For ESG and sustainability, AI will make things clearer
If you’re like most business leaders, you’ve been playing on ChatGPT, Bard or Bing and inventing weird pictures on Midjourney. The opportunities fizzle in these generative AI space and CEO’s have teams dedicated to cracking open those benefits. You’re probably thinking about customer service chatbots, hyper-optimised ad targeting, and the endless options for automation. You might even have thought about how it fits into your sustainability plans – by analysing your supply chain, or helping out with ESG reporting.
But, did you ask the chat-bots about your brand? Because others are.
Your consumers search ability just got supercharged. Which means when they look up information on your business – your carbon footprint, how much you pay workers in your supply chain, your green (or not) investments – they will find it, at the speed of AI.
AI tools for sustainability and ESG transparency are multiplying before our eyes. ChatIPCC can converse about climate science, using the latest and most authoritative scientific papers as its data input. ClarityAI digs around in companies’ sustainability data and shares back simple graphics and reports. GreenwatchAI compares companies’ green claims against their actual carbon emissions. And ClimateBert fact checks climate-related claims and can be used by governments to detect greenwashing.
Then there’s the extraordinary tool of Climate TRACE which generated the world’s first global emissions inventory, by detecting and tracking companies’ emissions in real time. It’s might have more accurate idea of your business’s environmental impact than you do – all openly available for any passing consumer, regulator or prospective employee to check.
It’s enough to put even the steeliest of CEOs a little on edge. Your company might have already opted to be fully transparent – or, like most companies, you might have good transparency intentions that aren’t yet met. But wherever you are on your journey to being more open, the truth is that you no longer have a choice. Generative AI now mean that any customer can ask a question, and get an easy-to-understand answer, in seconds.
Many of these answers were already out there, if you knew where to look, and were happy to plough through ESG reports, activist websites and reams of news articles about companies sustainability scandals. Now, anyone can get an answer to their sustainability question in seconds, sustainability nerd or not.
AI offers a window into brands’ real behaviours. Not a grubby one with the blinds half-closed, á la the ‘transparency’ we’re used to from brands whose sustainability information is buried in dense reports. The window created by AI is sparklingly clean – clear enough to bang your forehead on.
Try it for yourself. Go ask AI, ‘Does X (insert your company) pay fair wages?’, ‘What are the biggest sustainability scandals X has faced?’, ‘Is X-product made with child labor?’, ‘Is X-product environmentally friendly?’
Are you happy with the answers AI is giving everyone about your performance?
This information channel is one that businesses can’t yet manipulate. No amount of SEO wizardry or playing with social media algorithms can change what ChatGPT will find and share. For now at least, AI is a black box. Which means no chances for big brands to gloss over sustainability-related crises and scandals with clever social media management.
An early and ingenious example of this kind of exposure in action is the Gender Pay Gap Bot on Twitter. When a company tweets about International Women’s Day, the bot quote-tweets it and states the company’s actual gender pay gap data. As the bot account’s image banner says: ‘deeds not words’. AI can cut through the sustainability noise – the hashtags and platitudes, claims and catchphrases – to provide simple, stark truths.
These capabilities are music to the ears of Gen Z – currently in their early twenties – who we at Futerra have dubbed the ‘Honest Generation’. Our research has shown that they are far more likely than Millennials to be suspicious of brands – to say that brands are, for example, not honest enough about how their factory workers are treated (84% of Gen Z compared to 69% of Millennials), or about how environmentally friendly their products are (79% of Gen Z compared to 66% of Millennials). This group might be young, but their spending power is surprising, and their age means that their influence on the consumer and job markets is only set to increase. And in the months and years to come, AI will be their close ally as they track down the truth.
The tools themselves are notoriously opaque even as they open up the world. There remains the problem of ‘hallucination’, when an AI confidently generates false information. The data centre energy demand, and need to make that renewable. And of course the ethics of training on images and online content without acknowledgment (or remuneration) of their authors. These are huge and relevant considerations, and businesses best line of defence is – you guessed it – to make their data clear, thorough and accessible.
And with or without their flaws, these AI tools – and many others, yet to be created – will ‘do’ transparency ‘to’ your business whether they are honest themselves. So the real question is: what can you do about it?
In the face of this kind of inevitability, it is tempting to either bullishly ignore or passively surrender to change. But the most successful businesses will do neither. They will lean into this new wave of truth and transparency, and choose ‘being honest’ over ‘being exposed’. Three ways to get started on that;
Have you tasked your SEO team with discovering what people are asking about your brand and sustainability? Do you know the 100 most common questions asked about you online? The data is there, but many brands still rely on surveys of public interest rather than checking what people are actually Googling about your company.
Have you run an ‘AMA’ (ask me anything) session with staff? Discovering what colleagues want to know is a good hint to what prospective talent and even interested publics might be interested in. How many of those questions could you answer? How many did you actually want to answer?
Have you fully loaded sustainability information onto your wikipedia page, your Global Compact annual statement and CDP disclosures? AI scrapes information from many public sources, not just your website, for it’s answers. The more you can share in many public places increases the likelihood that consumers questions will be answered.
The days of burying ESG data and tweaking SEO to cover up sustainability scandals is over. The driving imperative of these new AI’s is to answer the question asked. So, have you openly and thoroughly answered people’s sustainability questions – before an AI can do it for them?
ESG, SDG, CER, GRI, FSC, LCA, WELL Sustainability, /sustainability, Innovation, /innovation, leadership, standard Read More
Solitaire Townsend, Contributor