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AI and Sustainability: The Role of HR

AI is the beating heart of the metaverse. AI is driving massive changes in the structure and processes we use to run the government. However, AI also is a huge contributor to the degradation of the environment. The impact comes from the hardware, the software, and the data.

The hidden carbon footprint of all our electronic devices and gadgets is more than the airline industry (1.04% of global CO2e), which contributes to !!! What is worrying is that this will exponentially increase, first doubling by 2025!

In my talk, "The Management of AI and Humans: A HR perspective," I

highlighted that every email leaves a carbon footprint (4grms CO2e), and one with an attachment (photo) has 50grm CO2e. This statistics means the job of onboarding new employees also begins with how and when to write emails, whom to cc, and whether to add attachments or put them as links for downloads (storage also has a carbon footprint - 3% of global carbon emissions).

While books have a carbon footprint, they can be reused and recycled. We can decrease the carbon footprint by extending the life of a laptop to 4 to 5 years.

In addition, organizations should have an e-waste policy and help employees dispose of their e-waste. For example, when asked in class, most students kept old mobiles, unsure of how to safely (from a data point of view) dispose of their old electronics.

We also need to be careful, as when companies give us their net carbon (with offsetting), we have a false sense of what is their carbon footprint. It is important to ask how they offset. One carbon credit is equivalent to an emission reduction of 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide. When they buy carbon credits, they should disclose what type of environmental projects they have invested in.

And, of course, the debate exists, if these are old trees, they are protecting them, so is it really offsetting (we need another word)? Protecting the environment and older biospheres is critical for biodiversity. Oceans, soil, and forests are natural heat sinks.

We know how essential nature is for wellbeing. For example, the Japanese have a custom of forest bathing. Walking through a forest reduces stress levels. So - if HR is tasked with well-being, should they also invest in protecting nature? Terrace gardens, forests in biospheres? Amazon’s The Spheres indoor garden is a very interesting example of a biosphere.

Let us rethink sustainability in a tech-enabled world. There is a vital role HR can take. Tech is about tools to help employees, not just about productivity and profits. It is about creating a better, more sustainable, and inclusive world. We can do this if we are ruthless about values. What are your values as an organization centered around – people, planet, or profits? What are the tradeoffs? If you fire people for profits, then you are about profits. If you do not think about how your products are sourced, disposed or sold and their impact on the environment, then you really are not about the environment. Values show up in every decision you take. It is as simple as that. And HR is the department that helps an organisation stay centered around values. As we become the most prepared country for AI, we need to stay centered on people as that is Leadership Rule 1: We serve the people.


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