Aug 14, 2023

11 min read

Going green is no longer optional - An IoT perspective

Climate change is one of the most hotly followed public issues of our time. In recent years, erratic weather patterns across various regions of the world have added fresh impetus to the already explosive voices clamouring for firm and decisive action against global warming. Climate change may be a hot-button issue and we are by no means attempting to take political stances on the topic. This is an attempt to have a conversation about the problems that threaten the survival of life on our planet.

However, one thing seems certain - if this current trend of population growth and haphazard economic development continues, we will have to contend with some serious environmental threats such as soil degradation, food shortages and crippling global health issues. 

All life on earth is interconnected - from single-celled aquatic microorganisms right up to the tallest redwood trees - all life depends on one another for continued survival. If one tiny thread in this delicate interconnected web were to crumble, the entirety of life on this planet would have to face the repercussions. 

For all our immense capabilities, human beings are no different from any other form of life on this planet in that we simply can not live well in isolation - i.e we simply can not thrive without all other life on this planet thriving. 

This is not an ideological position or a passion-driven rhetoric - this is just raw fact. We need food - i.e plants or animals. The plants and animals we eat exist as part of an ecosystem where life forms affect one another in direct and indirect ways. The health of plant life is very directly dependent on insects that help in pollination and microbes that help in soil nitrogen balance. When there are not enough predators like snakes and eagles, rodents begin to run rampant and start destroying tons of plant life. 

The point we are trying to get across is that this is not a stance or a position - this is simply fact. This is how life works on this planet. Balance, interconnectedness and parsimony are the ways of nature. The natural world is held in place by a delicate system of checks and balances, if you will. 

This delicate ecological balance is under grave threat today.

Since the industrial revolution, we have witnessed rampant economic growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. This has come at a massive cost though. 

Our growth has been disjointed and haphazard. It has caused untold amounts of damage to our planet and this is coming back to hurt our backsides in a massive way. Today, with the world population crossing the 8 billion mark, we are simply faced with a himalayan challenge of finding ways to feed and employ this gargantuan figure without burning up all our resources in the process. 

The signs are all there - more natural disasters, armed conflicts, mass extinctions and erratic weather patterns, just to name a few. Our oceans are filled with plastic and we are literally running out of cultivable soil. 

And it’s not just a case of the world around us suffering and us thriving - in many ways, human beings are feeling the brunt of these crises as well. Chronic diseases are on the rise. Problematic drug use is on the rise. Mental health disorders are at an all time high. All this while an unacceptably large number of the global population still lives in crippling poverty, unable to feed themselves adequately.  

Much as governments and policy makers have tried to look out for inventive policies and regulations to contend with these issues, it has unfortunately always been a case of playing catch up - with interventions not undoing enough damage to make a real dent.

It is not a case of somebody trying to ruin the world out of spite - there is no evil entity to blame out there for the disaster that is unfolding in front of our eyes. No single person or organisation can be blamed. This is simply a result of decades and centuries of accrued damage. Structures being built on top of existing structures with good intentions and no overarching vision. 

The environmental disaster we are looking at today is not something we planned for. It’s not something that was orchestrated. We simply got here by trying our best to solve our immediate problems - most of which were dire to say the least. 

It is crucial that we always keep this in mind as a bulwark against the ubiquitous human impulse to blame something external when confronted with a worrying and challenging situation. 

Global sustainability goals

Governments and various global agencies have tried to come together to try and devise ways to arrest this worrying slide towards complete ecological collapse. 

The year 2015 saw two notable instances of the world coming together, as it were, to make actionable plans towards salvaging this desperate situation and possibly building a brighter future - The Paris Agreement and The Sustainable Development Goals.

The former was a legally binding treaty signed by 194 countries in a bid to arrest rising global temperatures to 1.5C. The latter was a much more extensive and comprehensive list of goals directed towards building a better future for humanity, covering an entire gamut of global issues including poverty, education, food security, clean energy and gender equality, among others. 

If nothing else, these global treaties served to bring our biggest global challenges to the forefront of people’s minds. 

It’s not just governments and the UN though - there is mounting pressure on businesses, especially large corporations, to make sustainability-oriented changes to the way they operate. 

Many companies are responding to this pressure by acknowledging the need to redesign business practices around long-term sustainability and ecological health. There have been quite a few notable examples in recent years. 

Going green is a critical response to the environmental issues our planet faces. We hope that by taking these steps, we will inspire others in the TV industry to follow.
- Jong-Hee Han, CEO of Samsung’s consumer electronics division.

For instance, electronics heavyweight LG has pledged to move towards sustainable practices in its manufacturing process, committing to using about 600,000 tons of recycled plastic. Similarly, Samsung has caused a stir by announcing their eco-remotes which use energy harvesting technology to eliminate batteries altogether. 

Jong-Hee Han, the Vice Chairman and CEO of Samsung’s consumer electronics division had this to say about the matter - “Going green is a critical response to the environmental issues our planet faces. We hope that by taking these steps, we will inspire others in the TV industry to follow.” 

Ikea is another notable example of a huge corporation making a public move towards more sustainable business practices - A couple of years ago, they pledged to remove non-rechargeable batteries from all their outlets in bid to reduce toxic waste production.

These are just a few examples that are indicative of a much wider trend that is noticeable throughout the world of business - there has been a noticeable shift towards a more eco-conscious approach. 

If you are inclined towards being cynical, you’d still have to agree that this is a welcome change of pace from times gone by when corporations simply didn’t care.

Judicious Resource Management

Our appetite for raw materials has skyrocketed in recent times. 

This is a trend that gathered momentum in the years following the industrial revolution, in the 18th century. Since then, it has accelerated sharply and today, our natural resources are depleting at a worryingly rapid rate. 

Setting up these goals is one thing - delivering on the ambitious targets that they push towards is a whole other thing. 

A recent United Nations report claims that human use of natural resources has tripled in the last 50 years, with a 45% spike in the use of fossil-fuels. 

Non-metallic minerals such as Lithium are also being used in exorbitant amounts. There is a pressing need to take drastic action if we are to ensure that coming generations have enough resources to live on this planet. We urgently need to find ways to reduce consumption and manage our natural resources more equitably. 

From tracking bee populations to reducing vehicle emissions, connected technologies are being implemented in a number of applications directed at more equitable resource management. But these solutions often require large upfront investments, both in terms of time and capital. 

Connected solutions that come with long range and low energy requirements are being opted for in sustainability-oriented solutions. This makes a lot of sense. After all, if the whole idea is to use IoT technology to manage resources more effectively, it wouldn’t make sense for the solution to itself be resource-hungry.

Nevertheless, we are seeing a steady increase in the adoption of IoT-based solutions. Thanks to the advent of new standards in IoT technology such as ultra-low-power semiconductors and batteryless microcontrollers, we are seeing an increase in the credibility of these eco-focussed IoT solutions.

In the early years of IoT, there was a lot of apprehension about the increase in energy consumption, emission levels and resource drain associated with powerful IoT devices. These were not entirely unfounded - a lot of these early sensors and microcontrollers were battery powered - this was a huge pain point that put the dampener on the explosive growth that was predicted for wireless sensors just a few years back.

In the years since, energy harvesting technologies have emerged as the favoured power solution for IoT microcontrollers.

Corporate Sustainability Goals

There has been quite a lot of deliberation on the best way to implement IoT technology in eco-friendly ventures. 

Accenture put out a report recently that highlighted the following steps for companies to achieve their sustainability goals using IoT technology. 

1. Cloud optimisation 

There has been a massive increase in cloud usage in recent times. In the light of this trend Green cloud is a term that is being thrown around in IoT circles. 

Green cloud refers to practices directed towards more efficient and optimised usage of cloud resources. Companies should embrace green cloud practices if IoT tech is to be integrated in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way. 

Today, corporations have several tools at their disposal to help them achieve cloud optimisation. These are aimed at reducing carbon emissions at each step of the chain.

These tools employ advanced algorithms to estimate the sustainability quotient of potential cloud options that are available, based on a number of parameters. 

2. Smart buildings

Smart buildings use IoT sensors to minimise energy use, slash costs and in doing so, increase revenue. 

High-tech corporations can benefit immensely from adopting sensor-based solutions to make their office buildings more energy efficient and cost-effective. Additionally, smart buildings come with a number of other benefits - they allow for office space to be used more optimally and also allow for a high degree of personalisation. 

With the pandemic getting employees used to working from the comfort of their couches, offices are going to have to go the extra mile if they want to lure their employees back to the office. Personalisation of the office ambience is a nice perk to offer in this context. 

IoT-based smart offices allow various discrete parameters such as climate control, security, lighting etc are automated and managed from one centralised backend system, which adds to the ease of operation while also clamping down on unnecessary resource expenditure. 

3. Smarter semiconductors

Semiconductor manufacturing is the beating heart of the IoT world. A smarter, more sustainable IoT would necessarily entail smarter semiconductor chips that don’t rely on batteries. 

Sustainability through connectivity

At their core, all our environmental problems are problems of disconnectedness. A disjointedness brought about by a lack of vision. 

These are the problems that IoT technology is being used to solve today. IoT-based solutions are so promising because they offer us exactly what we’ve been missing since the industrial revolution - growth that is connected and harmonious.

About the author

Abishek Swaminathen

Senior Content Manager

Abishek is ONiO’s senior content manager. A medical doctor by profession, he stumbled onto a writing career almost by accident, as it were. Words have enthralled Abishek since the day he first held a book and at ONiO, he channels his inner wordsmith towards providing our subscribers with regular doses of fun and informative content.

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