The Untapped Potential of IoT and Sustainability

Amy Hou  |  January 4, 2018   |  Data & Technology  |  Energy & Sustainability  


From powerful hurricanes to record-breaking heat waves and devastating earthquakes, weather-related disasters are on the rise according to the Economist. With reports like these, there seems to be an obvious connection between industrial advancements and the toll they are taking on our planet. Because of this, more than ever, businesses are focusing their attention on playing a positive role in the future of sustainability, and they’re doing so with the help of technology.

According to a recent report by Wipro Digital and Forum for the Future, businesses have the potential to contribute to restoration and reduction of future harmful effects on the environment if they leverage the power of the Internet of Things (IoT).

The report found that 98 percent of executives confidently believe that the IoT is a key part of a more sustainable future, and will continue to grow in importance over the next five years. However, despite recognizing its potential, only half of these leaders currently use data and connectivity to support their sustainability initiatives. Most stated that their businesses currently use data and connectivity for short-term gains, like cost reduction and operational efficiencies, rather than as a foundation for long-term goals.

While short-term goals are an incredibly important initial step for businesses to jumpstart their sustainability initiatives, understanding the long-term outcomes of using the IoT is even more mission critical. To bridge the gap between awareness and action, we’ve put together a list of some of the high-level potential that IoT, data, and connectivity have for sustainability:

Cultivating Collaboration with Data Integration

Limited information flows between public and private sectors remain a major roadblock for collaboration and innovation in sustainability efforts across the board.

Envision a mixed-use development in which each commercial and residential space was customized to adapt to the local weather, optimize resources, and meet the preferences of each individual resident.

This reality could be met if the development were constructed using the data and expertise of every party and stakeholder involved. Wipro Digital and Forum for the Future’s research found that only 32 percent of executives see significant collaboration between IoT/data and sustainability experts within their own companies – let alone externally.

Placing emphasis on cross-functional disciplines will remain critical to creating more disruptive and systematic solutions for projects like these. Companies should not only promote cross-department collaboration to create fluid information exchange, but also focus on enabling open data infrastructures.

Investing in platforms that allow access to data from various departments and stakeholders is an important step in building on cross-department collaboration. Data integration enables more efficient flows of information and increased transparency, ultimately leading to more meaningful data analysis and better collaboration overall.

Enhancing Brand Value with Data-Enabled Transparency

In 2015, Nielson published its annual Global Corporate Sustainability Report that indicated that, globally, 66 percent of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. More specifically, the study found that millennials are more prepared than the average American to make personal sacrifices in order to impact the issues they care about, whether that means:

  • Paying more for a product — 70 percent vs. 66 percent US average
  • Sharing products rather than buying — 66 percent vs. 56 percent
  • Taking a pay cut to work for a responsible company — 62 percent vs. 56 percent

It’s clear that corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts are increasingly important to millennials, who are also known as the fastest growing consumer market. The key to building brand loyalty and trust with this segment is transparency.

To achieve this, many companies release a basic annual sustainability report. But by using real-time data and IoT connectivity, businesses can add detail to their reports, offer full insight into operations and supply chain efficiencies, and demonstrate tangible action on their core values. Only then can they build a solid foundation of trust with their consumers.

As Mark Gough, Executive Director of Natural Capital Coalition, said in an interview from Wipro Digital’s research:

“Disclosure is a lever for change, but needs to come together with other levers if it is to be successful.”

Shaping Consumer Behavior for the Better

It is increasingly common for organizations to use sensors and wireless technology to capture data for every stage of a product’s lifecycle. Some are also using IoT technology to improve transparency and create more measurable impact for their businesses. And while both are continuous short-term goals, sensor-enabled tracking and monitoring can become a valuable asset in creating a longer lasting impact for businesses and the environment.

When applied to human behavior, sensors and trackers may help drive sustainable action by reporting more information on people’s lifestyle habits and choices. Health and fitness trackers, for example, have created a shift in consumer behavior that places emphasis on improving health through physical exercise.

In the same way, trackers and sensors could be used to help consumers track their carbon footprint, resource usage, and more. Just as health and fitness trackers have shifted consumer behavior to focus on healthy lifestyle changes, there is an opportunity for IoT sensors to become an active driver of sustainable living choices.

OhmConnect, for instance, connects to the energy grid and alerts users via their smartphones when there is additional strain on the grid. Once users reduce their energy usage for a short period of time, grid operators no longer need to turn on heavy-emitting power plants, and users can be reimbursed for their energy savings. Now, with the help of wireless technology, consumers are incentivized to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint.

The United Kingdom has expanded this idea nationwide. Rollouts of smart meters there not only help to increase awareness of resource use on a consumer level, but also help utility companies create a more resilient grid. These smart meters also play a key role in helping the government meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Acting on Potential

Organizations in all industries will inevitably play an increasingly important role in building a sustainable future. With the right technology, businesses can become more collaborative by fluidly exchanging data and expertise, can build holistic transparency with consumers and, ultimately, may have the power to influence individual and societal behavior to create a more sustainable future.

Are you ready to join other organizations that are working toward making their businesses more sustainable? Contact one of our experts today to learn how utility data can help.

You may also be interested in:

If you like what you’re reading, why not subscribe?

About Amy Hou

Amy Hou is a Marketing Manager at Urjanet, overseeing content and communications. She enjoys writing about the latest industry updates in sustainability, energy efficiency, and data innovation.

Tags   Data & Technology   |   Sustainability   |   Sustainability Data   |   Technology   |   Urjanet   |