5 ways that IoT is making the business case for sustainability

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Sustainability in business today is an imperative. In 2018, research by McKinsey found that 60% of companies said they are now more engaged with sustainability than they were two years ago, and 70% have increased their formal governance of sustainability, up from 56% in 2014. Almost 1 in 5 companies now has a board-level committee dedicated to sustainability issues. Companies are committing to sustainability as a business ethos.

The commercial imperative

Consumers’ attitudes to sustainability and ethical consumption have changed: according to Nielsen research, around three-quarters of millennial consumers say they are willing to pay between 10% and 25% more for sustainable products and services. Further to this, there is a basic commercial incentive in play, too, with 2018 seeing investment magazine Barron’s produce its first annual list of the 100 most sustainable companies in the USA: the report found that sustainability-focused companies saw massive share price growth of 29% in 2017. Sustainability has become a commercial must-have, a consumer desirable, and as such it looks like it’s forming part of any progressive business strategy from now on.

But it is about more than that. Sustainable business can have the commercial side but can marry it to ethical projects that benefit the planet. Internet of Things (IoT) tools in particular are set to play a big role. In 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Internet of Things Guidelines for Sustainability: it found that 84% of IoT technology applications were addressing, or could potentially address, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The inference of the report was that IoT can, by bringing enhanced connectivity to our work and personal lives, help save resources and reduce unnecessary costs, to the benefit of everyone.

What digital use cases are driving sustainability?

  1. Smart grids. Understanding when and where energy is needed helps energy companies drive greater efficiency, and smart grids give them the ability to know that they can conserve energy when demand is low and deliver enough energy when demand is high. Smart grid technologies using IoT connected devices and sensors let them track energy supply and demand, gather usage data, analyze it and apply it to energy networks.
  2. Digital twins. Giving you the ability to test before you build, digital twins – digital replicas of physical assets – are powering sustainability in agriculture. Using AI and IoT capabilities, digital twins let you capture all the data aspects of agriculture, from soil quality through to the performance of farming equipment, from the skills and performance of a tractor driver through to the price that produce is fetching at market. Using digital twins, agriculture companies can more accurately forecast crop yields, which makes them more financially viable and more efficient for the long-term – and more sustainable.
  3. Blockchain. The decentralized ledger technology made its name in cryptocurrencies but has a place in making supply chains more sustainable. Blockchain improves visibility by identifying all parties involved in a transaction, so ensures data integrity and enhances traceability. Enhanced traceability can be used to ensure food standards, making for a more sustainable business model. Further to that, blockchain can deliver sustainability gains in the form of reduced environmental impact and better assurance of human rights and fair work practices, the knock-on effect of which can help consumers know that goods they are buying only come from sources that have been recognized as being ethically sound. Early detection of unethical suppliers and counterfeit products is another potential benefit of blockchain in the supply chain.
  4. Predictive maintenance. IoT solutions and data analytics are ideal for making maintenance predictive rather than reactive. They can do this by monitoring equipment health in real time and so, instead of allotting maintenance schedules around expected life cycles of components, they can use AI and smart IoT-enabled sensors to predict failure, based on real-time data and historical trends. This approach means organizations can, for example, immediately reduce truck roll, the need to dispatch a technician to a customer site to service or reconfigure an item of equipment. And with the average truck roll costing anywhere from $250 to $500, or even as much as $1,000 per time, any reduction in the number of site visits is significant and a positive towards sustainable business.
  5. Smart meters. One of the earliest IoT technologies that were forecast to drive sustainability, smart meters collect energy data, as well as water and gas data, in real time, and enable smarter decision-making about energy usage and consumption. The philosophy behind smart meters is that they will encourage users and business to modify traditional habits and look to both save money and reduce carbon footprints. On top of this, energy companies can monitor meters remotely, enabling them to improve responses to potential issues and make maintenance more efficient, with one sustainability benefit being that energy companies should immediately reduce fuel bills as they no longer need to drive around to collect data from standard meters.

The more that digital technologies and IoT can tell us about how products, systems or services are functioning, the more we can refine it to meet specific demands at specific times and for specific reasons. By conserving resources, reducing fuel usage, monitoring demand levels and highlighting potential environmental issues, organizations can make themselves more efficient, reduce unnecessary costs and become sustainable, too.

Read this analyst report of our industrial IoT capabilities by GlobalData, and Patrick Boullier’s blog on sustainability and innovation in manufacturing.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.