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  • Microsoft’s General Manager, Naim Yazbeck, explains how the cloud, AI, and other digital tools are already being used to solve some of the region’s most enduring problems, from water scarcity to energy consumption

GCC governments, determined to diversify their economic mixes, have authored and promoted a series of formal national visions. Among the many pillars of these initiatives, sustainability stands out as a common denominator. Environmental measures that encompass waste management, controlled water usage, energy consumption and carbon emissions, and biosphere preservation are of crucial importance to nations that have ambitions to stand on the world stage and be recognized as innovators and leaders.

“The sustainability road is long and will require intensive co-operation between governments and private enterprises,” said Naim Yazbeck, General Manager, Microsoft UAE, a company that has been out in front on sustainability issues for some time.

“We believe transparency can serve all of us in our combined efforts to make a difference,” Yazbeck said, noting the company’s goal to be carbon-negative by 2030 and to have removed all its historic emissions by 2050. “While we are open about our own progress, more importantly, we also provide our customers with advanced tools such as emissions impact dashboards which can help them establish their own baselines and make their own informed choices.”

While the precise roles of governments and private enterprise in the world’s sustainable future are yet to be determined, Yazbeck hopes that agreements can be reached on “ensuring the safety and comfort of future generations”. As environmental, governance and social (ESG) issues rise to the fore in today’s boardrooms, sustainability has become a hot topic, and stakeholders such as shareholders and investors are now likely to take an ever-greater interest in such matters. In the digital era, technology is playing an inevitable role in the sustainability efforts of both public and private organisations.

“At Microsoft, we’re both makers and big consumers of all things technology — Internet of things (IoT), digital twin, advanced analytics, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft Power Platform, you name it. The execution of sustainability transformation commands both speed and scale. And, only technology can enable that acceleration while also helping scale the impact.”

Advanced analytics, machine learning, IoT, and digital twin technology can help capture near to real-time data and understand data across siloed systems in real time. AI can help speed the design cycle and create rapid prototyping of sustainable products. It can also give manufacturers insights into the carbon footprint of an item by tracing its entire supply chain to identify hot spots.

“We are finding solutions to problems that have stumped us for decades, such as for example understanding how much water a city consumes in real time. The intelligent cloud gives us artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, the Internet of Things, mixed reality, and a slew of other technologies. Sustainability engineers across the region are combining these capabilities into clever solutions that allow them to make tangible progress on a range of issues, from water scarcity to preservation of wildlife habitats.”

Microsoft recently joined with Sharjah’s sustainability pioneer, Beeah to infuse its new headquarters with artificial intelligence, including a digital concierge that serves both employees and visitors. A specialist in waste-management and recycling, Beeah engaged with Johnson Controls and Microsoft on the smart-building solution, which is hosted on Microsoft Azure. The system optimised energy efficiency and boosted employee productivity.

“The Beeah facility set a benchmark in the field of sustainability,” Yazbeck said. “It carries LEED-platinum certification – the highest available for green buildings – and will serve as a beacon for other sustainability innovators. To be successful, we must all remember – technology is only a tool. It will not save our planet. We humans – empowered and propelled by our technology – must take responsibility and make a difference. Only people can deliver sustainability.”

For more on how technology can support sustainability, check out our podcast sit-down with Nada Taryam, Managing Director of Civil Projects at Beeah when it drops next week.