as an immediately applicable solution that can be used in long-term efforts to combat climate change. As carbon capture and similar technologies under development face the obstacle of cost, software has the opposite effect: eliminating waste, optimizing energy use, minimizing resource dependency, and driving efficiencies that translate in higher profits. With more cash in their pockets, executives are more likely to join future green initiatives.
Berk Birand is co-founder and CEO of Fero Labs
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