Guest Post: How positive attitudes towards AI will help bridge green skills gap for travel

Guest Post: How positive attitudes towards AI will help bridge green skills gap for travel

James Lever, chief technology officer of business sustainability management platform Weeva, explains all the positives of taking a more positive approach to it

AI is integral to turbo-charging green skills that we desperately need around the globe and following COP28, we need businesses and governments to recognise this now more than ever.  

Economies across the world are unprepared for the green revolution. Whilst the urgency to adopt positive environmental initiatives has never been greater, there is a growing gap in sustainability expertise that is obstructing the green transition. According to a study by Microsoft and Boston Consulting Group, the green skills gap is projected to reach 7 million by 2030. This sentiment was echoed by LinkedIn’s co-founder, Allen Blue, during COP28 who warned of a “significant sustainable skills shortage”.  

COP28 needs to mobilise action

Green skills found a place on the various agendas during COP28 but few events and fireside chats factored in the role that AI can play. How AI and other innovative new technologies can help us address our sustainability challenges, including green skills adoption, should be part of the plan moving forward yet it didn’t make the final text of the conference’s agreement.

The intrinsic relationship between technology, skills and sustainability is key to how our economies can not only ensure that we reach Net Zero but limit global temperature rises whilst also protecting economic growth and jobs in fragile economies. For example in the travel and tourism industry, the need to educate and adopt new sustainable practices is undisputed. The industry is making progress, but there is a clear sense of urgency for more to be done; the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that the industry is responsible for approximately 10% of global GHG emissions. As economies grow and industries - like travel and tourism - continue to bounce back from the pandemic, it will be important to think about the role that technology can play in creating future-facing workforces with the right skills and expertise to manage our climate challenges and mitigate its impact.

Inaction is costing us

The World Bank estimates that climate change costs low and lower-income countries 5% of their national GDP which is entirely unsustainable for economies that are reliant on a few key sectors, such as travel and tourism. As a large income driver for many countries, travel and tourism’s role in climate resiliency efforts is crucial. The industry is both a large contributor to global warming, as mentioned, but it is also deeply susceptible to the negative impacts that climate change has on biodiversity, community safety and secure employment. For the summer just past, heatwaves may have cost us 0.6% of national GDP on average according to Allianz, with developing countries disproportionately affected.

However, both the climate change agenda and generative AI have become deeply politicised and sources of contention. Every second of delaying the adoption of new technologies, adapting people’s skills, and actioning climate resilience plans is costing us. This risk jeopardises the stability of smaller, less advanced economies more acutely than high-income nations.  

AI can spur the development of new skills 

Learning and adopting new green skills can be a step in the right direction for the 320 million people expected to be employed in travel and tourism-related industries across the world. I firmly believe that AI has a role to play here. The Bletchley Declaration signed after the first-ever global AI Safety Summit last month risks holding us back from using these new technologies to be able to build up capabilities and knowledge within organisations that are most at risk of the effects of climate change, as well as for those who want to make a start on protecting people and the planet.

The rhetoric around AI as an existential crisis for humanity could see a global regulatory tightening of AI’s application in organisations. Of course, any new advances in technology need to be closely monitored, but generative AI offers us the opportunity to democratise knowledge accumulated by experts for the benefit of others and embed new skills within teams.

The travel and tourism industry is already taking small steps

In travel and tourism, consumers are already finding that AI can help them plan their travel itineraries. The same can be applied to the other side of the coin: businesses in this industry can integrate new systems and technologies to help them improve efficiencies, future-proof their operations, and implement long-term environmental and social sustainability plans. For the vast majority of travel and tourism businesses, it can be difficult to know where to start - especially since 80% of them are SMEs according to the WTTC, that often have lower budgets and less experience with nascent technologies. Generative AI can help educate and train businesses with sustainability expertise that they may not have been able to have access to before.

Take Gensler as an example; the multi-national design practice has been integrating AI into its designs for hospitality properties to ‘take sustainability to new heights’. In this way, hotel staff have been able to understand new ways of thinking about how to be sustainable and adopt new processes that enable these functions to be more streamlined. While there is always a risk to automation, we believe AI can be an enabling tool to embed new skills and knowledge into any and all organisations. At Weeva, we’ve been able to do this for the array of hospitality properties around the world that use our platform to manage, track and evaluate their sustainability data. As our own AI capabilities grow, we believe our user base will be able to equip themselves with the decades worth of sustainability expertise that we as a team have accumulated.

Green skills – but more broadly sustainability knowledge – are the answer to many of our very real and very present environmental and social challenges. How we get there is by not being afraid of new innovative technologies and using them as a force for good. Having this mindset following COP28 can help propel industries in a more sustainable direction.