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Earth Day: Appen’s Commitment to a Better Environment

Published on
April 22, 2022

The Role of AI in the Fight Against Climate Change

It may seem a strange change for the global leader in Data for the AI Lifecycle to pause from our usual AI insights and Data for the AI Lifecycle content to recognize an organic moment such as Earth Day. After all, does data really have an impact on our planet?

The short answer is, yes, it does—but we also have an obligation as a corporation with a global footprint to do our part to honor and sustain the planet we share. Appen is committed to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 and we’re taking critical steps to achieve this goal.

A Shift in the Significance of Earth Day

Created on April 22nd, 1970, Earth Day marks the start of the modern environmental movement. The first Earth Day was so successful that the US created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Originally, Earth Day was meant to be a celebration of our planet and all it has to offer. In recent years, there's been a shift to raise awareness about changes in our global climate and what can be done to address this.

The first Earth Day also led to the creation of several acts in the following years

  • The Clean Air Act
  • The Clean Water Act
  • The Endangered Species Act
  • National Environmental Education Act
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act

It wasn’t until 1990 that a worldwide campaign was made that involved 200 million people in 141 countries. The success of this campaign resulted in a worldwide increase in recycling efforts.

By the start of the new millennium, more than 5,000 environmental groups were established across 184 countries. Earth Day is still going strong today with over a billion people taking part each year, and now modern technology is joining the fight to create a better world for future generations.

The Role of AI in the Fight Against Climate Change

Data plays an important role in the future of our planet. Machine learning is now being used to predict the weather and if/when a natural disaster will strike. These AI models are being trained with historical weather data, with the anticipated outcome being a reliable prediction of when the next storm will hit and the impact that it can have on the area.

There’s some concern over the amount of energy needed to train the AI model before implementation and if it could cause an increase in GHG emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), currently, only 1% of all global electricity contains all the global data center energy demanded. One way to ensure this holds true is if hardware continues to become more efficient. This way a service demand increase won’t result in an increase of power output. PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a study that shows by 2030, GHG emission can decrease globally by 4%.

Additional ways AI can help fight climate change

  • Create more energy-efficient buildings
  • Improve renewable energy output by only sending electricity to the designated item when needed
  • Predicting wildfires and how they might spread, reducing response times, and providing recommendations to limit damage
  • Regional climate change and weather event simulations that impact city planning and even mitigation strategies

One potential way the above can be achieved is by training AI models to automatically adjust the room temperature or turning lights on or off. This is combined with smart sensors that detect if people leave or enter rooms. These sensors can also detect temperature changes and adjust the air conditioning or heat as needed when the room is occupied. We’ve worked on hardware and device testing projects. It’s one of the eight different data types we work with, and we look forward to working with companies to help them create more energy efficient devices.

How Appen is Helping to Reduce our Environmental Impact

As an organization, Appen’s goal is to reach net zero emissions by 2030 and be certified by Climate Active. We recently completed our first Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions inventory for Scope 1 and 2. This year we plan to focus on determining our Scope 3 emissions; using that info will help us achieve our goal.

Types of GHG Scopes

  • Scope 1 - emissions include all fuel consumption at a facility to produce electricity, steam, heat, or power.
  • Scope 2 - emissions includes indirect emissions from purchased electricity, heat, or steam.
  • Scope 3 - emissions include all that’s excluded from Scope 1 and Scope 2 such as purchased goods and services, business travel, and other investments and assets.

We have a relatively small footprint. As you can see in the graph below, our combined Scope 1 and Scope 2 footprint is 1,278 tCO2e for 2021. This includes all our offices globally (excluding short-term locations or those operational for less than six months).

We plan to further reduce our footprint through the reduction of our impact across all Appen offices, facilities, travel, and data center usage by:

  • Leasing energy efficient buildings and adopting energy efficient practices.
  • Reducing electricity consumption and increasing our use of renewable energy.
  • Optimizing our data center requirements and working with a cloud supplier that has committed to using 100% renewable energy.
  • Reducing waste generation and water use and increasing recycling.
  • Evaluating and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Minimizing travel by using digital conferencing and collaboration tools.
  • Buying carbon offsets for unavoidable travel.
  • Working with our partners and suppliers on sustainable procurement solutions

To learn more about our plans to reduce our environmental impact, you can read our 2021 Annual Report in the Social and environment section starting on page 30.

Our Plans for the Future

Within the next year we plan to incorporate Scope 3 GHG categories to refine our inventory process. In addition to this we are planning to develop a partnership program. The goal of this program is assisting our suppliers with education and reduction of their emissions. For the next year we also plan to increase our utilization of renewable energy.

Becoming Climate Active certified is a longer-term goal of ours. This pairs with our goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2030, as the requirement to become Climate Active certified is achieved from a business reaching net zero emissions.

How You can Help Reduce your Environmental Impact at Home

Earth Day started as a celebration of the planet and an opportunity to educate on how to better help the environment, and that hasn’t changed today. While businesses are playing a significant role in helping make more environmentally friendly choices, everyday people can still help themselves. Some items can be as simple as turning lights off when you leave a room, or they can be a little more involved like planting trees.

Here are some suggestions for helping the environment

  • Recycle, and check your local recycling guidelines for what’s included
  • Shop with reusable bags
  • Use a reusable water bottle
  • Check your local thrift store and online sites like eBay or Craigslist to find gently used items that you need
  • Donate items that are no longer needed
  • Turn off a light when you are done using it and unplug items not needed, or use a power strip
  • Switch to LED lights
  • Compost food scraps, it can even be used as fertilizer
  • Plant trees, either on your own or through volunteering

This year’s theme is Invest in Our Planet, and the above list is a great way to get started. In alignment with this theme, Appen is offering an employee match program for contributions made to earthday.org. To learn more about Earth Day and how you can be involved you can go to the official website.

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