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How IoT helps environmental, social and governance goals

Organizations must address sustainability concerns as IoT device use grows. Cloud optimization, smart buildings and predictive maintenance can help meet ESG goals.

Sustainability is an increasing priority for nearly every high-tech company, as well as many other organizations -- and it's no coincidence. Emerging technologies such as 5G, blockchain and AI are unlocking new use cases for the smart, connected devices that make up IoT. However, they're also causing a massive surge in energy consumption, water usage and carbon dioxide emissions as those devices become more powerful, as Accenture has reported.

In response, high-tech companies are rolling out sustainability programs and designing products with environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals in mind.

These initiatives were plain to see at recent tech events, with many high-tech companies demonstrating their dedication to developing more sustainable products and initiatives.

For instance, at CES 2023, electronics and appliance maker LG highlighted various sustainability goals it's aiming to achieve by 2030, including a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from product manufacturing and a 20% decrease in emissions from the use of seven key products per unit sold. That's in addition to an earlier pledge to use up to 600,000 tons of recycled plastic in its manufacturing process and increase the recovery of electronic waste to up to 8 million tons by 2030.

Meanwhile, Samsung announced new capabilities for its SmartThings Energy home energy monitoring service, including an updated AI Energy Mode feature that's designed to further reduce energy usage by connected appliances. In addition, the CES event for the first time included a panel discussion on sustainability, with representatives from 3M, Infineon, LG and Qualcomm.

While IoT is designed for energy efficiency, the explosive growth of the number of IoT devices is also elevating the need for device manufacturers to further improve power efficiency. One example is Universal Electronics Inc.'s 2022 release of sustainability-focused wireless connectivity products with integrated energy harvesting capabilities that can deliver up to 2.5 times more computing power, while using up to 80% less battery power than traditional Bluetooth smart system-on-a-chip technology. At CES 2023, the company said it had shipped 15 million of those items.

Ways to implement sustainability into IoT

Companies should consider how to best use IoT technologies to improve product sustainability and support more eco-friendly manufacturing.

Accenture has outlined the following three steps that high-tech companies can take to help achieve their ESG goals.

1. Optimize cloud resource use

Green cloud is a term that emerged due to the explosive growth of cloud usage. It's a practice that focuses on optimizing cloud energy and resource consumption. Before moving systems to the cloud, companies should establish a baseline of existing data center energy consumption, computing requirements and sustainability goals.

There are tools that can help with this and cloud design products that reduce carbon emissions across all stages of the journey. Such tools use algorithms to quantify the greenness of potential cloud options based on a range of information, such as the cloud service provider's carbon emissions goals, locations, energy sources and readiness to transition.

2. Transition to energy-efficient smart buildings

Smart buildings can reduce energy consumption, cut costs and generate revenue. High-tech companies can develop smart building products and services to sell, while they simultaneously test and use them to achieve their own sustainability goals.

Automated processes can help control building operations, such as climate control, lighting and security. This enables companies to reduce energy consumption, optimize space and minimize the environmental impact of their buildings.

Johnson Controls is one company that uses IoT and edge computing to monitor environmental controls and takes advantage of 5G and AI to minimize building pollution and improve supply chain management. Its 2022 acquisition of FogHorn Systems, a developer of edge AI software for industrial and commercial IoT uses, brings new opportunities for creating smart and autonomous buildings.

3. Improve semiconductor design and processing

Semiconductor design and manufacturing are at the core of creating nearly any product these days. With the growth of IoT, AI and machine learning, semiconductor manufacturers now have the tools to manage and analyze data to implement predictive maintenance programs.

Custom analytics can predict process issues to detect impending deposition process failures and prevent significant yield reductions. Organizations can apply data to a single asset, across multiple machines, to a manufacturing line or even to an entire fabrication process.

To take these processes a step further, digital twins offer a detailed simulation of real assets that updates in real time through a constant stream of sensor data. They provide a test bed for organizations to try out new processes and analyze issues without unnecessary costs or negative environmental outcomes.

Companies should adopt a circular economy model, where sustainability starts at the design stage instead of after the fact via recycling. High-tech manufacturers that design for refurbishment and longevity can save money, potentially create new revenue streams and reduce their carbon footprints.

Sustainability improvements are happening all around us and are incorporated into personal devices, smart electronics in our homes, cars, office buildings and the environment. It's time to act now and use sustainable offerings as a competitive advantage.

About the author
Vikrant Viniak is a senior managing director at
Accenture, where he focuses on the high-tech industry. He is passionate about solving complex problems using creative thinking, bold and iconoclastic action, and data-driven analysis and decision-making. He helps clients with their most strategic imperatives, including digital transformation, driving growth through digital operating models, everything-as-a-service transformations and strategic partnerships.

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