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The ‘green’ robot. Can software robots help you reach your sustainability goals?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Moon Light PhotoStudio / Shutterstock)

At first glance, “green” and “robot” may not seem a natural pairing. One suggests a pared-back, conscious lifestyle. The other — thanks to Hollywood — can paint a picture of dystopian overconsumption. However, with the growing popularity of disruptive technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), the ‘green’ robot is no longer the oxymoron it first seems. 

It’s worth explaining RPA a little further before considering how it might actually help the world become a greener place. In simple terms, RPA software robots can work just like a human, only virtually, to complete rule-based tasks you’ve taught it to handle. 

The software robots can control a computer, mouse and keyboard to read, extract and process data as needed. In short, if a task is repetitive and data-intensive, RPA can help carry the burden by emulating the way humans use everyday software from inside your computer. 

Software robots offer an extra pair of digital hands that can work more quickly and accurately than a human can and as such have already been deployed into enterprises around the world to tackle a huge variety of business challenges. 

Just as some businesses are using the technology to combat barriers such as a lack of time or process inaccuracies, organizations with sustainability initiatives can tap into the technology to help meet their sustainability goals. It is this innovation that sits at the core of the concept of ‘the green robot’.

Every organization, no matter the sector, has a responsibility to cut its waste. By introducing software robots into a business, higher levels of efficiency can be achieved and digital modernization can be achieved, helping to reduce both physical and digital waste. If implemented at scale, the impact could be significant. 

While RPA isn’t the golden ticket to a greener world, if used widely it can certainly set companies on the right track through innovation and improved efficiency. 

Automation speeds up green initiatives 

With the assistance of software robots, new, innovative green solutions can be created.

Let’s take the example of smart meters. In part, the technology creates a greener world by allowing consumers to more closely monitor their household energy consumption and in turn encourages users to reduce their usage. In tandem, the smart meters also report accurate views of when and where energy is being consumed which energy providers can reference during the buying process to reduce waste. 

The store of data is a goldmine when considering how to make the energy sector more efficient. However, the sheer volume of structured and unstructured information reported by these smart devices makes processing this data quickly and efficiently difficult to do with without tech support. 

When software robots are introduced, they can read and extract the data in moments, relaying and structuring the information as needed, often in near real-time. This allows for greater efficiency within forecasting, demand and supply management, and energy trading, consequently allowing for greener solutions to form. 

Such innovation is already supporting a variety of green-focused initiatives around the world. For example, in the Czech Republic, automation was used to speed up the provision of green boiler grants to 1.2million people in the Moravian-Silesian Region, improving the air quality in surrounding areas. 

These are just a few examples of how organizations can harness the power of automation to help the word to become a greener place. As automation’s potential is increasingly realized, its impact on environmentalism should only grow. 

Reducing the carbon footprint with software robots 

When the focus shifts away from how innovative uses of RPA can spark or support sustainable solutions to how software robots can make business operations more sustainable themselves, automation again has a part to play in fostering a greener future.

Often the first step of an automation journey is process mining. It comprises software extracting existing data about what happens in a process and when, and translating this into visual workflows. It allows organizations to literally see where the bottlenecks and inefficiencies lie. With this full view, they can be in a position to begin transforming how they work and cutting out the wastefulness that contributes to the over-use of resources. 

Once the most efficient way of carrying out processes is identified through process mining, the addition of RPA software robots into workflows can further help to reduce the carbon footprint. For example, at UiPath we have integrated software robots into our IT department. By creating a Centre of Excellence for IT operations, including the introduction of a self-service IT chatbot, the department was able to significantly optimize its infrastructure and as such reduce its yearly compute energy footprint by 65 percent. 

Other businesses are following a similar path of optimization. A leading tax provider, for example, faces a hugely dynamic workload during the busy tax seasons, resulting in a 500-1000% workload demand increase in certain periods of the year. The organization has turned to automation to create an auto-scaling solution, by intelligently and automatically ‘spinning up’ and ‘spinning down’ machines as required, energy wastage has been reduced in comparison to ‘always on’ redundant capacity.

Slashing paper usage with automation 

However, optimizing processes isn’t the only solution – overhauling those once reliant on physical resources can also significantly cut waste and improve efficiency. Consider that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets or paper a year, wasting 6,800 of them. If all of these were from new sources, that would require over eight trees and almost 2,000kWh of energy. Automation can help to reduce this waste by digitalizing processes.

One infrastructure solutions firm has in part tackled this problem by automating the handling of 400,000 invoices a year. Rather than using paper, ink and energy to print, sign and scan an invoice, a robot can now simply do all of this digitally – and at a far greater speed, potentially saving the company 320 trees and 80,000kWh a year.

By looking inward at processes and understanding how software robots could improve efficiencies across departments, RPA offers the chance for organizations to reduce both their digital and physical resource consumption with the other significant benefit of supplementing their workforce with software robot assistants. 

An easy, one-size-fits-all solution to becoming a green business does not exist. Certainly, RPA alone software cannot achieve often multi-layered corporate green initiatives. However, software robots provide opportunities to create or improve innovative solutions while offering a more general opportunity to reduce inefficiencies and waste. 

It’s encouraging to know that RPA is beginning to make a serious impact already with 48 percent of global businesses considering increasing their investment in the technology in the coming year by five percent or more. Applying the technology toward company goals to become better stewards of resources in the local and globally community is another incentive to increase use of automation.

Gavin Mee, Managing Director for Northern Europe, UiPath (opens in new tab)

Gavin Mee works closely with companies to help them forge the personalised 1-to-1 customer relationships needed to thrive in a mobile, hyper-connected age.