Artificial Intelligence, Environmental Social Governance, and Scary Movies

The summary

  • Environmental impacts should not just be about events where animals, plants, and fish die.
  • Subtle environmental impacts poison ecosystems over time, slowly reducing the soil’s ability to support plants.
  • Artificial intelligence provides teams with the ability to design, implement, and evaluate management strategies to reduce environmental liability.
  • Such AI systems act like continuous safeguards for your assets and let you know the day someone has degraded your asset’s worth.

The Danger of Subtle Environmental Impacts  

All good horror films have menacing villains that range from the subtle (say, Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nestto the extreme (Leatherface comes to mind). Similarly, environmental impacts (our ecosystem villainsrange from the subtle to the extreme. The most extreme example is when animals, birds, plants, and fish die. Sometimes, you can see extreme examples in the Canadian prairies if you drive by a brine spill. All the trees have been killed, and their brownish grey leaves announce the death of an ecosystem. But we rarely see this level of impact. Instead, most environmental impacts are more subtle. The slow poisoning of ecosystems and the slow degradation of a soil’s ability to support plants (just like Ratchet chipped away at McMurphy)Typically, this slow process reaches a tipping point, and suddenly, it seems, the ecosystem dies overnight. If we can personify the environment as the victim for a second, this is terrifying for them, and like any good movie needs to be rescued and protected. 

The Regulatory Framework Protecting our Environment 

After some horrific examples of slow poisoning, our regulatory regimes were redesigned to help protect us and our environment from human activities that inadvertently poison us. The regulatory system that has been established can be thought of as a highway with three off-ramps leading to Remediation town.  

  • The first off-ramp is that if you have a known release, a broken tank for example, you need to track the release and clean it up. 
  • The second off-ramp is that you need to do periodic monitoring if your activities are known to inadvertently release pollution. 
  • The third off-ramp is if you ever decide to sell the land, you need to see if the land is polluted.  

The problem with these ramps is they are not proactive, and they are instead all designed to protect us after the pollutant has already entered the ecosystem and perhaps reached dangerous levels. 

AI and IoT Guides the Way to Proactive Remediation

Artificial intelligence (“AI”; think machines that have been trained to do tasks typically requiring human intelligence) linked to the Internet of Things (IoT or the billions of electronic devices connected on the internet collecting and sharing data) can help guide you to the right off-ramp. Environmental AI linked to IoT works a lot like Google/Apple Maps. Rather than waiting to drive past an offramp, environmental AI systems can identify the sites, procedures, or activities will likely happen and guide you to take the right remediation offramp. As a manager, owner, or stakeholder this data focussed approach allows you to decide: Do I want to visit Remediation Town or not? If you do not want to visit Remediation Town, you can plot out strategies that reduce pollution risk. You can then revisit your Environmental AI system and askHas the route been updated and/or are we still likely to have to take an off-ramp to Remediation Town?

Using Data to Stop the Spread of Pollution and Save Money

Robust environmental sensors can collect a lot of data, and AI systems can continuously monitor those data. It’s like having an environmental security guard for your company. Here is a common scenario. You think you own a building worth $10 million and decide to upgrade, sell or borrow against the establishment. But, after spending $50,000 on a Phase II environmental assessment, you find out that someone stole $3 million from your building. Due to pollution, your property is only liquid at $7 million, and no bank will accept it as collateral.  

Rather than waiting until your property value has already diminished and money is lost. Environmental AI and IoT can continuously monitor your site and let you know the day that someone polluted the place. Beyond the ability to proactively identify instances of contamination, environmental AI/IoT empowers owners to rapidly clean up the pollution before it spreads and ensure accountability for the infringing party.