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AI for Good: Powering the Path to Sustainable Development

When you think of AI, sustainability may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But with rapid advances in technology, AI is poised to play a major role in the future of our economy, health, and environment.

From enhancing financial inclusion to optimizing energy use and improving healthcare outcomes, AI's capabilities are vast and varied. And for the past decade, AI has intersected with some of the most important objectives we have as a planet—the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

What Are Sustainable Development Goals?

Throughout the 2010s, members of the United Nations gathered to discuss major issues plaguing society, such as poverty, inequality, and climate change. The outcome of these meetings was a set of 17 Sustainability Development Goals (or SDGs) for ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring a more peaceful and just world by 2030.

All United Nations Member States adopted these goals in 2015:

  1. No Poverty
  1. Zero Hunger
  1. Good Health and Well-being
  1. Quality Education
  1. Gender Equality
  1. Clean Water and Sanitation
  1. Affordable and Clean Energy
  1. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  1. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  1. Reduced Inequality
  1. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  1. Responsible Consumption and Production
  1. Climate Action
  1. Life Below Water
  1. Life on Land
  1. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  1. Partnerships for the Goals

While these goals act as a useful framework, they also present enormous challenges.

For one, the 17 goals are highly interconnected. Ending poverty, for example, must go hand-in-hand with strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth. And the United Nations is on a tight timeline—in the grand scheme, 15 years is not a long time for goals of this size and scope.

To foster alignment and achieve success in that short timeframe, national governments must rely heavily on enterprise businesses that have the resources, global reach, and influence across societies and economies that governments need to enact meaningful change.  

Thankfully, advances in data analytics, automation, and machine learning have enabled many companies to drive progress toward each of the 17 SDGs, making the world a better place while earning consumer trust and driving revenue.

The Impact of AI on Specific SDGs

AI is playing a pivotal role in advancing Sustainable Development Goals through the following sectors:

Financial Services

Through machine learning algorithms and data analytics, financial institutions are better able to find and extend credit to previously unreachable populations, making significant contributions to Goal 1: No Poverty. For example, fintech startups like Tala use AI to analyze mobile phone usage patterns to provide microloans in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and India.  

AI has also facilitated significant advancements in Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure through:

  • Faster, more efficient operations: Last year, Square released new generative AI features to help small businesses scale, like menu generators, hyperreal AI-generated photos for e-commerce websites, web copy generators, and suggested customer service replies.
  • Cross-border payments: Companies like Ripple use AI and ML to enhance cross-border payments, reducing costs and improving transaction speeds, thereby strengthening financial infrastructure globally.
  • Fraud reduction: Mastercard uses AI to make payments safer, assessing transaction data in real-time to detect fraud, improve approval accuracy, and reduce false declines.

And some financial institutions are even using AI to find and develop sustainable investing strategies and analyze environmental risk in portfolios, advancing Goal 13: Climate Action.

Healthcare

Healthcare has a natural tie to Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being, and AI is leading the way, particularly in terms of diagnostics. Today, AI algorithms are interpreting medical images, such as X-rays and MRIs, more quickly and accurately than human radiologists, and many leading healthcare companies are implementing AI in their diagnostics workflow:

AI is also crucial in managing patient care, especially for chronic diseases. AI systems are monitoring patient stats in real-time through wearable devices, alerting healthcare providers when intervention is needed, thereby improving overall patient outcomes.  

Energy

AI is balancing energy supply and demand, making significant strides in Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. NextEra Energy, a Fortune 200 company, leverages predictive analytics and machine learning to manage renewable energy outputs from wind and solar farms based on weather patterns, improving efficiency and eliminating energy waste. They own several subsidiaries, including America's largest electric utility, Florida Power & Light Company, allowing them to provide clean, affordable, reliable electricity to nearly 6 million customer accounts.

AI also helps in smart grid management. Utilities use AI to analyze data from smart meters and sensors to detect faults in the network and predict equipment failures before they occur. This proactive maintenance helps reduce downtime and improve the reliability of energy supply. In May 2024, Siemens launched a series of new AI-based apps for more efficient operation of water infrastructure on their Xcelerator marketplace.

Consumer Goods and Retail

Retail and CPG giants are using AI to make headway on Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Since 2020, Amazon has used natural language processing and generative AI to make even more accurate predictions of what customers will love and buy across Amazon’s vast catalog of products—forecasting demand for over 400 million products per day. Their highly accurate models reduce overstock and understock situations, which, in turn, minimizes waste and supports more sustainable consumption patterns.

Procter & Gamble has followed suit, partnering with Microsoft to implement AI, machine learning, and edge computing services across its manufacturing supply chain to:

  • Promote efficiency
  • Decrease manufacturing downtime
  • Minimize scrap
  • Ensure a safe working environment

AI technologies also help personalize shopping experiences, learning customers’ shopping preferences and suggesting products they are more likely to purchase, decreasing return rates and associated waste.

Build a Better Future With AI

AI technology isn’t just a futuristic ideal. It’s a practical tool already making significant strides toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals, analyzing vast datasets, predicting trends, and optimizing processes faster and better than ever.

As we look to the future, the continued integration of AI into SDG efforts will be paramount to achieving them by 2030. And AI's applications are as diverse as the goals themselves. The key is to harness the potential of AI responsibly and creatively.

Whether you're just getting started or looking for more advanced AI applications, our AI Transformation Workshop will help you take the next steps toward building a future everyone can be proud of.

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When you think of AI, sustainability may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But with rapid advances in technology, AI is poised to play a major role in the future of our economy, health, and environment.

From enhancing financial inclusion to optimizing energy use and improving healthcare outcomes, AI's capabilities are vast and varied. And for the past decade, AI has intersected with some of the most important objectives we have as a planet—the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

What Are Sustainable Development Goals?

Throughout the 2010s, members of the United Nations gathered to discuss major issues plaguing society, such as poverty, inequality, and climate change. The outcome of these meetings was a set of 17 Sustainability Development Goals (or SDGs) for ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring a more peaceful and just world by 2030.

All United Nations Member States adopted these goals in 2015:

  1. No Poverty
  1. Zero Hunger
  1. Good Health and Well-being
  1. Quality Education
  1. Gender Equality
  1. Clean Water and Sanitation
  1. Affordable and Clean Energy
  1. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  1. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  1. Reduced Inequality
  1. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  1. Responsible Consumption and Production
  1. Climate Action
  1. Life Below Water
  1. Life on Land
  1. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  1. Partnerships for the Goals

While these goals act as a useful framework, they also present enormous challenges.

For one, the 17 goals are highly interconnected. Ending poverty, for example, must go hand-in-hand with strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth. And the United Nations is on a tight timeline—in the grand scheme, 15 years is not a long time for goals of this size and scope.

To foster alignment and achieve success in that short timeframe, national governments must rely heavily on enterprise businesses that have the resources, global reach, and influence across societies and economies that governments need to enact meaningful change.  

Thankfully, advances in data analytics, automation, and machine learning have enabled many companies to drive progress toward each of the 17 SDGs, making the world a better place while earning consumer trust and driving revenue.

The Impact of AI on Specific SDGs

AI is playing a pivotal role in advancing Sustainable Development Goals through the following sectors:

Financial Services

Through machine learning algorithms and data analytics, financial institutions are better able to find and extend credit to previously unreachable populations, making significant contributions to Goal 1: No Poverty. For example, fintech startups like Tala use AI to analyze mobile phone usage patterns to provide microloans in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and India.  

AI has also facilitated significant advancements in Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure through:

  • Faster, more efficient operations: Last year, Square released new generative AI features to help small businesses scale, like menu generators, hyperreal AI-generated photos for e-commerce websites, web copy generators, and suggested customer service replies.
  • Cross-border payments: Companies like Ripple use AI and ML to enhance cross-border payments, reducing costs and improving transaction speeds, thereby strengthening financial infrastructure globally.
  • Fraud reduction: Mastercard uses AI to make payments safer, assessing transaction data in real-time to detect fraud, improve approval accuracy, and reduce false declines.

And some financial institutions are even using AI to find and develop sustainable investing strategies and analyze environmental risk in portfolios, advancing Goal 13: Climate Action.

Healthcare

Healthcare has a natural tie to Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being, and AI is leading the way, particularly in terms of diagnostics. Today, AI algorithms are interpreting medical images, such as X-rays and MRIs, more quickly and accurately than human radiologists, and many leading healthcare companies are implementing AI in their diagnostics workflow:

AI is also crucial in managing patient care, especially for chronic diseases. AI systems are monitoring patient stats in real-time through wearable devices, alerting healthcare providers when intervention is needed, thereby improving overall patient outcomes.  

Energy

AI is balancing energy supply and demand, making significant strides in Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. NextEra Energy, a Fortune 200 company, leverages predictive analytics and machine learning to manage renewable energy outputs from wind and solar farms based on weather patterns, improving efficiency and eliminating energy waste. They own several subsidiaries, including America's largest electric utility, Florida Power & Light Company, allowing them to provide clean, affordable, reliable electricity to nearly 6 million customer accounts.

AI also helps in smart grid management. Utilities use AI to analyze data from smart meters and sensors to detect faults in the network and predict equipment failures before they occur. This proactive maintenance helps reduce downtime and improve the reliability of energy supply. In May 2024, Siemens launched a series of new AI-based apps for more efficient operation of water infrastructure on their Xcelerator marketplace.

Consumer Goods and Retail

Retail and CPG giants are using AI to make headway on Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Since 2020, Amazon has used natural language processing and generative AI to make even more accurate predictions of what customers will love and buy across Amazon’s vast catalog of products—forecasting demand for over 400 million products per day. Their highly accurate models reduce overstock and understock situations, which, in turn, minimizes waste and supports more sustainable consumption patterns.

Procter & Gamble has followed suit, partnering with Microsoft to implement AI, machine learning, and edge computing services across its manufacturing supply chain to:

  • Promote efficiency
  • Decrease manufacturing downtime
  • Minimize scrap
  • Ensure a safe working environment

AI technologies also help personalize shopping experiences, learning customers’ shopping preferences and suggesting products they are more likely to purchase, decreasing return rates and associated waste.

Build a Better Future With AI

AI technology isn’t just a futuristic ideal. It’s a practical tool already making significant strides toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals, analyzing vast datasets, predicting trends, and optimizing processes faster and better than ever.

As we look to the future, the continued integration of AI into SDG efforts will be paramount to achieving them by 2030. And AI's applications are as diverse as the goals themselves. The key is to harness the potential of AI responsibly and creatively.

Whether you're just getting started or looking for more advanced AI applications, our AI Transformation Workshop will help you take the next steps toward building a future everyone can be proud of.

Back to top

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Discover latest posts from the NSIDE team.

Recent posts
About
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