The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) is undoubtedly responsible for the digital transformation our world is currently undergoing. The essence of IoT is measuring and remotely controlling objects that were previously inanimate, creating a network of people and ‘things’ to support processes that had required human intervention.

As the converging point of 4IR technologies, including artificial intelligence, cloud computing or block-chain, the IoT has tremendous potential to deliver significant social change. According to McKinsey, by 2025, the IoT's economic impact will be around $11.1 trillion, representing 14% of today's global GDP. In addition to significant economic impact, the IoT could be a game-changer for sustainability.

In September 2015, the UN General Assembly’s 194 countries adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The 17 sustainable development goals are designed to improve the lives of billions of people within global communities, whilst allowing member countries to measure progress. The benefits of IoT, when applied to sustainability applications, are vast. It creates a network of interconnected processes that can drive efficiency and save costs and energy.

Many IoT applications that have been rolled out to the sustainability sector contribute to the SDGs, for example, networked water-monitoring solutions deliver clean water to remote communities securing reliable water supplies to areas previously without.

Not only do IoT developments help tackle environmental issues, they also serve to benefit economies as business opportunities emerge from technological developments. Indeed, research has found that by prioritising sustainability, increased commercial results and benefits across multiple stakeholders can be realised. For example, smart building energy solutions installed in both commercial and residential developments can substantially reduce energy bills whilst minimising the building’s effect on the environment. A smart building within a smart city can manage and reduce pollution, maximise efficiency of natural resources and promote or encourage the local, natural ecosystem.

Some of the ways IoT technology can benefit both industry and society include:

Maximising Efficiency of Resources

Green practices enabled by IoT technology can be applied along an entire supply chain to improve inventory management and distribution. Networking the entire system and gathering data at each point saves costs, improves efficiency and also helps ease environmental impact through waste minimisation.

Improving Food Security

IoT sensors are able to collect and analyse big data sets at every stage of the production process, identifying trends, opportunities and potential solutions to maximising yields and reducing waste. Data collected from satellites, drones, sensors in greenhouses or irrigations systems can enhance soil management, improve crop harvests and meet demand for ethical transparency.

Improving Wellbeing at Work

IoT technology can enable predictive analytics to understand the impact activities have on a business. By interpreting data and analysing the business context and environment, management is able to improve workplace safety and implement energy initiatives where issues are identified.

Using IoT to Achieve the SDGs

Key to the successful deployment of using the IoT to address the UN’s SDGs is ensuring that it is placed as a priority in every industry and by every government. Only by working holistically can the SDG goals be achieved, and the fate of climate change be reversed, or at least, slowed. Therefore, we must consider how to fully integrate a technological approach across all out activities. In short, we need to change our mindset.

To do this, frameworks for governance regulation and execution must be agreed and enacted to support countries in their sustainability strategies. These frameworks should include the following principles;

  1. Incentives that encourage prioritising sustainability objectives at every stage of industry.
  1. Simplified legal and governance guidelines that promote, protect and encourage IoT technology and applications safely and productively whilst minimising risk.
  1. Encouragement and support of cross-industry IoT technology solutions to the UN SDGs to achieve mutual benefits
  1. The establishment of a sustainability culture based on increased awareness to respond to the UN SDGs embedding a responsible approach towards every activity in every society.

Embracing a sustainability awareness culture is essential for the protection of our planet and the way we live. Climate change is already having a tangible effect and only by working together can we act to address and slow its progress. As a result, a new mentality in IoT stakeholders must be adopted that prioritises sustainability as part of commercial strategy. This will initiate a shift in understanding about how activities that promote energy efficiency and protect the environment can also benefit society as an essential pillar of business and investment. 

The IoT may be embryonic, but its potential to tackle some of the world’s largest and most pressing issues in real and vital.


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