AI & futurism

This article was published on March 21, 2022

IBM’s new sustainability accelerator is a blueprint for corporate responsibility

Big Blue walks the walk


IBM’s new sustainability accelerator is a blueprint for corporate responsibility
Tristan Greene
Story by

Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Nearly all of the world’s top tech companies are invested in solving the biggest problems facing the planet. But not all solutions are created equal. The issues concerning Silicon Valley, London, or Beijing are vastly different than those faced by smaller, less profitable communities around the globe.

That’s why, in the modern era, the idea of corporate responsibility has to go beyond charitable donations and one-off events to raise awareness. The most vulnerable communities need more than just cash. They need sustainable solutions to long-term problems.

Enter Big Blue

IBM’s new “Sustainability Accelerator” is a program designed to give under-serviced communities an advantage in the fight against the human-wrought climate and energy crisis, natural disasters, and the devastating effects of pollution, with an eye towards the future.

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In order to accomplish this, IBM is soliciting requests for proposals (RFPs) to create sustainability programs from local governments and nonprofits around the globe.

Organizations which are selected will receive help at every level of their proposal from inception to implementation, including pro bono support from IBM services, technicians, and trainers.

IBM’s Justina Nixon-Saintil, Vice President and Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, told Neural:

Over the next five years we’ll be investing about $30 million into these programs.

That’s a huge chunk of change, but the bigger value may come in the form of IBM technology.

The partners chosen will work directly with IBM to develop their projects with services ranging from Watson AI products to cloud-based computing and everything inbetween.

Nixon-Saintil told Neural the accelerator would even consider implementing IBM quantum technologies if the solution called for it.

The current RFP round, which ends on 30 April, is focused on “clean energy solutions benefiting vulnerable populations.”

Who gets in?

According to Nixon-Saintil, the point of the program is to take advantage of the technologies IBM offers to its biggest clients by making them accessible to vulnerable communities, and then to scale those efforts to other areas facing similar problems.

Accordingly, the proposals with the strongest chance of being accepted will likely be those that bring aid to areas that need it most.

Luckily though, organizations considering applying for the accelerator don’t have to make it up as they go along.

IBM worked with three non-profit organizations during a trial program leading up to the sustainability accelerator’s launch in order to dial things in.

The trial round focused on solutions for agricultural sustainability problems that addressed climate change, pollution, and crop yields.

What do they get?

The proposals selected for the accelerator will get the works. IBM engineers and technicians will help them develop their rough ideas into actionable solutions and Big Blue will foot the bill for just about everything.

According to an IBM blog post:

The IBM Sustainability Accelerator will provide support to each selected organization for two years following a two-phased approach.

Phase I: Accelerator engagements will kick off with the IBM Garage, IBM’s methodology to apply design thinking and agile techniques to fast-track meaningful innovation and drive lasting culture change. During this process, IBM experts will work with the beneficiary organization to identify their needs and establish a clear roadmap to design, develop, deploy, and continually improve technology to help solve specific public challenges.

Phase II: In a second phase, IBM cross-industry experts will configure IBM resources and technology designed to help participants meet their community and environmental impact goals. Some of the technologies that will be applied will include IBM Watson, IBM Cloud, or the Environmental Intelligence Suite, among others. In addition, IBM Sustainability Accelerator beneficiary organizations will receive monthly IBM Cloud credits, weather data credits, mentorship, and access to IBM partner ecosystem. IBM experts will also support pilot deployments of solutions to help facilitate optimal implementation, to scale long-term impact and drive key societal outcomes.

Neural’s take: when it comes to tech for good, it doesn’t get much better than this. Programs that throw tax-deductible donations at problems and then leave the recipients to fend for themselves might be well-meaning, but creating change at scale takes more than that.

IBM intends to provide the know-how, equipment, services, and skill-training necessary for the communities participating to eventually support their own solutions. And, according to IBM, the intent is for the most effective methods to be fine-tuned, scaled, and implemented elsewhere.

Basically, this accelerator is also an incubator. Instead of IBM trying to figure out how to solve everyone else’s problems, it’s empowering communities to come up with their own solutions — it’s IBM-as-a-service as much as it’s IBM at your service. We love it.

You can get more information here on IBM’s website.

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