How ChatGPT and AI may impact sustainability across industries

November 27, 2023

ChatGPT was released about a year ago, and conversations around how this new AI model would shake the world began. Whether the topic was replacing employee functions, improving efficiency and effectiveness, or providing ease for everyday activities, the world predicted ChatGPT had a lot of potential, which is now proving to be the case. ChatGPT can benefit nearly every industry in one way or another, granted the tool cannot, or has not, entirely replaced the continued need for human labor in most of its use cases. 

So far, our three biggest takeaways when discussing ChatGPT in numerous settings have been what can be increased, what can be decreased, and what can be analyzed. In agriculture, the tool aids in increasing yields and decreasing costs. In supply chain management, the platform's ability to analyze data is one of the ideal benefits, increasing efficiency and effectiveness. 

This article will explore a broader topic, analyzing how ChatGPT may be beneficial – or problematic – for an issue that affects nearly every industry today: climate change and related sustainability efforts.

How will ChatGPT impact climate change? 

This is verbatim the first question posed to ChatGPT before diving into specific technologies or concepts centered around sustainability and decarbonization. ChatGPT replied with a breakdown of positive and negative impacts while establishing that its development is designed for natural language processing and generation. However, the tool’s implications can have effects. 

The positives? Optimization processing: the tool can increase energy efficiency and reduce resource consumption. The negatives? Increased energy consumption leads to a high carbon footprint, and electric waste negatively affects the environment. The answer continued by suggesting mitigation strategies, including green computing practices and ethical AI development techniques. While the program may not directly affect the environment, the indirect effects lay in the hands of the users and organizations employing the technology. 

Great! ChatGPT is not single-handedly contributing to carbon emissions, but how is it helping? Or, conversely, hurting? Direct or indirect, the platform’s impact remains unclear. 

The initial question was vague, intentionally so, and the call-and-response dynamic provided a vague answer in return. 

ChatGPT and Sustainable Transportation: 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the transportation industry is the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – airplanes, cars, trains, buses, ships, etc. – responsible for 28% of gas emissions in 2021 alone. In an attempt to discover how ChatGPT could benefit or lower emissions, the following question was asked for the airline and automobile industries. 

ChatGPT and the Airline Industry: 

The program’s answer reported ten methods per question, ranging from well-known topics like hybrid and electric vehicles to vague topics like “aerodynamic materials” and finally to potentially valuable topics like biofuel prevention and synthetic biofuels or hydrogen-powered engines. Many other answers spoke to the true nature of the natural language model's original intention, analyzing data, monitoring and generating reports, and predicting future behaviors. 

None of the answers spoke to actual emerging technologies; however, they did establish a narrower area of interest and were a good starting point for identifying new ideas. Exploring one answer from each transportation sector, we drilled down on ChatGPT’s ability to further dissect a new area of exploration or emerging technology in hopes of identifying disruptive technologies and determining which universities were big players in the sustainable transportation sector. 

The responses to the four questions are below, but we have only selected one area of interest per category to explore further. 

Airline Industry: 

  • Winglets and Sharklets
  • Electric and Hybrid Aircraft
  • Sustainable Aviation Fuels
  • Advanced Aircraft Design
  • Advanced Air Traffic Management Systems
  • Hydrogen-Powered Aircraft
  • Improved Engine Efficiency 
  • Zero-Emission Ground Operations
  • Carbon Capture and Storage Systems (CCS) 
  • Blockchain for Emission Tracking 

“What are winglets and sharklets?”

Both potential solutions are used to improve efficiency and increase flight range. Winglet is a more general term, while Sharklet refers specifically to an Airbus product. Together, they can improve aerodynamics, increase fuel savings, and provide commonality across fleets. 

Given ChatGPT’s identification of the Airbus technology, we asked to learn more about what Airbus is currently working on: 

Due to ChatGPT’s lack of real-time data, it’s impossible to find potential new technologies or partnerships through the chatbox. However, when using Wellspring Scout, the new patents, collaborations, publications, and more are readily accessible. 

Utilizing the Airbus profile page and key search term “sharklet” there were 25 patents found, and three were published this year. The most recent patent had a high patent count and low disruption score – another benefit of Scout’s artificial intelligence – calculated with patent and non-patent citations across international patent classes. The lower the score, the more likely there is foundational research, suggesting this is a newer area of exploration.  Scout also provides similar patent suggestions in the “More Like This” category next to the patent abstract, increasing the usefulness of the tool's all-encompassing search engine capabilities, as opposed to ChatGPT’s suggestion to review various patent offices individually, in hopes of finding Airbus’s recent publications. 

Airbus recent “Sharklet” patent. 

As valuable as ChatGPT can be, the notion of winglets and sharklets is not a new budding advancement in the pursuit of decarbonizing the airline industry; a majority of the information found Scout was cited in pre-pandemic years; while it’s a promising technology and will likely continue to progress, the idea as a whole is not indicative of horizon 2 or 3 innovation disruptions. 

ChatGPT and the Automobile Industry: 

Automobile Industry: 

    • Fuel Cell Vehicles 
    • Electric Vehicles
    • Hybrid Vehicles
    • Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles
    • Vehicle-to-Grid Technology (V2G)
    • Advanced Internal Combustion Vehicles
    • Advanced Materials and reducing weight
    • Autonomous and Connected Vehicles 
    • Advanced Aerodynamics 
    • Recyclable and Sustainable Materials 

For the automobile industry, there was a similar pattern of well-established and somewhat vague “disruptive” technology results. Toyota’s Prius, the first hybrid vehicle, was launched over 25 years ago in the late 1990s. There is a lot of activity today around expanding and enhancing the notion of hybrid vehicles. Still, it is not a cutting-edge technology that will potentially change a business’s direction or help expand into a new market. 

Exploring the idea of fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), we asked ChatGPT which universities were prominent players in this area. Fuel cell vehicles are a type of electric car that generates electricity onboard, as opposed to battery electric vehicles, which store electricity in batteries. FCVs produce their electricity through a hydrogen-oxygen-based chemical reaction. 

The language model returned with several institutions and their claim-to-fame regarding FCVs. While this is a great starting point to see who may be a potential partner or who may have active licensable technologies, it is vital to remember that this database can only draw on information from January 2022 and retreat in reverse chronological order. 

Using the same search term in Scout, the search engine produced the top ten universities globally involved in this work. Their “count” indicates relevant IP across numerous categories, from patents to publications to Flintbox opportunities. 

Fuel Cell Vehicles results for institutions and 2023 activity at the University of Michigan. 

Narrowing the search further, we dove into the University of Michigan’s profile. We ran the same search, limiting results to only 2023, and found ten new patents and four new publications, all subject to FCVs. The collaboration network above visually displays the University of Michigan's relationship with its collaborating partners. The gray bars represent the number of records and return the collaborative records as a result when selected. 


ChatGPT is a valuable tool for understanding new topics quickly and is an excellent system for beginning research on promising new technologies. However, given its natural language processing nature and core analysis functionality, the platform is a real stand-out for automating processes, saving time, lowering costs, and providing predictive analytics. The platform does not easily answer questions regarding Horizon 2 and Horizon 3 innovation initiatives nor provide current updates on patents, university participation, or collaborations. 

The true benefit of ChatGPT, when applied to decarbonization within the transportation industry, amongst many others, will lie in its ability to monitor, automate, and predict the behavior of new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This platform is like many others in the notion that it can be helpful with tools to fulfill what this system cannot. 



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