IBM’s Sustainability Accelerator – Improving and Protecting Access to Healthy Water

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  March 22, 2023

The technology industry likes to consider itself a fount of innovation for addressing big, real-world problems. But high-tech companies, the media and consumers often focus much of their time and attention on the latest shiny new objects, click-bait headlines and attention-capturing services.

That said, some vendors are investing significant financial and human resources in tackling serious, often seemingly intractable issues affecting millions or billions of people. IBM’s Sustainability Accelerator is one such effort and the company’s recent announcement that it is accepting proposals for water management solutions is worthy of close examination.

IBM Sustainability Accelerator – Strategy and aims

Before diving into IBM’s latest request for proposals (RFPs), what exactly is the Sustainability Accelerator, how does it work and what are its goals?

Launched in February 2022, the Sustainability Accelerator is a pro bono program designed to leverage IBM technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and hybrid cloud, along with an ecosystem of company experts. The goal of the program is to enhance and scale projects focused on global populations vulnerable to environmental threats like climate change, pollution and extreme weather.

The program follows a three-step/two-year process that begins with IBM defining a central theme, then requesting RFPs. After a cadre of beneficiary organizations are considered and chosen by IBM and other representatives, they begin Phase One by meeting at IBM Garage facilities. Those discussions apply IBM design thinking and agile techniques to speed the identification of potential solutions and project development.

In Phase Two, IBM cross-industry experts configure resources and technologies to scale participants’ projects and help them meet community and environmental impact goals. Beneficiary organizations receive additional benefits, including monthly IBM Cloud credits, weather data credits, mentorship and access to the IBM partner ecosystem. IBM experts also support pilot solutions and deployments to facilitate optimal implementation, help determine long-term impacts and drive societal outcomes.

The initial cadre of Sustainability Accelerator beneficiaries that focused on sustainable agriculture, including The Nature Conservancy of India, Heifer International, Plan21 Foundation for Sustainable Human Development, Deltares and Texas A&M Agrilife are progressing through the Phase Two process. The second cadre focusing on clean energy, announced last November at the COP27 event, includes the United Nations Development Programme, Sustainable Energy for All, Net Zero Atlantic, Miyakojima City Government and Environment Without Borders Foundation is well into Phase One.

Why water?

Why has IBM chosen water and water-related ecosystems for the next Sustainability Accelerator cadre? As noted by the company, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that some 26 percent of the world’s citizens, over 2 billion people, live in water-stressed countries.

Additionally, at least 2 billion people use drinking water sources contaminated with feces that can transmit diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. The WHO estimates that diarrhea causes or contributes to as many as 485,000 deaths annually.

These challenges, along with chemical pollution risks, are likely to be exacerbated in some regions because of climate change and population growth. Unfortunately, many of the areas most deeply impacted by these issues and problems also lack the resources to fully or effectively address them.

Non-profits and government initiatives focused on water management can apply to the RFP for IBM’s Sustainability Accelerator from March 14th until the end of May 2023. The selected participants will be announced in November 2023.

Final analysis

In the developed world, clean, safe drinking water is commonplace. Many consumers prefer bottled water despite having access to excellent tap water. Many others indulge in flavored or vitamin and mineral enriched water. Public sanitation is overseen and policed by local governments and utilities.

The system isn’t perfect, as pollution scandals and public health crises in Flint, Michigan, Jackson, Mississippi and many other places make clear. But while nearly three quarters of the world’s people have access to safe water and water resources, 2 billion other people are suffering, being sickened and dying because they do not.

Without water, life is impossible. With polluted water, the potential for illness, incapacitation and death can be extreme. It is difficult to think of a more fundamentally important problem that is complicated by so many economic, political and societal issues, or one that is in dire need of original thinking and innovative solutions.

Reimagining and working to provide healthy water for 2 billion people is not impossible, but it is profound. IBM is not the only company searching for such solutions or supporting efforts to find them. However, given the company’s history of taking on and taming large-scale, real-world problems it will be worthwhile to see what participants and RFPs will be chosen for IBM’s latest Sustainability Accelerator program.

© 2023 Pund-IT®. All rights reserved.