Meeting the sustainability challenge in the United States
Meeting the sustainability challenge in the United States
Among its many noted targets, the U.S. government has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Sustainability is a core component behind that goal, and IoT devices are playing an increasingly important part in helping both public and private sector organizations in making Net Zero and ambitious sustainability targets a reality.
Sustainability covers several different topics – and its precise definition varies depending on who you speak to. From a nation-wide perspective, sustainability broadly includes economic health and resiliency, climate and environmental health, social sustainability (e.g., homelessness, racial equity, energy justice) and the preparedness to react to sudden changes, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. When done right it means resources are distributed fairly and with minimal waste, for the good of society at large. Digitally connected infrastructures can transform how we collect and use data and unlock new processes to boost sustainability. IoT-enabled applications will be central to making existing industries more efficient and exploring novel strategies for our cities, environment, healthcare and more.
But success in achieving the U.S’s goal will require more than just ambition. It will require close collaboration between the private and public sectors, particularly in planning and managing smart buildings and cities. It will require innovation at all steps throughout the IoT supply chain; the technological steps to support vast, secure networks, the machine learning advances to analyse data in a responsible and effective manner, the design of IoT devices and sensors, and the developers of core hardware components including batteries.
Here we explore some of the ways in which IoT applications are already changing our approach to sustainability.
Smarter approaches to energy
Renewable energy is a notable solution that can supply sustainable energy to millions of people in the US. However, that energy needs to be managed intelligently to prevent outages and reduce waste – benefitting utility providers and consumers alike.
Using IoT-enabled sensors to gather data, smart grids can respond more quickly to real-time changes in electricity demand or power disturbances. This surge in the adoption of smart meters in our homes and workplaces can help individuals and businesses to better manage their energy use, reducing bills and lowering the strain put on the grid.
The great benefit on city-scale or beyond is within the data itself. Efficient energy management is aided by the continuous collation of data that can be used to further optimize processes, moving the dial towards sustainability.
Water: reducing waste and protecting water quality
Access to reliable, clean water is a cornerstone of a sustainable future – but it is not a guarantee unless we reduce water waste and protect the quality of our water.
Wasted water depletes already limited resources and contributes to both environmental degradation and increased energy consumption for water treatment and distribution.
IoT applications can address this in a number of ways. Utility providers use leak detection sensors to alert when a leak is detected in a water pipe – particularly useful in reducing waste and avoiding the need for exploratory digging to determine the location of a leak – and in agriculture smart irrigation systems are being used to monitor soil moisture and optimize watering schedules accordingly.
IoT sensors are also being deployed to secure the safety of our water.
Recently, we caught up with Colorado-based company In-Situ to talk about how their devices are being deployed to help organizations with reliable, remote monitoring of water.
Tackling food waste
Per The Washington Post, global food waste has a carbon footprint three times greater than the aviation industry.
Storing food at the right temperature is one of the core challenges in the food supply chain – something only worsened by a changing climate. IoT sensors can alleviate this and reduce food spoilage and waste by monitoring harvested or prepared produce, allowing farmers and other suppliers to remotely track food when being stored, transported or shelved and to adjust temperatures to the desired level. The World Economic Forum estimates that this tracking of temperature alone can reduce waste by 40%.
Much more beyond
The possibilities for IoT-supported advances in sustainability are near endless. In any sector, wherever data is tracked and used, applications are providing unheralded insight.
- We recently spoke to Massachusetts-based company Hefring Engineering about their new ocean glider, Oceanscout. One of its many applications is in observing mammals and sealife in a non-invasive way, relaying crucial real-time data about marine life and championing ecological sustainability.
- We are increasingly familiar with wearable devices that can monitor health conditions in real-time. It has changed the nature of how healthcare professionals support patients without the need for hospital or surgery visits. Now we are seeing even more reliance on IoT devices that allow for automated medicine intake, advanced monitoring and more. By deploying sensors, both through wearable devices and in the patient’s home, more of us will be treated via the “virtual hospital ward”. It’s not only the patient experience that is being transformed. Smart devices are already being used in hospitals and over healthcare settings to improve efficiency and reduce strain on staff, by providing insight on bed availability or pinpointing potential cost-savings in energy use.
- IoT technology is helping to control and monitor lighting systems to reduce light pollution and its negative impacts on the environment and human health. In the U.S. alone, the International Dark-Sky Association estimates that 30% of outdoor lighting is wasted, releasing around 21 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.
A look towards the future
Sustainability is not a fad. It is a primary driver of change in the 21st Century in the U.S. and beyond. According to the Johnson Controls Energy Efficiency Indicator Survey, 72% of organizations identify sustainability as an increasing priority.
With the potential to address a growing number of challenges, IoT and related devices will need to be continually understood not just within sectors, but between them. While water and transport monitoring might be gathering very different data points, the insights gleaned from not just the data but the best practice of how to best deploy technologies and software will be crucial to integrating new technologies into our everyday lives.
As designers and developers of, and contributors to, IoT applications we have a duty to share what we learn and collaborate on ambitious projects.