The role of blockchain and AI in driving ESG innovation is crucial | Opinion

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Environmental, social, and governance (ESG)  and regenerative finance (ReFi) have become increasingly prominent topics in the global business landscape, reflecting the growing recognition of sustainability’s role in corporate operations. Investing in this field has also been on the rise as more investors prioritize non-financial factors when making investing decisions. By 2025, the global total of ESG-related funds is expected to exceed $53 trillion.

As a result, companies across industries are busy leveraging sustainable technologies not only to enhance their reputation and boost their attractiveness to investors but also to drive innovation and create long-term value. Sustainable tech innovations, such as renewable energy solutions and waste reduction initiatives, enable companies to minimize their environmental footprint, foster inclusive growth, and uphold ethical standards. 

Blockchain and artificial intelligence advancements are emerging as valuable allies in navigating the ESG landscape. They offer unprecedented opportunities for streamlining ESG data collection and analysis, allowing companies to make better-informed decisions, automate tedious processes, and adapt swiftly to dynamic market conditions.

Having spent multiple years developing businesses in Singapore, a region that stands at the cutting edge of sustainable development in Asia, I have had a chance to witness first-hand how many companies here apply technological advancements to boost the ESG factor in their operations. Other countries could also benefit from these practices, so I want to bring more attention to this topic.

As a region significantly limited in terms of land, the only resource Singapore has in abundance is people. Everything else has to be treated carefully, so we learned the value of renewable energy very quickly. It could be argued that Singapore is a regional leader in Asia in terms of environmental consciousness.

We know our strengths and weaknesses and put a lot of effort into ensuring that those weaknesses eventually become our strengths as well. Knowing that we are vulnerable in terms of natural resources has enabled us to become very self-sustainable by implementing sustainable practices. 

The local government has long been invested in implementing initiatives to transition towards a low-carbon economy and promote renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. In 2019, we saw the introduction of the Resource Sustainability Act, a regulatory framework meant to assist in turning Singapore into a resource-efficient and resilient nation.

One of the most prominent aspects is the transition to renewable energy sources, such as solar power. Nowadays, you can see solar panels everywhere you go in Singapore. In 2023, the number of such installations counted stood at over 7,600. Another great emphasis is placed on water recycling since it is a resource that Singapore is most dependent on. Over 60% of companies are implementing measures in this direction.

Growth of solar capacity and installations in Singapore by user type | Source: Energy Market Authority of Singapore 

The maturity of any company is measured not just in financial performance but in how it can create long-term value for the market in which it operates. Ecological and social responsibility are essential to today’s corporate culture, and ESG practices are all about how companies can contribute to those.

It also aligns with the regenerative finance (ReFi) topic, representing a paradigm shift in finance, moving away from business models focused solely on profit maximization and towards more sustainable approaches. ReFi focuses on investments that promote environmental regeneration and social equity. It includes funding projects related to renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and clean water access, among others.

Singapore is well-positioned to embrace and advance such principles as a globally acknowledged fintech hub with a forward-thinking approach to sustainability and innovation. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has actively encouraged local financial institutions to incorporate ESG considerations into their investment decisions, including the support of green financing projects and promoting sustainable investment products.

By directing capital towards initiatives that address pressing global challenges, ReFi has the potential to drive positive change on a global scale, creating value not only for investors but also for society as a whole. As this trend continues to gain traction, it has the potential to reshape the financial industry and play a significant role in advancing global ESG objectives, fostering a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

In the crypto sector, we often hear concerns and accusations thrown around that this is not a very eco-friendly field, particularly when it comes to mining activities. 

And to a degree, that is true. Traditional proof-of-work consensus algorithms, used by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, are notorious for high energy consumption. However, that is not to say that things haven’t changed over the years.

Today’s crypto mining is steadily growing greener, with many initiatives set in place that focus on recovering the energy used in mining operations and repurposing it for other beneficial activities, such as heating greenhouses or even whole cities.

Moreover, as the proof-of-stake consensus mechanism becomes increasingly popular, we are seeing it become an alternative way to conduct mining, significantly reducing the energy required and making blockchain networks more eco-friendly. Ethereum managed to cut 99% of its energy usage with 2022’s Merge, marking it as a major decarbonization event for the whole crypto industry and the world at large.

Now, let’s take a look at things from another angle. Artificial intelligence is another prominent technology that’s getting much attention these days, with many industries researching ways to apply it for better efficiency. So, how can it help to make the crypto sector more ESG-friendly? 

In several ways, actually. For one, AI-powered algorithms can be leveraged to analyze blockchain data and identify patterns that lead to energy waste or inefficiencies. The gathered information can then be used to develop predictive models that anticipate changes in network demand. It would enable crypto miners to adjust their operations proactively to minimize energy usage during periods of low network activity, reducing the overall environmental footprint of their operations.

Additionally, AI algorithms could potentially be used to design and optimize alternative consensus mechanisms, improving the routing of transactions for lesser energy consumption. It would further reduce the crypto sector’s environmental impact while maintaining network security and integrity.

The advancement of digital technologies has several distinct advantages for bolstering the ESG agenda. As investors increasingly prioritize sustainable and ethical business practices in their investment decisions, embracing such initiatives dramatically enhances crypto companies’ attractiveness. 

By demonstrating a commitment to ESG principles, crypto companies not only stand to access a broader pool of capital but also improve the reputation of the industry as a whole, as they provide a positive impact on the global environment.

Athena Miao

Athena Miao

Athena Miao is the chief commercial officer at BigONE, an international cryptocurrency exchange. She has over eight years of experience working with banks, brokerages, and asset management companies. Before her current role at BigONE, Athena was a seasoned finance professional with a wealth of experience in the Singaporean finance industry. She has worked in some of Singapore’s top local brokerages and banks, including Phillip Securities and United Overseas Bank, where she gained valuable insight into the global securities and banking industries. 

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