Justina Nixon-Saintil Justina Nixon-Saintil
Vice President and Chief Impact Officer, IBM


April 22, 2024


In the last two years, we have seen a rise in the use and adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), which will play a defining role in addressing environmental challenges, especially when it comes to supporting vulnerable communities. Unfortunately, these communities often lack AI skills and access to the data and technology they need to make informed climate decisions. Accessible AI tools are one way that we can democratize essential information and put it in the hands of those who need it most – for example, helping a community to understand and predict how the energy transition will affect their region. In doing so, we start to close digital divides that exist around the world, as well as create a foundation for continued innovation.

Last fall, IBM was honored to receive the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Citizens Award for Best Sustainability Program, recognizing the work of our IBM Sustainability Accelerator. As IBM’s chief impact officer, I see this honor as a reflection of this program’s great impact for the communities it supports – those especially vulnerable to environmental threats including climate change, extreme weather, and pollution. And as IBM’s signature social impact program focused on the environment, the IBM Sustainability Accelerator is a testament to the unique opportunity businesses have to make a positive impact as corporate citizens.

When IBM launched the IBM Sustainability Accelerator in 2022, we did so with the goal of empowering underserved communities around the world to face some of the most important environmental challenges of our generation. The pro-bono program applies innovative IBM technologies, such as hybrid cloud and IBM watsonxTM, an AI and data platform and AI assistants, and our ecosystem of experts to enhance and scale projects with government and nonprofit partners.

Each year’s “cohort” welcomes five new partners, setting out to address the threats posed by a specific sustainability challenge. As of today, the IBM Sustainability Accelerator has supported 15 engagements spanning six continents, directly benefitting thousands of people facing environmental threats.

We began with the sustainable agriculture cohort, in alignment with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2). The world’s poorest populations often depend on favorable environmental conditions to support their livelihoods in agriculture and farming. These groups can face economic devastation due to extreme weather events, so technology has a key role to play in promoting sustainable development.

In Malawi, where smallholder groundnut farmers are challenged by changing weather patterns, we scaled an open-source tech platform that gave farmers access to AI and data-enabled forecasting, helping to increase yields and incomes. In arid, drought-prone regions of the southern United States, IBM and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are using artificial intelligence to analyze data from soil sensors to help farmers manage their water usage more sustainably. Projects in Latin America, the Netherlands, and India round out this cohort. Initial results have revealed more than 40,000 direct beneficiaries of three concluded projects so far.

Equitable access to technological resources are necessary to ensure a just transition to a more sustainable world. That’s why IBM has also launched cohorts focused on water management (SDG 6), and clean energy (SDG 7). Through the clean energy cohort, IBM works with partners to address electricity access, energy usage, the energy transition and renewables strategies. For example, one project is focused on democratizing access to energy data, creating a tool to empower participation in the clean energy transition for Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada.

The water management cohort kicked off in fall 2023. Projects include supporting communities facing issues such as freshwater challenges in the United Arab Emirates, extreme weather and flooding in the Appalachian Mountains in the United States, and more.

In 2024, we’re excited to announce that IBM has opened a new RFP – open until April 30, 2024 - to select our fourth cohort, which will focus on advancing resilient cities. Addressing the climate risks that urban communities face – including natural disasters, insufficient infrastructure, or issues such as pollution or emissions – is crucial to help foster a more sustainable world, as more than half the world’s population live in cities, and that number is only expected to increase.

IBM aspires to lead by example and create solutions with partners to address urgent environmental and societal challenges. We’re honored to be recognized by the Citizens Awards, and as a leader, I’m proud of how IBM’s work – including the IBM Sustainability Accelerator – demonstrates the power of technology and innovation to create lasting social impact. 

Let’s work together to build a more resilient and sustainable future, for everyone.

Nominate Today: 25th Annual Citizens Awards

Nominations are now open! Awards are given in nine categories, from civic engagement and economic opportunity to education and disaster response. The deadline to apply is June 14, 2024.

About the authors

Justina Nixon-Saintil

Justina Nixon-Saintil

Justina Nixon-Saintil drives the initiatives that enable IBM and its employees to transform their altruism into reality for communities and the planet, with a focus on career readiness and environmental sustainability.

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