Digital transformation plays a major role in Ecology and Sustainable development. In my previous article on this topic, I emphasized on the positive impacts of social media on the environment. In this article, I am focusing on Digital innovations and its positive impacts on sustainability especially through the Internet of Things (IoT).
Digital transformation will play a major role in ecology at different stages
Facing the environmental crisis and an increasing lack of resources, Governments, Companies and private individuals are looking for alternative solutions to preserve our planet and to consume in a more responsible way. Digital transformation through innovations brings new solutions and will play a major role in ecology at different stages.
The positive impacts of the sharing economy
Firstly, the development of innovative and collaborative platforms on the Internet which allow individuals and even companies to share goods and services is good news for the environment. The sharing economy has literally exploded and the number of sharing platforms is still increasing. According to a PWC report dated from April 2016, “at least 275 collaborative economy platforms have been founded in Europe generating revenues of nearly €4bn and have facilitated €28bn of transactions within Europe in 2015”. Also according to a study conducted by PWC in the US, “the sharing economy spending represented $15bn in 2014 and would account for $335bn by 2025”. The increase of sharing goods and transportation will strongly benefit the ecology by reducing the amount of:
- goods needed to be produced
- waste to recycle
- vehicles on the road
The Internet through innovative platforms continues to offer solutions directly or indirectly impacting the environment. But those platforms are fully depending on citizens’ behaviors. In my opinion, the Internet of Things (IoT) will bring the most effective solutions to manage and solve environmental issues.
The potential benefits of IoT in the environment
Thanks to IoT, digital devices are all linked to the internet which enables the delivery of a huge amount of data and insights instantaneously (big data). This offers invaluable opportunities to manage resources and anticipate ecological disorders. This technology will be applied to society as a whole with potentially huge benefits to the environment. Here are some examples currently implemented in various sectors:
- Smart buildings: The number of buildings or individual houses equipped with connected devices such as thermostats, electricity & water meters, lighting controllers or sensors is going to explode. This will enable more efficient management of natural resources. According to a study released by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) in 2016, “our increasing use of home automation technology through the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential for substantial energy savings and greenhouse gas emissions reductions……if used for energy savings purposes, could collectively avoid up to 100 million tons of CO2 emissions and reduce total residential primary energy consumption by as much as 10 percent”
- Industry and agriculture: The IoT will bring new tools to improve productivity by reducing the resources consumed in factories and in agriculture. For example, at an industrial level IoT will track machines consumption and deliver a dynamic set of data in order to identify energy wastes with the aim of optimizing the manufacturing process. Another example at an agricultural level occurs where IoT will improve water management. Connected equipment such as tractors will automatically analyze the soils in order to give valuable information on their qualities and water needs to have a smarter irrigation. The last example comes from the viticulture. A new robot named Oz manufactured by Naio technologies has been released last year to weed the soil automatically and avoid the use of herbicides.
- Transportation: IoT solutions will revolutionize the transportation sector in a positive way for the environment. IoT allows, amongst other things, the more efficient fuel consumption of vehicles. In the near future, all vehicles will be connected together in order to manage traffic in real time and reduce it. We can even imagine the possibility of deactivating some cars in case of pollution peaks. This way the alternate traffic circulation would be more effective!
- Smart cities: The management of natural resources or pollution problems will be more efficient in connected cities. One example of IoT application in big cities is smart parking. Around 20% of city traffic is due to drivers looking for parking spaces. Smart parking delivers real-time information to guide drivers to reaching the closest parking spot available. This technology reduces cars congestion and pollution.
In the countryside, IoT also brings new solutions to optimize resource management. For example, to improve waste management in the least populous areas, sensors can be installed in bins to determine their level of content. This way the garbage truck comes only if needed. Fuel economy is important especially in the countryside where you have great distance between villages.
- Energy industry: for energy companies, IoT will bring new solutions to improve resources allocation according to clients’ needs. For example General Electrics is currently working with Tepco (Japanese electric power provider) to improve efficiency at power plants by introducing IoT. According to reports in Nikkei Asian Review, “GE will use sensors attached to gas turbines and generators to collect data from the power plants. The data will then be analyzed in the cloud to provide real-time updates on the use of gas within the plant. The hope is that, by constantly monitoring operations at the plant, GE will ensure the efficient use of gas and will spot any problems early on.” This should drastically reduce the waste of resources.
Digital transformation: a fantastic opportunity for the environment
Digital transformation through innovation brings new powerful tools to manage environmental issues. But as any other tool, their good use will depend on human behavior. These tools can be so powerful that regulation, guidelines and highly skilled people become prerequisites to use them wisely. Having said that, Digital disruption/transformation is a fantastic opportunity for the environment.
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