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AI's rising environmental impact concerns CEOs, Gartner survey finds
Wed, 8th Nov 2023

A new Gartner survey of CEOs in 2023 shows that while 78% of business leaders believe the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) outweigh the risks, the environmental implications of AI usage cannot be overlooked. The survey found that AI, especially generative AI, is contributing to a growing environmental footprint.

Prospective indicators suggest that AI could consume up to 3.5% of the world's electricity by 2030. This development hints at the critical balance organisations must strike between the opportunity AI technology provides to mitigate environmental risks and its potential negative environmental impact. This is according to Kristin Moyer, a Gartner expert, who counsels business leaders on sustainability and digital business issues.

The survey evidences that environmental concerns moved into the top 10 priority rankings for the first time in the history of the survey. Bettina Tratz-Ryan, VP Analyst at Gartner, revealed that CIOs are under increasing pressure to manifest or invigorate their IT for sustainability programmes, owed to demands from executives, customers, employees, investors, and regulators.

More than half of the CEOs surveyed emphasised that the convergence of digitalisation, such as AI adoption, and environmental sustainability, represented a viable growth opportunity. Tratz-Ryan urged CIOs to interpret this as a call to be more proactive in demonstrating their leadership through the execution of sustainability transformation strategies. She also encouraged the use of sustainability as a platform for growth.

The survey shed light on how most CIOs deliver on mandates and requirements by tracing business KPIs such as product carbon footprint or energy intensity. Tratz-Ryan declared, "It is a matter of how the CIO applies their digital foundation, or their digital dividend, to accommodate their organisation’s digitalisation metrics, while delivering on the sustainability requirements."

She suggested that even if a business is not yet prioritising sustainability, the CIO should ensure their digital foundation is sustainability-ready.

Whilst acknowledging the significant environmental risks posed by AI, including massive electricity consumption and water usage, Gartner pointed out that the deployment of AI could also substantially foster numerous sustainability initiatives.

As Pieter den Hamer, VP Analyst at Gartner, points out, "executives should be cognisant of AI’s own growing environmental footprint and take active mitigation measures. For example, they could prioritise (cloud) data centres powered by renewable energy."

Strikingly, Gartner estimated that public cloud providers could produce 70% to 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional server rooms, owned data centres, and midsize data centre facilities.

Den Hamer further emphasised that if used correctly and concentrated on the right use cases, AI could assist organisations in lowering sustainability risks, optimising costs, and driving growth.

This assertion suggests that the correct utilisation of AI technology could allow companies to predict demand more precisely, thus reducing raw materials and energy consumption in manufacturing.