Few issues are as important to businesses today than sustainability. Because the modern consumer cares about the environment, companies need to meet higher expectations about eco-friendly practices. Supply chains, in particular, have a lot of room to improve.
It's no secret that logistics chains aren't exactly eco-friendly. They account for more than 80% of carbon emissions globally. The modern business world can't exist without supply chains, but the natural world won't exist in the same way if they don't improve.
The good news is there's an answer. Artificial intelligence is an invaluable tool for customer service and business intelligence, and can also help in sustainability. Climate change is a complex issue, so a complex system could be the key to tackling it.
AI isn't a technology of the future. It's not only available now; it's thriving and already helping businesses to become more sustainable. By thoughtfully implementing AI, companies can pursue sustainability in ways that would be nearly impossible without it.
Shipping goods that people don't use isn't just bad for business; it's harmful to the environment. Each shipment releases pollutants into the air, so companies need to minimize wasted moves. But with traditional methods, it can be challenging to predict what customers will or won't buy.
AI allows businesses to predict consumer demand more accurately. Intelligent systems can gather data from a variety of sources and use it to make reliable forecasts through predictive analytics. They help companies to ship only what customers will buy.
The technology isn't just a theory. Fashion giant H&M uses AI to predict how much of certain items it will sell in a season, and adjusts shipping orders accordingly. The company founded its AI department in 2018, and now applies it to as many processes as possible.
The move toward digital processes allows for the generation of data in ways never before possible. With all that information in hand, predictive analytics can be surprisingly accurate. Estimating how many cans of soup people will buy can be tricky for a human, but it's no problem for AI.
Transportation is one of the most environmentally impactful areas of the supply chain. Large trucks, planes and ships filled with cargo generate huge volumes of emissions. AI can help to decrease these emissions, by optimizing both routes and the vehicles themselves.
AI-enabled vehicles offer improved performance, which means lower emissions. For example, intelligent trucks could measure their mileage and automatically adjust some settings to maximize fuel efficiency. They could also alert companies when they need maintenance, so that drivers can avoid operating less-efficient vehicles.
The most common application of AI in transportation is in the development of autonomous vehicles. With advanced GPS systems and other environmental data, driverless transports could plot out and follow more efficient routes than human drivers. Vehicles such as electric self-driving boats and driverless semi-trucks are already in production, so this future might not be far off.
Part of maximizing shipping efficiency is determining the urgency of deliveries. AI can track shipping conditions and other factors to produce delivery routes that balance package urgency with fuel efficiency. In this manner, companies don't have to sacrifice convenience for sustainability.
AI can adapt to changing conditions in real time. It can adjust for changes in the priority of individual deliveries after a shipment leaves the warehouse. Because machines can make complex calculations far more quickly than people, adapting to these changes isn't an issue for intelligent systems.
Sustainability isn't a one-time job. Businesses have to measure their environmental impact routinely if they want to be eco-friendly in the long run. Determining actual ecological impact is a complicated matter, which makes it an ideal task to leave to AI.
Intelligent systems can analyze how a supply chain operates, then offer insights on how to improve it. Companies can even use AI to monitor the ethical performance of their partners, to ensure they only work with sustainable businesses.
A Panasonic study found that 90% of customer-facing industries have already adopted mobile technologies across the supply chain. Mobile devices generate multiple data points that AI can easily track.
Businesses can use AI to track the effectiveness of their environment strategies. Because machine-learning systems adapt in real time, they can make changes as problems arise, reducing the risk of taking on substantial sustainability projects.
Supply chains will have to change a great deal to become sustainable, but AI can help to enable their efforts. If more businesses adopt the technology in their operations, logistics could become a green industry in no time.
Jenna Tsui is a technology blogger at The Byte Beat.