SAS Protects Rainforests Through Its AI Analytics Technology

By Bruce Harpham Sunday, May 2, 2021

SAS is applying its AI technology to critical environmental challenges in the Amazon rainforest. Announced on Earth Day 2021, the analytics business is working on several efforts to address environmental challenges through partnerships and optimizing its internal operations.

A person using a tablet in a forest setting.

Protecting the Amazon With AI Analytics

The AI analytics business approach to addressing deforestation relies on a partnership model. The effort will rely on satellite image analytics by working with the University of Maryland's Global Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) lab. The company is also working with Amazon Conservation, a nonprofit organization established in 1999.

"The Amazon saw historical records of deforestation in 2020, with 5.6 million acres lost across the nine countries it encompasses – which is more than a 17 percentage increase of forest loss compared to 2019 when the fires in the region went viral," said John Beavers, Executive Director at Amazon Conservation.

The University of Maryland lab had a challenge. The academic lab was able to produce alerts to identify deforestation. Unfortunately, it was challenging to take action on those alerts because the underlying cause was unclear. By applying SAS artificial intelligence (AI), the new system will be better able to precisely identify the root cause of problems in the Amazon region, such as illegal activities. By clearly identifying when deforestation is natural or due to human causes, SAS technology will help to focus environmental resources more efficiently.

Using AI analytics to process and organize images is a popular model. For example, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Qatar Computing Research Institute are using AI to produce street-level maps. This experimental technology could bring more accurate maps in less time.

The Amazon Rainforest Is Disappearing

SAS is not the only organization working hard to measure and track the state of the Amazon rainforest at scale. Last year, Science magazine reported an increase in illegal gold mining in the Amazon. From August 2019 to July 2020, data from Brazil’s Real-time Deforestation Detection System found that over 8,700 square kilometers (5,405 square miles) of forest cover disappeared from the region. The government of Brazil has taken some steps to slow the rate of deforestation, like temporarily forbidding the use of fire in the Amazon.

The Company Acts to Reduce Its Carbon Footprint

Beyond its nonprofit efforts, the analytics business is also working to change its internal operations. The AI business is pursuing an environmental program with multiple goals. For instance, the business has reduced paper usage per employee by 73%. Furthermore, the business has set multiple environmental targets, such as generating 3.9 million kWh of electricity from solar sources. Politically, SAS has also taken a stand by supporting the Paris Climate Agreement. In the long term, the company aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. In addition, SAS has installed more than twenty charging stations for electric vehicles at its facilities.

SAS Lags Behind Google in Environmental Goals

In contrast, Google has set a more demanding business goal: to power all its offices and data centers with carbon-free electricity by 2030. As of 2019, the multi-billion dollar business obtained 61% of its electricity from renewable sources. By 2007 Google had already achieved carbon neutral status. Google is also under pressure from its employees to stop serving business customers in the oil industry.

About the Author


Headshot of Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is an author and marketing consultant based in Canada. His first book, "Project Managers At Work," shared real-world success lessons from NASA, Google, and other organizations. His articles have been published in CIO.com, InfoWorld, Canadian Business, and other organizations. Visit BruceHarpham.com for articles, interviews with tech leaders, and updates on future books.

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