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Watch: AI Has a Role to Play in Global Sustainability

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Artificial intelligence has an important role to play in promoting sustainability across the supply chain, says Erin Halka, senior director with Blue Yonder

With the help of modern technology, supply chains can achieve global sustainability, both in planning for sourcing goods and determining how to move them, Halka says. The goal is to acquire just the right amount of inventory, so that customer demand is satisfied but merchandisers aren’t left with excess product. In addition, carriers need to figure out how to move freight as efficiently as possible, to eliminate redundant hand-offs.

In theory, companies have the information they need to measure their total carbon emissions from transportation. But the amount of data that’s available can overwhelm human managers. What’s needed is artificial intelligence to handle the volume of information and turn it into accurate measurements of the supply chain’s overall impact on the environment.

“AI is augmenting the human brain,” says Halka, noting that in the past, humans would have to devise the most efficient routing with the help of maps. Now, that determination can happen much more quickly and accurately. And the system can automatically adjust to changes in traffic and routing conditions, such as road closures and accidents. Companies “can be smarter at a very granular level that people were never able to achieve before,” she says.

AI can also play an important role in the warehouse, another major source of carbon emissions. With the aid of cameras in the yard, the technology can prioritize the order of unloading and loading of trucks at a given facility.

Similar systems inside the warehouse can take on the difficult task of managing returns — deciding which items should be recycled, reused, resold or disposed of. The result is a much more efficient use of stock on hand. REI, for example, can reduce overall inventories because 30% of its sales are coming from resold items, Kaufman says.

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