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  • Writer's pictureCarolina MIlanesi

IBM's Sustainability Accelerator Program Empowers Governments And Non-Profits To Address Environment

Climate related disasters and natural hazards are estimated to push 26 million people into poverty each year. To help make a difference, IBM launched the IBM Sustainability Accelerator. This global pro-bono social impact program leverages IBM technologies, such as hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) and an ecosystem of experts. The goal is to empower non-profit and government organizations to accelerate and scale their efforts focused on populations vulnerable to environmental threats, including climate change, extreme weather, and pollution.

A study published in September 2021 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that in the US, the most severe harms from climate change fall disproportionately upon underserved communities who are least able to prepare for and recover from heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and other impacts.

Black and African American individuals are projected to face higher climate change impacts than all other demographic groups. For instance, a two °C (3.6°F) rise in temperature due to global warming would result in a 34% more likely to currently live in areas with the highest projected increases in childhood asthma diagnoses and 40% more likely to currently live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme temperature-related deaths.

LatinX have high participation in weather-exposed industries, such as construction and agriculture, which are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures. With that same two °C temperature increase due to global warming, LatinX individuals are 43% more likely to currently live in areas with the highest projected decrease in labor hours due to extreme temperatures.

Globally, disasters related to weather, climate or water hazard caused 2 million deaths and US$ 3.64 trillion in losses between the 1970s and 2019. Research published in 2021 in the Journal Nature Climate Change used machine learning to analyze and map more than 100,000 studies of events that could be linked to global warming. Researchers paired the analysis with a well-established data set of temperature and precipitation shifts caused by fossil fuel use and other sources of carbon emissions. Aside from the critical finding that despite existing pledges, the planet is on track to heat up about 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, the researchers identified an immense gap in studies. For example, fewer than 10,000 studies looked at climate change's effect on Africa, and about half as many focused on South America. By contrast, roughly 30,000 published papers examined climate impacts in North America.

This evidence clearly underlines the need underserved communities have and how timely the IBM Sustainability accelerator is. With a problem as significant as the impact of climate change, scalability is critical, especially when dealing with organizations with limited financial or technological resources.

The IBM Sustainability Accelerator is a two-year commitment focused on building all necessary skills to allow government and non-profit organizations to scale and accelerate their efforts. Each year, IBM will select new projects and organizations that use technology to help communities tackle sustainability issues worldwide. Sustainable agriculture, air pollution, clean energy and just some of the areas that IBM will consider. There are two phases to the two-year accelerator program:

  • Phase one: ideation. IBM will work with each organization to identify its needs and establish a roadmap to design, develop, deploy and continually improve the technology to solve specific public challenges.

  • Phase two: development and implementation. IBM will help participants meet their community and environmental goals by applying technologies like IBM Watson, IBM Cloud, the environmental intelligence suite and more throughout the two-year process for each participating organization. In addition, each organization will receive custom tools, scientific expertise and mentorship.

With the program's launch, IBM invited non-profit organizations to apply to a public request for proposal (RPF) for the 2022 round focusing on clean energy. Proposals are due by April 30, 2022, and should be submitted through the Submission Portal. IBM will announce final decisions for its initial invitations to the Accelerator's clean energy cohort by August 31, 2022. Accelerator support for clean energy engagements will begin in October 2022 and run for up to two years.

The Sustainability Accelerator ran a pilot program that ended year one in December 2021 focused on sustainable agriculture. The organizations in the pilot were selected based on proposals solicited through an invitation-only RFP shared with organizations already in IBM's partners' network. The pilot involved three organizations:

  • The Nature Conservancy India is building a public information platform to help eliminate crop residue burning in North India in furtherance of their goal to improve agricultural sustainability public health and help reduce climate change impact in India.

  • Heifer International is working to equip farmers' cooperatives in Malawi with weather and crop yield forecasts to help increase their yields and incomes.

  • Plan21, helping smallholder farmers in Latin America manage their crops more sustainably while increasing their productivity and income and contributing to consumer awareness to develop more responsible markets.

There is a lot of effort across tech to impact society positively. The past two years have seen an acceleration in financial support towards organizations involved in making a difference, starting with the communities home to many of the top tech companies and moving more broadly across the globe. Providing financial support is always welcome but has limitations. First, it lacks scalability. It also does not allow companies to use their products, technology and services to make a difference while showcasing their capabilities. Providing access to technology, expertise, and capital creates a multiplier effect for both the company spearheading the program and the one receiving it. IBM Sustainability Accelerator offers scalability and long-term impact to the organizations involved. To IBM, it provides an opportunity to show how their technology can be used to drive positive change, but more importantly, how it can be instrumental for any customer looking at conducting a more sustainable business.

Doing good while doing well is the best way to approach any social impact initiative as it assures a long term commitment. Driving sustainability is a must because the planet needs every organization to address the climate crisis we face. But sustainability will also be a $12 trillion business a year by 2030, according to Accenture, and looking at the opportunity for business growth that it offers is also a must.



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