Earth Day 2024: how AI is improving conservation

From removing plastic from our rivers and oceans to protecting endangered species – artificial intelligence is supporting environmental protection in lots of ways. We present four impressive examples just in time for Earth Day 2024.

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#1 Microsoft celebrates Earth Month


Our planet is once again the focus of April, which marks Earth Month around the globe – a chance to celebrate life on Earth and raise awareness of environmental issues. More than a billion people take part in Earth Day on April 22, making it the world’s biggest event among civil society. Bringing together countless activities and initiatives, the campaign highlights the importance of conservation and encourages people all over the planet to take action for a better, sustainable future.

Microsoft has also jumped on board by showcasing its commitment to our planet in some of its international stores. And the tech giant is putting its money where its mouth is: as part of the “AI for Earth” program launched in 2017, it has invested an impressive 50 million U.S. dollars into utilizing state-of-the-art AI technology to drive innovation in four areas: agriculture, biodiversity, water, and climate.

50million U.S. dollars
Microsoft has invested in AI and environmental protection.

The corporation has also developed the Planetary Computer for a sustainable future. This computer collects a wealth of data on the global environment, serving as a basis for creating precise models for sustainability research. It also acts as a platform for developers across the world to play their part in protecting the environment.

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#2 everwave for a plastic-free environment


everwave’s mission is to remove plastic from the world’s rivers and oceans. In addition to the valuable task of building awareness, the startup’s strategy focuses on researching innovations and carrying out cleanup projects using smart technologies. A key part of collecting waste is detecting the waste in the first place. With that in mind, everwave is working with the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence to leverage AI for the purposes of detecting and analyzing waste in water. The PlasticObs+ (link in german language) project combines pioneering AI technologies and intelligent sensors to make an effective contribution to conservation.

The insights gained from the AI are then incorporated into all subsequent cleanup measures. After a river has been cleaned up, the waste is recycled and fed back into the circular economy.

Companies that like the sound of this can become part of the global cleanup wave: for every euro received, the startup will collect 1 kg of waste from the water. So it couldn’t be easier to support the mission and do something good for the environment.

#3 The metaverse and AI for conservation


AI is also playing a valuable role in protecting animals. In Africa, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is using artificial intelligence to keep track of lion numbers (link in german language). In Canada, it is using AI to protect endangered species, particularly whales off the Canadian coast.

It isn’t the first time that WWF has used modern technology creatively and innovatively to promote conservation. Back in 2022, it teamed up with Savespecies to open a virtual exhibition in the metaverse. The goal: raise awareness of the global plastic waste crisis. The awareness campaign was combined with a digital art auction to fund other environmental projects.

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#4 Calling all AI lighthouse projects


When it comes to using AI for sustainability and conservation measures, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment is also promoting innovations with its Green-AI Hub Mittelstand. This initiative brings together knowledge and skills to help SMEs use AI tools to increase resource efficiency and material savings.

The German federally owned company Zukunft – Umwelt – Gesellschaft (ZUG), which translates as “Future – Environment – Society”, is also doing great things. Working on behalf of several federal ministries, the specialized project management agency develops and supports a wide range of funding programs and strategic projects to protect the environment, nature, and climate and to drive innovation. Its focus is making the world more climate-neutral, supporting biodiversity conservation, and promoting the sustainable handling of ecological resources.

A heads-up: as part of this initiative, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment is looking for lighthouse projects that embrace AI to promote climate and environmental protection. These could be projects that use data analyses to protect ecosystems or ones that protect and nurture biodiversity. Click here to apply for the funding by May 17, 2024 (webpage only in German).

AI as a catalyst for conservation

To identify positive and negative trends with regard to the environment and climate, make well-informed predictions, and take appropriate action, it is absolutely crucial to collect and analyze large amounts of data – and, as we know, that’s what artificial intelligence does best. Offering practically unlimited potential, AI can make a significant contribution to conservation and accelerate related projects and research. Like in other fields, artificial intelligence is also revealing another of its strengths by acting as a real creativity boost for implementing fresh and attention-grabbing marketing and awareness campaigns. If businesses and organizations ramp up their use of this groundbreaking technology in the name of conservation, we have every reason to be hopeful and optimistic about the future of our planet.