Technology has the potential to have both positive and negative impacts on sustainability. It’s largely responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gases causing climate change. It’s also led to quite a bit of pollution. Companies and researchers, however, are also working to use technology to reduce emissions and clean up pollution.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a technology that’s poised to have one of the most significant impacts on sustainability. McKinsey has forecasted that the technology, which consists of a vast network of internet-connected devices, could produce as much as $11.1 trillion in economic value annually by 2025.
An analysis of 640 IoT projects by the World Economic Forum found that 84 percent of them could help achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals — 17 goals adopted by all of the United Nations Member States to promote prosperity and protect the environment.
The IoT has the potential to impact sustainability both directly and indirectly. One area in which it can have a direct impact is environmental monitoring.
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The IoT and Environmental Monitoring
Environmental monitoring refers to approaches used to observe and study aspects of the environment, whether for research, conservation efforts, policy-making or ensuring compliance with environmental regulations. It usually involves collecting samples from the land, air or water to test conditions of the environment and determine what factors might be affecting them.
The IoT lends itself perfectly to this endeavor. Equipping environmental sensors with IoT capabilities can help make environmental monitoring more efficient and cost-effective. IoT sensors can send data over the internet, allowing researchers to monitor conditions remotely. Eliminating the need to visit every sensor’s location to read it makes it much faster and cost-effective. Not only does this save money, but it also enables researchers to collect more data, potentially leading to more accurate research. IoT sensors also allow you to collect more granular data than other technologies, such as satellites and radar.
Low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) technology, a type of IoT technology, is often regarded as the most well-suited to environmental monitoring. Sensors that use LPWAN can stay in a location for long periods and send data over a long distance.
IoT Applications in Environmental Monitoring
Some examples of environmental monitoring applications for IoT include monitoring:
- Forests for fires by detecting smoke
- Precipitation levels for weather tracking as well as to provide warnings of flooding or avalanches
- For natural disasters to provide advanced warning
- Fisheries for animal health and to prevent poaching
- Soil health to prevent soil degradation and increase crop yield
- Air quality for pollutant levels, temperature and other conditions
- Water quality to support access to clean water
IoT devices can help to monitor conditions out in forests, lakes, mountains and other natural environments. They can also monitor the direct impact of industrial activities, such as the operations of a factory or the use or a truck to transport goods. Organizations often use sensors in this way to ensure compliance with environmental policies. Reducing emissions resulting from these activities can have a significant impact on the overall health of the environment. The trucking industry, for example, produces approximately 1.6 billion tons of CO2 each year.
Numerous applications of IoT also aren’t directly related to environmental monitoring but can help improve air and water quality, as well as other environmental conditions. For examples, companies can use IoT tech to monitor and control their energy and water usage to help conserve resources and avoid emissions associated with electricity generation. You can also use IoT devices such as smart thermostats in your home to reduce energy consumption.
The Future of Environmental Monitoring With IoT
IoT technology is already making a significant impact on sustainability, but the technology is still very young. It’s only going to become influential as time goes on.
In the World Economic Forum study mentioned earlier, 95 percent of the IoT projects the researchers analyzed were small-scale or medium-scale. The IoT sector is still working on challenges related to interoperability, or how multiple different types of systems work together. As times goes on, we’ll likely see more standardization related to IoT technology. Many companies are still in the pilot phase when it comes to IoT. As businesses become more comfortable with the technology, we’ll begin to see even broader adoption, as well as bigger budgets for IoT initiatives.
A significant number of the executives interviewed for the World Economic Forum study didn’t see a connection between their initiatives and the Sustainable Development Goals, although the study revealed that the majority of the projects could help in accomplishing the goals. This indicates that some companies may not even be aware that their IoT projects could impact sustainability. As IoT becomes more common, this capability will likely become more apparent, and we’ll see more organizations using IoT technology for environmental monitoring and other sustainability-related initiatives.