CIOs must balance the environmental promises and risks of AI, says Gartner report

While there are many benefits and advancements that come from using artificial intelligence within organizations, Gartner says they need to be balanced against the environmental consequences that come from hardware, model training, and energy consumption. 

At the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2023, hosted in Barcelona, Spain in early November, analysts explored how IT and AI can support environmental sustainability.

Gartner suggested that chief information officers  (CIOs) can use their digital knowledge and foundation to support the sustainability efforts of their organizations when it comes to implementing AI initiatives.

“Gartner’s 2023 CEO survey showed that environmental issues entered the top 10 priority ranking for the first time in the history of the survey,” said Bettina Tratz-Ryan, VP analyst at Gartner. “At the same time, CIOs are under increasing pressure from their executives, customers, employees, investors, and regulators to initiate or reinvigorate their IT for sustainability programs.”

Tratz-Ryan added that 64 per cent of CEOs surveyed said that combining AI adoption and sustainability is an opportunity to grow. CIOs can take that and use it to create sustainability strategies for their organizations. 

There are severe environmental impacts that come with integrating AI into systems. For example, Gartner predicts that by 2030, AI could consume up to 3.5 per cent of the world’s electricity. “AI consumes a lot of electricity and water. This negative impact should be mitigated,” said Pieter den Hamer, VP analyst at Gartner.

To address this issue, den Hamer suggests that executives be wary of their AI environmental footprint and take measures to mitigate it, such as prioritizing (cloud) data centres powered by renewable energy. Gartner said public cloud providers can produce 70 to 90 per cent fewer GHG emissions than traditional server rooms, owned data centres, and midsize data centre facilities.

Gartner notes that CIOs can deliver on mandates and requirements by tracking and tracing business KPIs, such as product carbon footprint or energy intensity. If prioritizing sustainability isn’t a focus yet, the CIO should make their digital foundation “sustainability- ready,” the company reveals in its release. 

However, it’s not all bad news when it comes to AI and its impacts on the environment. AI can be used to boost sustainability initiatives and help find data to create these initiatives. 

“For instance, AI can be used to predict demand more accurately and reduce the usage of raw materials and energy in manufacturing,” den Hamer said. 

But a system like this can only be successful if IT leaders foster a portfolio of AI initiatives that help achieve the sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals of their organizations, he added. 

“Overall, if used in the right way and focused on the right use cases, AI can help companies mitigate sustainability risk, optimize costs and drive growth,” den Hamer said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Samira Balsara
Samira Balsara
Samira is a writer for IT World Canada. She is currently pursuing a journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formally known as Ryerson) and hopes to become a news anchor or write journalistic profiles. You can email her at [email protected]

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