3 Ways Software Can Reduce Carbon Emissions

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With the climate change crisis looming, many are betting on new technology solutions such as carbon capture. We certainly need these solutions, and soon. But if we want to start reducing emissions now, software may be the key.

About 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere each year, most of which are used for manufacturing and energy. Global producers of commodities such as cement, steel and plastics emit about a third of greenhouse gases (GHGs), while the power sector accounts for a quarter. While some sources of emissions are obvious, others arise from indirect activities (Scope 3) and are therefore difficult to measure and therefore difficult to reduce.

Finding ways to reduce emissions is critical today as researchers work to make carbon capture cheaper and more efficient. Software provides such an opportunity. With the help of software, the process can be made 10 percent more efficient, reducing the amount of carbon that continues to build up in the atmosphere.

Here are three ways businesses 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 always justifies mass production of a product in an economical way. As a result, engineers reluctant to produce inferior products tend to add additional raw materials, overestimating rather than underestimating what is actually needed.

Software can change this process. Using machine learning, a piece of software can understand, in minutes, the complex production process of an item, covering a wide range of areas: from a steel beam to a pint of ice cream. Such software can then figure out how to produce the same item with the least amount of necessary waste — reducing carbon emissions instantly.

2. Optimize energy consumption

In the energy sector, software has become a major driver of increased efficiency. Software that was once a small investment can now be used as a means of controlling the entire energy process, from generation and storage to distribution and consumption. Last year, the power sector spent about $3 billion on software to optimize the performance and cost of power generation and grid assets.

Other industries that rely heavily on fuel and electricity have followed suit. Artificial intelligence software is used to optimize logistics and freight routing. When it comes to freight, many companies are adopting machine learning (ML)-based route optimization. Such software can design routes based on the most efficient routes, reducing fuel consumption and helping shippers maximize profits.

Traditional manufacturing also relies on production methods that result in high percentages of emissions, such as burning coal and fossil fuels. Software can optimize energy use and facilitate the exploration of more energy-efficient production methods. Without software, this would be expensive, requiring time and a lot of physical experimentation. With the help of software, we can reduce experiment time and use low-energy methods to manufacture high-quality products.

3. Minimize resource dependencies

In addition to direct emissions, many businesses rely on adding materials and resources that require emissions to produce. By using software to determine how to use these resources more efficiently, they are helping to minimize emissions across the supply chain.

In agriculture, digital monitoring and planning enables more efficient fertilization while increasing crop yields. Likewise, steelmakers are reducing their reliance on mining alloys by more than a third by using new machine learning techniques. These efficiency improvements allow existing resources to go further, helping to reduce the environmental impact of production.

Software has contributed to increased efficiency in many sectors. Amazon, for example, uses artificial intelligence software to improve the efficiency of every corner of its logistics system and continuously upgrades its inventory management algorithms based on real-time data. The company’s warehouses are a model of efficiency — leading to higher profits.

Applying the Amazon model to industries such as manufacturing, shipping, and energy, we can see companies use software to improve process efficiency, eliminate waste, and optimize energy use and resources. Software adoption will benefit a company’s bottom line as well as its environmental impact as efficiency gains translate into improved profitability.

Across industries, we should think of software as an immediate solution for long-term efforts to combat climate change. As carbon capture and similar technologies under development face costly hurdles, software has the opposite effect – eliminating waste, optimizing energy consumption, minimizing reliance on resources, and driving efficiency gains overall, which translate into higher profit. With more money, executives may be more likely to sign up for future green initiatives.

Berk Birand is co-founder and CEO of Fero Labs

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