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How can IoT help
the environment? 

Author: Heidi Vella

With new momentum for climate change mitigation, governments and companies alike are racing to reach net zero. The pressure to cut operational emissions isn't just coming from legislators, businesses and investors, either. The public all but demands it.

At the same time, the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to transform the public and private sectors. As these two forces move in parallel, it raises the question: How can IoT help the environment?

How can IoT help the environment?

At its essence, the IoT connects physical objects—almost any item or device, really—to the Internet through embedded sensors and software. IoT-enabled devices can be linked to one another to create a network of connections. Once online, the sensors collect and share data about their environment, their condition and their use.

This information, managed from a cloud-based software platform, can drive smarter, more precise decisions to reduce waste, improve efficiencies and alleviate environmental impact.

The World Economic Forum found that 84% of IoT deployments are addressing—or at least could address—the United Nations' sustainable development goals, which include responsible consumption and production, sustainable cities and communities and climate action.

"At its core," the World Economic Forum says, "IoT is about ... reaching people and objects that technology could previously not reach and in the process also supports sustainable development elements."

On a basic level, the IoT environmental impact is simple. Connected devices do not need to run continuously. Instead, they may operate only when needed—such as when a motion sensor triggers a security camera or the ability to dim lights remotely in response to changing conditions or resident needs.

With advanced IoT systems, analytics and automation, these potential advantages grow considerably. IoT-connected smart meters, pipes, valves and tanks could help quickly determine where leaks are happening in a vast public infrastructure. Similarly, water- or energy-intensive industries—such as mining, manufacturing and agriculture—could use connected sensor-enabled devices to monitor water and energy consumption and identify conservation opportunities.

Getting more from less while easing IoT environmental impact

By deploying IoT, companies can see better production with less input. In agriculture, sensors can increase yields by measuring soil health and moisture to determine how much water and what additional nutrients an area needs. The technology removes any guesswork, increasing yield, reducing crop losses and saving time and resources.

What will become increasingly important, though, is how the data collected by IoT devices is used to show how a company's interventions have reduced their environmental impact and increased their social license to operate.

IoT environmental impact: Driving environmentally friendly initiatives

In the most innovative cases, the IoT can help make what may seem impossible a reality.

Hawaii was the first state in the U.S. to commit to 100% renewable energy, pledging to meet that goal by 2045. Using IoT smart sensors provided and powered by Verizon, Hawaiian Electric Company is able to collect near real-time data on the state of their power grid and integrate systems like rooftop solar that are critical to helping the state achieve its sustainability initiatives.  As seen in the West Springfield Intel Light case study, “Lighting and lighting control work hand-in-hand to deliver impressive results to West Springfield. Thanks to greater efficiency of LED lights, the streetlight project will push the town over its goal of reducing energy use by 20 percent, according to Moore. He continues, “Besides reducing energy use, there are substantial cost savings for the town.”

Vertical farming—the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers, often in warehouses in urban areas—is another use case example of  IoT environmental impact. The vertical farm company Plenty says that its technology can yield as much as 350 times more produce in a given area than conventional farms using just 1% of the water. It uses IoT-enabled enhanced sensor systems to monitor each plant's health, ensuring that every one gets the water and nutrients it needs. This optimizes resources and reduces waste.

IoT solutions can be transformative in subtler ways, too. Fleet management, for example, helps businesses to monitor maintenance, routes and idle time, which in turn can support more sustainable business by reducing fuel consumption and vehicle emissions.

IoT environmental impact and benefits to business

So how can IoT help the environment? And where do you start? First, decide where the IoT can deliver the greatest benefits for your enterprise operations. It might not be as simple as choosing the area of business where you see the most waste. If you are a manufacturing business that operates 24 hours a day, incrementally reducing light usage might not be worth the effort. But sensors that can anticipate maintenance needs before a broken machine shuts down the factory floor for hours might be.

As you consider answering the question “How can IoT help the environment?”, you need to understand that IoT solutions continue to shift the goalposts on what it means and takes to be sustainable, and industry juggernauts can lead by example. In 2019, for example, Verizon became the first U.S. telecommunications company to issue a green bond, highlighting the responsibility of the private sector to commit resources to sustainability. In that same year, Verizon committed to using renewable and clean energy to be carbon neutral by 2035.

Whatever route you take, you will need to select the right platform, strategy, tools and security levels as you establish a way to measure progress and outcomes.

Finding an IoT partner

You will also need to decide whether you will go it alone or enlist the help of a managed services partner. Choosing the latter will give you access to specialists, engineers and experts that can help you make informed decisions. An expert partner can also advise on the robustness of your proposed solutions and provide IT departments with the tools and technology to help your projects succeed.

According to the World Economic Forum, awareness of the link between the IoT and sustainable development is limited. But as companies look to reduce their environmental impact, the value of the IoT is becoming clearer.

Learn how you can leverage the power of IoT to affect change in your industry.