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SAS strives to combat deforestation, improve reef health and lower emissions

Analytics leader working with the Smithsonian and Amazon Conservation to help protect the planet

SAS’ commitment to creating a more sustainable future through social innovation is highlighted this Earth Day, as the analytics innovator works with the Amazon Conservation and the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People (HR4HP) Initiative, led by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, to help address three critical environmental issues: stopping rainforest deforestation, improving reef health, and reducing SAS’ carbon footprint.

“As a global leader in analytics, we feel a responsibility to use our technology and our resources to find answers to the world’s most pressing needs.” said Susan Ellis, Brand Director and Head of Social Innovation Programs at SAS. “But it is our employees’ passion and commitment to social innovation that makes it a powerful force for change.”

Protecting rainforests through data and AI

Rainforests continued to experience devastating forest loss in 2020 as destruction and deforestation levels spiked while conservation and enforcements efforts lagged due to the pandemic’s ripple effect. Last Earth Day, SAS launched a global social innovation project to use crowd-driven artificial intelligence to help track, and ultimately stop, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. While that first phase is ongoing and has sorted more than 845,000 square kilometers of the Amazon as of March, SAS has furthered its commitment to making a difference by joining forces with the nonprofit Amazon Conservation. This project will expand the scope and efforts for identifying and tracking illegal deforestation and expediting intervention by monitoring key parts of the Amazon.

Studies by leading scientists have suggested that the Amazon is close to reaching its tipping point, where it will no longer be able to produce its own rainfall and potentially become a dry savanna. Amazon Conservation’s partnership with SAS will help address a core source of forest loss: illegal, human-driven deforestation.

As part of the current crowdsourcing experience, SAS and Amazon Conservation will incorporate deforestation alerts from the University of Maryland’s Global Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) lab, which uses high-resolution satellite imagery to collect weekly data on deforestation across the tropics. By prioritising the highly threatened, protected areas and indigenous territories, the project will tap the power of the crowd and AI to help automate the process of determining whether deforestation is natural or man-made. Building upon the current GLAD alerts – which are limited in that they only indicate areas of possible deforestation and not the actual cause – government officials and local communities will be able to now use the additional insights provided by SAS and Amazon Conservation to help them understand the source of the deforestation and assist them in determining its legality in real time, so quick action can be taken on encroachments into protected or indigenous lands before it’s too late.

“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. “I hope this crowdsourcing effort not only helps us put a much needed tool in the hands of local people who can stop deforestation, but also be an opportunity for people to learn about what’s happening on the ground and take action.”

Improving reef health through awareness

SAS is working with the HR4HP Initiative to use data collected by scores of regional partners over the last 14 years to educate the global community on how they can help protect and improve the health of the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR), home to the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Globally recognised as a hotspot of marine biodiversity, the MAR stretches 625 miles along the coast of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. Over 2 million people depend on the MAR for their livelihoods while countless others obtain food, medicine and protection from storms and rising sea levels. HR4HP is working to protect that important ecosystem.

Numerous factors including the increase of overfishing, climate change, pollution, and habitat loss due to human impact and practices have put the health of the MAR at risk. To help individuals understand why the reef is in danger, SAS is partnering with HR4HP to feature their 2021 EcoAudit and 2020 Report Cards on reef health in GatherIQ™, a free app that lets users engage with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to make the world a better place by 2030. By bringing attention to reef health data, the world can learn about the reef and how individual actions have an impact. HR4HP’s work has helped improve the condition of the MAR but increasing awareness and taking steps to make a difference is still needed for this resource to continue to flourish.

By delving into the data within the EcoAudit and the Report Cards, and accessing HR4HP’s partner resources, individuals can gain insight and adjust lifestyle choices – like refraining from eating specific types of fish and opting for hotels with proven environmental management and sustainability practices – to help the reef thrive.

“Coral reefs are one of our planet’s most diverse, valuable and threatened ecosystems – and the Mesoamerican Reef is right on the global frontline of the fight to save them using collaborative, science-based adaptive management”, said Dr. Melanie McField, Director of HR4HP and Smithsonian Working Land and Seascapes scientist. “For over 15 years, 73 regional partner organisations have been collecting reef health data, using data to inform policy action, and then evaluating what each country is actually doing to protect the reef – but we also need the global public to assist by better understanding the problems and altering their individual actions that contribute to them”.

Reducing carbon footprint through smarter decisions

SAS not only helps customers develop smarter operational models and green business strategies through the company’s renowned analytic expertise and powerful software solutions, it also has a long-standing, innovative reputation for fostering its own sustainable initiatives. As a corporate sustainability leader and advocate, SAS is committed to lowering its carbon footprint and uses its own software to manage and report environmental performance. In fact, the company recently had its emissions reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative as consistent with levels required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. SAS’ targets covering greenhouse gas emissions from its operations (scopes 1,2 and 3) are consistent with reductions required to keep warming to 1.5°C and avoid the most damaging effects of climate change.

SAS employees are also doing their part to help reduce carbon emissions and had the chance to apply their curiosity, passion and expertise along with SAS technology to help address this environmental issue and others as part of its annual Social Innovation Summit. For example, one of the ideas generated during the 2020 summit was how employees could help SAS achieve its net-zero emission goal by 2050. As a result, SAS is working on an Employee Air Travel Tool to help employees better understand their carbon footprint and actions needed to reduce travel spend and emissions by optimising air travel decisions.

Learn how SAS is committed to corporate social responsibility.


About Amazon Conservation

Amazon Conservation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that unites science, innovation, and people to protect the Amazon – the greatest wild forest on Earth. Amazon Conservation has been pioneering conservation efforts in the tropics since 1999 as an Alliance of three local organisations in Peru, Bolivia, and the US. Its unique approach focuses on three strategies: protecting millions of acres of wild places home to hundreds of thousands of species of wildlife, empowering people to become champions for conservation while improving their quality of life, and employing the latest discoveries in science and technology to advance conservation.

Healthy Reefs for Healthy People

The Healthy Reefs for Healthy People (HR4HP) Initiative is a collaboration among 73 organisations throughout the Mesoamerican Reef region and led by Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Launched in 2003, HR4HP was founded on the premise that healthy reefs are essential to sustaining healthy people. HR4HP engages partners in a standardised process of data collection, analysis and interpretation to improve reef ecosystem management which serves to increase uptake by managers, policy makers, and other leaders concerned with reef health, and create an open forum for information sharing.

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