AI, Autumn Statement, water risks, labour violations in Malaysia, SRI fund, Trump on climate, Black Friday, carbon labelling, RB targets wellbeing

Artificial intelligence holds ‘great hope for humanity’

Artificial Intelligence is a misunderstood technology that can be harnessed to help solve global issues such as cutting CO2 emissions, food waste and water shortages, a conference in London heard this week.

Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind, the UK AI start-up that was acquired by Google in 2014, told an event hosted by energy management platform The Curve that AI has the potential to address some of humanity’s most intractable social problems, such as the anomaly of 800 million people being malnourished while a third of global food production is wasted. “Despite the incredible progress we are making with smartphones and transportation systems, some of our most basic human rights seem to have eluded our complex civilisation,” Suleyman said.

By increasing humanity’s problem-solving capacity, AI can help the world make more rational use of scarce resources, Suleyman said. DeepMind has already helped Google make its data centres’ cooling systems 40% more efficient, cutting overall energy consumption by 15%, he pointed out. Since data centres use 3% of global energy, the potential to help combat climate change is significant, he added.

Munish Datta, head of Plan A and facilities manager at Marks and Spencer, said companies shouldn’t overlook the role of employees in driving energy savings by focusing too much on technologies such as AI. “It is easy to be seduced by technology, but it’s people who will make it happen – 25% to 30% of the benefit from scaled tech is through teaching people to use technology properly.”

John Elkington, chief pollinator at Volans, said disruptive new technologies such as AI, machine-learning and drones hold amazing potential for sustainability, but they also hold perils. He gave the example of the recent denial of service attacks, using dumb devices in homes to bring down much of America’s internet. “We are in the process of creating a system that will be helpful for much of the time but deeply problematic at others.” Elkington said he found it troubling that “precariously few” sustainability professionals are engaged with disruptive new technologies at this formative moment, focusing on old technologies such as oil and gas and chemicals. “My God it’s an exciting time but we have to pay attention and get involved in different ways," Elkington said. "Those denial of service attacks are just the precursor to more shocks.”

Autumn Statement fails to mention ‘climate change’

ENVIRONMENTAL groups criticised Philip Hammond’s 2016 Autumn Statement this week for failing to mention the words climate change, renewable energy or air quality. The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer’s tax and spending plan simply states that “over the next 15 years, more than £100bn of private investment is expected in the UK’s energy sector, providing new cleaner generating capacity”. Hammond confirmed that the carbon price floor will remain frozen until 2020, at £18 per tonne of CO2. There was also a focus on low-carbon transport, with £390m earmarked for “future transport technology”, including £100m towards driverless cars, and £80m for ultra-low emission vehicles. Other big decisions on energy have been delayed, with a decision on a cap on subsidies for green energy, such as offshore wind farms, now due in the spring Budget in 2017.

Innovate UK welcomed the statement, saying that the support for productivity and business-led innovation announced by the Chancellor was “potentially game changing”. However, Friends of the Earth’s senior campaigner Liz Hutchins said: “The Chancellor is pootling along in the slow lane, when the UK needs to be on the fast track to a low-carbon economy. With Donald Trump appointing climate deniers and oil lobbyists to his transition team, this is a huge missed opportunity for the UK to show the global leadership and urgency needed to protect our planet.”

Caroline Lucas, Green party co-leader, said Hammond’s failure to mention the UK’s ratification of the Paris climate change agreement was shameful. “By caving into the motor lobby and freezing fuel duty again for the seventh year in a row, the government has made a mockery of the fact that it is the hottest year on record, and condemned us to more carbon emissions and deadly pollution.”


Investors press meat producers on water pollution risks

CARGILL, JBS, Perdue Farms, and Smithfield Foods, four of the world’s largest meat producers, are being pressed by a group of 45 institutional investors with more than $1tn in assets to address the water pollution risks associated with livestock.

“As investors analysing water risks in our portfolios, we believe that robust management of water quality challenges is a critical aspect of risk-management in the meat industry, and one of increasing importance in the context of climate change and growing weather extremes,” said the investors, who are members of  sustainability non-profit advocate Ceres and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR).

Signatories to the joint letter want the meat companies to assess the pollution impacts of their direct operations and supply chains, and develop a comprehensive water stewardship policy, with related goals that address noncompliance, minimise permitted releases to waterways, the safe storage and management of animal waste, and fertiliser runoff.  


SRI wealth manager Tribe launches in UK

TRIBE Impact Capital, a discretionary wealth management firm that will focus entirely on socially responsible investing, has launched in the UK after receiving FCA approval.

Tribe will look at how clients’ values align with the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) framework, and will offer clients investment selections based on such values. Instead of employing negative screening, which typically avoids investments that do not meet an investor’s ethical standards, Tribe will take a positive selection approach, selecting responsible, sustainable and impactful investments.  “It is clear that many clients are looking to achieve a greater level of positive impact with their wealth. The industry needs to adapt to meet these requirements,” says David Scott, chair of the new venture.


Samsung, Panasonic accused over Malaysia labour abuses

A GUARDIAN investigation into treatment of Nepalese workers in Malaysia has revealed allegations of abuse and exploitation in the supply chains of Samsung and Panasonic.

Workers told the newspaper they had been deceived about pay, had their passports confiscated and been threatened. They also claimed to have paid large sums to recruitment agents in Nepal, and feared they would be made to pay the equivalent of three months’ wages if they left before the end of their contract.

Both companies are members of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), whose code of conduct prohibits payment to recruitment agents for workers.See Electronics industry challenges others to adopt employer pays principle

A spokesperson from Samsung said: “We comply fully with the EICC’s code of conduct and have found no evidence of violations in the hiring process of migrant workers hired directly by our manufacturing facility in Malaysia. Once there is any complaint, we take swift actions to investigate.” Panasonic also said it would conduct a full investigation into the claims.


Consumers want carbon footprint labelling

TWO-THIRDS of consumers in the UK, France and Germany would like to see a recognisable carbon footprint label on goods.

A study of more than 5,000 consumers conducted by YouGov for the Carbon Trust demonstrates the business opportunities in creating greener products, the Carbon Trust said.

“It is possible that we are seeing a Paris effect after the success of securing a global agreement on climate change last year,” said Darran Messem, managing director of certification at the Carbon Trust. “Businesses that communicate their achievements in reducing emissions can secure a reputational advantage over competitors.”


Patagonia to donate Black Friday sales to green charities

US OUTDOOR outfitter REI is staying closed on Black Friday and encouraging customers and employees alike to spend the day enjoying the outdoors. Meanwhile Patagonia, which supplies REI, said it plans to donate all of its Black Friday sales to grassroots organisations working in local communities, which are often underfunded and under the radar. In the UK, fair trade pioneer Traidcraft, is in its third year of Just Friday initiative, which calls on people to take a moment to stop, breathe and buy their gifts mindfully and ethically. Last year 1 million people engaged with this positive alternative.


Trump rows back on pulling out of climate agreement

PRESIDENT-ELECT Donald Trump has softened his position on climate change, telling the New York Times he now has an “open mind” over US involvement in the Paris agreement. Trump said during his presidential campaign that he would cancel the agreement.  

Trump had previously described climate change as a hoax created by China to “make US manufacturing non-competitive”, but, asked by the New York Times about the link between human activity and global warming, Trump was less definitive: “I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much.”


RB and Indiegogo in ‘well-being’ startup challenge

RB (formerly Reckitt Benckiser), owner of brands such as Durex, Nurofen, and Strepsils, has launched the “Healthier Tomorrow Challenge” on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. The challenge invites entrepreneurs with innovative health and well-being ideas to submit their solutions, with RB offering to help bring their products to life.

RB wants to help fund innovations in drug-free respiratory treatments and pain relievers; baby monitoring tools; vitamins, minerals and supplements; and sexual wellbeing. “We’re always on the lookout for innovators who we can partner with to discover new solutions that will enable our consumers to lead healthier lives and happier homes,” said Dave Challis, RB’s head of innovation.

Main AI image credit: Agsandrew
AI  labour  SRI  climate  carbon footprint  CO2 emissions  technology  climate change  energy  innovation  Paris Agreement  water pollution  supply chains 

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