Understanding the ‘human’ element of your AI sustainability journey

Post Date
28 March 2024
Bhumika Pruthi
David Bailey
Read Time
3 minutes
  • ESG advisory

Searches for Artificial Intelligence (AI) increased fourfold in 2023 compared to 2022, showing the rapid change that AI has had on the global market[1]. While last year was all about speculating as to the accuracy and the ethical and legal implications of using AI, this year, we can expect to see enhanced regulation and standardisation of ethical practices, along with AI readiness for use within business.

AI brings a multitude of benefits and has the potential to alleviate the burden of mundane tasks and free up time for more strategic endeavours. The uptake of AI in the sustainability industry, especially for greenhouse gas emissions accounting, can potentially result in increased efficiency. However, it cannot be relied on in the same way as we (humans) can. Therefore, as the uptake of AI gets well integrated within business process and practices, the role of humans will evolve into two critical steps, namely the pre-AI human element and the post-AI human element.

The human element of a service provider is its ability to ‘set the scene’ for what software can potentially only execute. The ‘pre’ AI human element constitutes the process of engaging with the client to understand their needs, defining the scope, reviewing data, cleaning it and making it ‘tool ready’ so that AI can execute the calculations. Likewise, the ‘post’ AI human element constitutes the transformation of data into information. Data becomes useful when a subject matter expert analyses, summarises and presents the data in a simplified yet effective way to enable actions to be taken for progress. Some examples of the significance of the human element include:

Reassurance and reliability:

The human / personal touch is crucial for providing reassurance and comfort to clients who are in the initial stages of their sustainability / climate journey and are still trying to get to grips with the scope of the regulatory requirements / landscape. Humans can provide warmth, hospitality, and a sense of genuine care that may be challenging for software to replicate convincingly (no matter how holistic the FAQs section).

Technical expertise:

Sustainability and climate related projects often involve complex, unpredictable situations that may not fit neatly into predefined algorithms. From asset list changes to regulatory updates, anything can happen. Humans are adept at adapting to new circumstances, finding creative solutions, and handling unique cases.

Setting the scene for execution:

Data transforms into information only when presented in the right context. Similarly, only setting the right commands within software can ensure appropriate execution. While automated software can help carry out data management efficiently, it’s the human element that can help transform that data into useful information.

Stakeholder engagement:

Sustainability is a journey, not only limited to regulatory compliance, but ambitious change, a lot of which must be internal for any organisation. The human element ensures an organisation is not only complying, but also engaging, with stakeholders internally by sharing knowledge and collaborating to bring about a mindset shift, push for more ambitious targets, and re-define the organisation’s vision.

While the uptake of AI is a useful and forward-looking avenue which will benefit everyone, as long as we use it correctly, its purpose should be to complement humans, not replace them. The biggest benefits of AI can be harnessed through strategic integration of AI tools with one’s business objectives, enabling business to shift the nature of work away from routine tasks to prioritise value-driven projects.



[1] - Google. Trends: Ai. 2024. https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%205-y&q=ai&hl=en-US

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