March 22, 2018 The Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire

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The Intersection of Cognitive Computing and Sustainability

How artificial intelligence can help companies use real time insights to enhance their sustainability efforts


Co Author: Dimitar Vladhov

On the 11th of May 1997, in New York City, life as he knew it changed for world chess champion Garry Kasparov. For the first time in history, a machine, a super computer named Deep Blue that was developed by IBM, defeated the grandmaster. Despite being highly publicized, this was not the first time that artificial intelligence had been utilized by humans. Decades earlier, during World War II, Genius mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turning broke the code to a German Enigma machine, resulting in shortening the war by an estimated two to four years. Although artificial intelligence and some of its methods, such as natural language processing, may appear complex and superfluous at first glance, it is becoming ubiquitous thanks to its ability to provide new interpretations of many types of data that weren’t fully utilized before. A variety of artificial intelligence tools are already being used by big brands, as they scramble to understand the complex systems in which they operate and improve their value propositions to customers and other stakeholders. For brand and marketing executives, in particular, artificial intelligence applications present a unique opportunity to track engagement around any company activity, including sustainability efforts.

In this context, IBM’s Watson supercomputer and other related technologies hold the keys to a Holy Grail of sorts: accessing real-time market intelligence and unleashing superior new modes of stakeholder engagement. Cognitive computing, and natural language processing in particular, can make sense of huge quantities of previously untapped data, finding details and patterns that help explain complex stakeholder interactions as well as company performance. In a nutshell, these tools can make sense of an overwhelming amount of information, and unearth only what is relevant and useful for any given company program or objective. Retail, entertainment, hospitality, air travel and quite a number of other industries have been leveraging this new type of data analysis for years now, though rarely for sustainability-related purposes so far. 

Arguably, one of the biggest barriers when implementing and promoting ESG programs, regardless of size, is the lack of effective success metrics that can not only ascertain whether a company’s sustainability programs are working, but can also show whether or not ESG efforts are creating positive ROI and external stakeholder appreciation. This is precisely where cognitive computing comes in, allowing executives to dive deeper into the massive amounts of feedback the world is giving them in real time.

Companies such as San Francisco based TruValue Labs have developed specific tools that aggregate a wide range of sustainability-related information, extract meaningful patterns and useful signals, and serve up interpretations and conclusions to business users. By using artificial intelligence to make sense of sustainability data and stakeholder reactions in real time, companies, investors and others may soon no longer be dependent on traditional sustainability or analyst reports, which are not updated in real time and arguably do not capture the full range of data needed to assess performance and create value. For example, UPS has been using such tools to gauge the effectiveness of its sustainability efforts more accurately and enhance its integrated reporting. As a results, in addition to new market intelligence UPS executives are gathering, the company is able to market its sustainability efforts better and assert itself as part of the transparent company movement (something which, as mentioned in the previous blog post in this series, is quickly becoming a non-negotiable expectations for Millennial consumers and employees). 

With the use of AI-enabled real-time insights and more robust measurement models, companies will be able to not only track the success of their sustainability efforts more effectively, but also present more compelling propositions when it comes to engaging and delighting their full range of stakeholders.

IBM’s Director of Watson Group, EMEA, Paul Chong, will be discussing Watson and the use of artificial intelligence at the Sustainable Brands’ 15 London conference taking place next week. For more information and to register, please visit:

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