IoT: Overcoming Sustainability Challenges
For today’s companies, being environmentally friendly is more than just a box to tick in their reports to attract more customers with the feel-good approach. The reality we live in is defined by such concepts as climate change, pollution, desertification, and others. Today, businesses honestly understand the importance of sustainability.
But our world is not only characterized by environmental dangers. It is also the world of technology that couldn’t be imagined just a few decades ago other than in science fiction.
And this technology, I firmly believe, is one of the keys to dealing with environmental problems.
Internet of Security Concerns
The Internet of Things is among the hottest trends of our age. Just like it connects various devices without human input, it also permeates all spheres of our life: from manufacturing to medicine to homemaking.
This technology can and should be used to tackle modern environmental crises while creating value on all levels. I will describe some of the many potential benefits and uses of such a solution below, but for now, it’s worth it to talk about the flaws it currently has that hinder its implementation.
It is true that the Internet of Things has its weaker sides. Security is probably the most pressing one of them. Smart appliances used in home automation systems, for example, often are less secure than computers. They may come with only the default password option, and due to the interconnected nature of IoT, a criminal infiltrating one device will get access to all others as well.
Today, sadly, such weaknesses are mainly tackled by ad-hoc solutions such as hiding the real IP address of a smart home location or encrypting the traffic on its router. However, until the manufacturers get really serious about safety measures of smart devices, there is bound to remain a certain distrust in their appliances.
So, while a smart electric grid is going to increase the efficiency of energy management considerably, there are concerns about its security. Alleged cyberwarfare attacks on power grids have already happened, and the more the number of smart components in them is, the more likely the next attack will be if the security measures are insufficient.
Internet of Environment
Despite all that, there are many uses of the Internet of Things that are beneficial to the environment.
One of the most obvious and largest impacts that smart devices can have on the environment is the sustainable use of energy. The simplest example of it would be a smart lighting system that can understand how well-lit a given room is and react accordingly so that no energy is wasted on illuminating a room with no one inside or with a high level of daylight coming in.
The large-scale implementation of such a system is certain to make a huge difference in energy consumption. It is not, though, the only manner in which IoT will help preserve energy.
Plants, for example, consume much more energy than humans usually tend to. However, when they are operated by humans, some of that energy is bound to be wasted. With IoT, the distribution of energy will be less wasteful.
Another important way in which IoT can help mitigate environmental issues is water preservation. As of 2017, around half of all water used for irrigation and other purposes outdoors in the US was reported to go to waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Smart watering systems are a perfect solution to this problem. Their sensors are able to determine the humidity level in the soil and adjust watering accordingly. They can also, thanks to their Internet connection, look up weather forecasts and base their decisions on them. With the nearly limitless customization options that affect the watering schedule and take the needs of different types of plants into consideration, this use of the IoT is definitely one that should be implemented on a large scale.
But smart irrigation is not the only use of smart appliances that can help with farming and gardening. Similar monitoring systems can be applied to keep track of rodents and bugs that assail our crops. Traditional pest control, especially its subdivision that relies on chemicals to kill pests, is not a great solution: in large qualities, pesticides are dangerous to human health, and some are even carcinogenic.
With the Internet of Things’ help, we can increase the sustainability of our anti-pest efforts. Smart pest control systems can be set up to administer chemicals strictly when needed and make sure that no more of them is used than necessary.
Of course, the approach to farming sustainability must be multidimensional. Besides pest control and smart watering, the IoT should be also used to monitor the nutrition and health of plants. The easier and sooner any diseases can be spotted and prevented, the bigger harvests will be. Alternatively, if the use of the IoT appliances helps create a surplus of food (which it almost certainly will with consistent implementation), some of the field areas can be left fallow next year to give the soil some rest or even used for another purpose altogether, like reforestation.
There are a lot of uses for IoT devices in rural areas but it’s not to say there aren’t any in cities. In fact, by bringing smart technologies to urban areas, we can make the levels of air pollution go down.
By implementing smart traffic lights that will observe the traffic situation, connect and share that information with each other, and regulate traffic accordingly, cities will bring down the number and magnitude of road jams – that is, bring down the idle time during which vehicles do not accomplish anything but still burn fuel and pollute the air.
Despite some reasonable concerns about its security, the Internet of Things is an invaluable tool for reaching sustainability. Energy management, smart farming, air quality monitoring – all of those and more can be achieved by the use of smart devices.
It is beyond doubt that, as the awareness about environmental problems increases, these and other measures will be taken by the growing number of organizations and states. What is necessary to remember is that it is easier to prevent environmental disasters than to fix them so the sooner we fully embrace the IoT-driven sustainability changes, the better for us – and for the world.