AI Platforms Have Their Sustainability Work Cut Out for Them


Despite predictions that generative artificial intelligence will drive a massive increase in energy demand, AI companies are only beginning to consider the climate impact of their products.

While some applications of the tech could support agencies’ sustainability goals, developing and using generative AI tools requires massive amounts of energy which, in turn, generates climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

“On the bright side, you’re going to have less travel, you’re going to have less human movement, because more of these mundane tasks are going to be done by AI,” Larry Adams, CEO and founder of inclusion-focused AI platform X_Stereotype said. “The flip side of that is the enormous computing power that is required to make these AI systems work.”

Creating GPT-3—of which ChatGPT is a specialized variant—generated the same amount of emissions as driving 123 cars for a year, researchers found. Asking a question to an AI bot could require roughly 10 times the power needed for a standard search engine query.

As AI tools weave their way into the daily habits of workers and web users across the globe, the carbon footprint of the internet is poised to balloon well beyond its current estimated 4% of global carbon emissions. By one estimate, data centers and communication technology are predicted to reach 14% of global emissions by 2040.

Embed sustainability into the process

Because generative AI is relatively new, there’s little in the way of best practices when it comes to using the tech sustainably. Still, it’s important that marketing practitioners incorporating these tools consider the climate implications of all their work—including generative AI.

“[We need to be] making sure to work with partners that are taking [the climate impact of AI] into consideration,” Elav Horwitz, evp and global director of applied innovation at McCann Worldgroup, said at Adweek’s NexTech.

Choosing partners based on their climate commitments is one way to ensure that sustainability will be part of the conversation at each step. But there are practical ways to avoid excess emissions, too.

“Every prompt we put into ChatGPT creates carbon emissions,” Horwitz said. “Even training people on how to write the prompt, […] to think for a second about what you want to get out of the gen AI, and then go to it and get the right output.”

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