SAS recognized in Fast Company's World Changing Ideas awards

Analytics powerhouse named a finalist for AI innovation and environmental stewardship 

SAS has once again been celebrated for its initiatives supporting social innovation and sustainability. SAS was named a finalist in the Nature category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas awards, which recognize organizations' initiatives that foster growth of positive social innovation and tackle social inequality, climate change and public health crises.

SAS received the honor for its joint project with the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), which combats illegal deforestation by tracking human impact in the Amazon rainforest. This is one of many social innovation projects where SAS employees use their talent and curiosity along with SAS® technology and data to solve pressing humanitarian issues.

Detecting deforestation, one click at a time

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and home to 10% of the world’s biodiversity. Unfortunately, deforestation is wreaking havoc on the Amazon; approximately 800 square kilometers of forest are destroyed every month. Even worse, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a surge of deforestation in Brazil.

To drive stronger deforestation policy responses, SAS and IIASA launched a global social innovation project in 2020 to use crowd-driven artificial intelligence to help track, and ultimately stop, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Through an AI platform that analyzed satellite images of the rainforest, the location and magnitude of forest damage was tracked more effectively. Participants from 130 different countries then reviewed the images to better train the AI models. Users classified whether there were signs of human impact in the images, helping improve the algorithm and expedite analysis. Data scientists subsequently validated the AI models’ efficacy in identifying deforestation, which ultimately helps support critical policies to quickly and effectively protect our forests.

The project launched with more than 44,000 satellite images and now has successfully classified more than 1 million square kilometers of the Amazon. SAS will be publishing a joint research paper with IIASA about this important new approach to conservation in 2022.

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. In 2021, SAS held a summit where 29 employees from six different countries worked across six teams, in partnership with the Amazon Conservation, to address a trio of important issues affecting the Amazon: land use impact on ecology, causes and effects of wildfires, and how to maximize sustainable agriculture. The teams collaborated virtually to explore how SAS technology can be used in new and interesting ways to address the complex challenges of protecting the rainforest while taking real-world factors into account. Amazon Conservation will review the projects and results, deciding which to pursue along with SAS to further address these environmental challenges. These findings also provide opportunities for innovation not just for Amazon Conservation but hopefully beyond the Amazon to address environmental issues globally.

“We are consistently inspired by the novelty and creativity that people are applying to solve some of our society’s most pressing problems, from shelter to the climate crisis,” said David Lidsky, Interim Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company. “Our journalists have identified some of the most ingenious initiatives to launch since the start of 2021, which we hope will both have a meaningful impact and lead others to join in being part of the solution.”

Learn more about innovation at SAS and its efforts to use data to drive positive global change as part of the Data for Good movement. 

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SAS has been recognized as a finalist in Fast Company's World Changing Ideas awards in the Nature category.