Romolo Tavani - Fotolia


Seven use cases of IoT for sustainability

The internet of things is an integral component of any corporate sustainability model, helping businesses conserve resources and save money. Here are seven examples to consider.

Employees today want their employers to do more than just sign a paycheck -- they want them to take action. Corporate sustainability models aren't new, but now, thanks to IoT, businesses have technological means to meet one of corporate sustainability's biggest hurdles: reducing the company's environmental impact.

It's time for enterprises to take action, both for their employees and the Earth. And IoT is here to help. How do IoT and sustainability work together? Check out these seven use cases.

Smart grids

Intelligent electricity distribution systems enable utility providers to remotely manage and monitor their assets. With connected systems, companies can manage energy distribution and reroute energy during outages. They can even prorate electricity based on supply and demand, especially when renewable resources, such as wind, solar or hydroelectric power, are involved.

Smart grids also enable utility providers to know about outages before their customers report them and to monitor equipment and perform maintenance before an infrastructure fails. For providers, this means improved efficiency and streamlined energy distribution. For smart home or smart building consumers, it means receiving transparent feedback about energy use that can help them to adjust their habits and potentially reduce monthly bills via managed energy consumption.

Stats: According to the Environmental Defense Fund, smart grids are expected to cut air pollution from the energy industry by up to 30%, preventing 34,000 deaths a year. And because smart grids can incorporate renewable power sources, their energy savings can be equated to 70 million road trips around the world.

Smart meters

A key piece of a smart grid infrastructure, Smart meters gather real-time energy data, as well as water and gas data. Rather than waiting for monthly manual readings, businesses and homes with smart meters get real-time data that enables them to make smarter decisions about their energy, water and gas consumption and to modify habits to save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

Utility companies also benefit, as systems can be remotely monitored, allowing for better response to problems and efficient maintenance. Utilities' fuel costs are also reduced as employees don't need to drive around to collect data from standard meters.

Stats: Real-time monitoring for behavioral changes can affect up to 40% of a building's energy consumption, according to the authors of the paper "A literature survey on measuring energy usage for miscellaneous electric loads in offices and commercial buildings."

Additionally, British Gas published a report that stated that its residential customers using smart meters save nearly $42 a year on their energy bill.

Smart water

In agricultural scenarios, be it on a farm or an orchard or a building's or resident's lawn, smart irrigation systems monitor soil saturation to prevent over- and under-watering. Water sensors are also instrumental in monitoring water quality, a critical task after floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters to ensure wastewater and chemicals have not tainted potable water supplies.

Likewise, IoT sensors embedded into water management infrastructures can monitor local weather forecasts and control drainage to minimize flooding, stormwater runoff or property damage. Smart sensors can also be added to plumbing systems to alert homeowners and building managers to potential leaks or even turn off water supplies to prevent flooding -- mitigating millions of dollars in potential water damage.

Stats: According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, up to 50% of the water used outdoors is wasted due to inefficient watering methods. A smart irrigation system can save up to 70% of the water wasted, per the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. Also, Sensus reported that up to 30% of the water in the U.S. is lost to leaks and storage tank overflows; adding IoT can help reduce leakage waste by 20%.

Smart lighting

Lighting is a top use case of IoT for sustainability. Adding internet connectivity and intelligence to lighting systems in buildings is an integral component of optimizing electricity use. Temperature and light sensors not only mimic natural light cycles -- an important point, as Americans spend nearly 90% of their time indoors nowadays -- but they also conserve energy.

For example, sensors can detect when a room is empty and turn off the lights or adjust lighting depending on the amount of natural light coming through the windows.

Stats: Smart LED lights use nearly 50% less electricity than traditional bulbs and last more than eight times as long. Add intelligence to those LEDs and companies can achieve up to 99% energy cost savings, as reported by enModus.

Smart streetlights

Connecting streetlights with IoT takes smart lighting to the next level. With the same benefits of adjusting lighting based on natural conditions, as well as the presence of pedestrians and vehicles, smart streetlights also provide the infrastructure needed to deploy other smart city applications, such as security cameras, air quality monitors, traffic management and gunshot detection, among others.

Stats: Beyond using 50% less energy than halogens, smart LEDs generate 10-20% savings by adjusting to natural conditions, reported Navigant Research.

IoT air quality monitoring

Using sensors, companies and municipalities can gather extensive information about indoor and outdoor air, including the temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and carbon dioxide. Such smart sensors can detect the presence and saturation of volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen monoxide and dioxide, ozone, methane, black carbon, and particulate matter in real time. This information can help cities, organizations and individuals monitor, analyze and determine the locations and, potentially, the causes of pollution, enabling them to take action and fix air quality issues.

Stats: IoT air quality sensors collect targeted, real-time, location-specific data, allowing corrective action to be taken. In some cases, sensors, such as those from Libelium, can identify gas at concentrations as small as 0.1 parts per million.

Smart waste

Waste management, both at a company and city level, is a crucial component of environmental and corporate sustainability. Connected trash cans on city streets alert waste management companies when they are full, allowing a company to dispatch collectors only when necessary. This reduces fuel consumption, but also lessens street congestion.

Networked waste receptacles can also help consumers more easily locate trash or recycling opportunities, as well as better identify what materials can be recycled.

Stats: Smart waste collection can reduce the number of collection instances by up to 80%, according to Bigbelly. This, in turn, reduces collection costs by nearly 30% and lowers carbon emissions up to 60%, Sensoneo reported.

Bonus applications of IoT for sustainability

IoT is also instrumental in the sustainable development of products. Digital twins and IoT in product design help manufacturers determine the energy impact and resource consumption of the devices they're creating, as well as determine the lifespan.

Using smart design, manufacturers can create devices that consume less energy and create less waste. Potential issues can also be determined by simulating the devices with digital twins, enabling manufactures to fix design flaws, in turn saving money in repairs and replacements, as well as downtime and upgrades.

Consumers, businesses and individuals alike, are concerned about the origins of the products they purchase. A recent Unilever survey revealed 33% of consumers choose brands based on their social and environmental impact.

Companies can prove their sustainability measures with IoT. A connected supply chain offers transparency into each stop a product makes and the source of each product component, allowing brands to apply unique identities to products to provide full traceability and visibility throughout the supply chain.

Next Steps

Top 8 IoT applications and examples in business

Dig Deeper on Enterprise internet of things

Data Center
Data Management