Sustainable Technology: IoT, AI, and Blockchain
Table of Contents
With the growth of global problems like pollution and environmental intoxication, poverty and starvation, climate changes, extensive deforestation, depletion of mineral and organic resources, overconsumption of nonrenewable resources, and others, the demand for development using sustainable technology has been increasing. Energy demand evolves and the world’s energy systems undergo an expeditious transition due to technological shifts, regulations, and consumer preferences.
Furthermore, the 2021 year under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a breakthrough in the global energy landscape. Energy efficiency is triggered by technological advancements and fuel switching will cause the decline of energy intensity of the global GDP to 40% by 2020. Also, from 2019 to 2050, according to McKinsey predictions, energy consumption per capita decreases; and by 2035, 50% of the global power generation will come from renewable resources.
Businesses are seeking to enhance their profits and implement new ways of production, and at the same time diminish environmental negative impacts. In order to revitalize their businesses, companies implement sustainable growth strategies in combination with digital technologies. How do digital trends can be leveraged to encourage sustainable business practices? And what is actually sustainable technology? Read on to figure out what innovative technologies can accelerate and amplify digital sustainability in today’s business space.
Unlock new possibilities: digital sustainability
To create alternative ways of monitoring resource usage, lower power consumption, optimize product waste, and to obtain effective and efficient ways of manufacturing, a variety of technological advancements have come into play. A lot of international companies have already implemented sustainable technologies to provide eco-friendly outcomes and accelerate economic growth.
Sustainable technology or Digital sustainability is about using a set of eco-friendly and resource-efficient principles to make ecologically safe technology with a long-term perspective. With a post-pandemic world in mind, many companies are already taking steps to adhere to these principles in their business processes to leverage sustainable digital technology and, consequently, reduce environmental degradation.
- 13 examples of sustainable technology implementation:
- Efficiently consume national resources
- Switch from fossil fuel to renewable energy resources
- Mitigate climate change risks
- Minimize waste in supply chains
- Implement nature-oriented solutions
- Protect vulnerable areas
- Minimize emissions by using green power
- Reduce water use via IoT sensors
- Recycle production materials
- Use energy-saving construction materials like solar panels, wind turbines, LED lighting
- Implement hydrogen-powered and electric engines
- Use IoT-based control over manufacturing
- Use AI to predict the usage of resources
Such tech giants as Intel create a sustainable and responsible world powered by technology and collective actions. Per Intel’s 2030 strategy and goals, the company aims at creating sustainable manufacturing to reduce emissions and climate impact in global manufacturing through technologies. Also, the company plans to enable greener and circular chemistry strategies and transform its chemical footprint.
Taking into account post-pandemic effects, Intel continues to set up high standards for other tech companies as well (Samsung, Lenovo, Amazon) to achieve sustainable development goals. According to Intel’s 2020 responsibility goals report, the company achieved most of the planned goals, including:
- 39% gas emissions reduced by 2020
- 93% of non-hazardous waste recycled globally
- 70% of renewable energy use increased globally
- 38% reduction in water use (2010-2020)
- 4,5 kWh of energy saved (2012-2020)
- Up to 71% of green power used
In the next decade or two, climate changes can affect economic damages that will resemble the COVID-size pandemic every ten years. Bill Gates in his GatesNotes states that if the situation with carbon emissions will be moving forward, by the end of the century it will have drastic results on the environment.
How do digital technologies impact sustainability acceleration?
Sustainable technologies and their use cases
IoT: intelligent monitoring and tracking
Nowadays businesses are empowered with extensive IoT software development capabilities than ever before in terms of data collection that can be used to derive deep insights and make correspondingly comprehensive decisions. Converged with artificial intelligence and machine learning (more on that in the next paragraph), IoT platforms enable actionable intelligence that can bring business performance to the next level, ensuring more sustainable operations.
Let’s explore some sustainability solutions powered with IoT for businesses:
- LED lighting.
Considering that lighting accounts for approximately 5% of global CO2 emissions, companies have to switch to energy-efficient lighting. More and more businesses shift from traditional lighting approaches toward investing in LED to develop city-wide digital lighting networks. The principle of smart lighting lies in that connected sensors integrated into IoT networks allow enhancement of city efficiency, saving up on power consumption, and reducing CO2 emissions. Street smart lighting can cut carbon emissions by 1,4 million tons annually.
With a sustainable approach in mind, Euristiq helps worldwide companies to optimize energy usage and streamline lighting systems with smart solutions. The company size doesn’t matter, as long as the business is looking for IoT-powered applications that would modernize operations, ensure sustainability and positive effects on the environment. For instance, one of the largest electronics companies in the world, located in the Netherlands, addressed our company to develop an IoT smart street lighting control system that allows to remotely control energy usage via mobile apps.
We also upgraded an intelligent control and maintenance system with tens of thousands of units on the city scale for Novalume company to optimize street lighting usage.
- Smart grids.
According to ResearchandMarket report, smart meters and smart grids have the potential to reduce carbon emissions in Europe by 9%. Smart grids help control energy supply and adjust it, particularly with the respect to renewable resources. Moreover, smart grids help equipment automatically reroute in the case of failure, minimizing outages and possible negative effects on the environment. IoT-enabled smart meters, thermostats, etc. measure usage patterns through two-way real-time communication between a consumer and utility allowing to consume less energy.
- Precision agriculture.
The problem of wasteful overconsumption of fertilizers, pesticides, water, fuel, soil additives, etc. triggered the demand for comprehensive low-cost and low-power solutions. Water scarcity is the main issue in farming. Actually, IoT devices aim at improving the agricultural processes by reducing water and energy waste as well as carbon footprint. So, for example, when a farmer needs to irrigate his crops, IoT-powered alerts will determine the optimal time for irrigation optimizing water consumption.
- Maritime cargo shipping.
949 million carbon dioxide is emitted from cargo shipping that consumes 300 million tons of fuel oil. In general, the shipping industry accounts for 3% of global CO2 emissions. IoT monitoring and rerouting applications can optimize fuel consumption up to 15% per year. With predictive maintenance and real-time monitoring, captains can know each ship’s intentions and avoid long unnecessary rerouting. One more benefit in terms of transportation is asset tracking that allows monitoring the status and conditions of cargo containers so that perishable products remain fresh. This prevents waste.
IoT solutions for environmental sustainability
AI paradox for sustainability: reduce carbon emissions or produce them?
AI is a powerful driver for reducing the impacts on the environment. However, since the AI applications for sustainability progress are not widespread, companies are now at the early stage of implementing AI solutions. The reason why many companies hesitate whether to use ML and AI or not lies in the paradoxical impacts it can bring to ecology. The thing is AI has the potential to produce a significant amount of carbon emissions while at the same time it can be beneficial for sustainable development by reducing CO2 emissions.
Let’s start with the worst scenario. The main issue with AI is that the processing of big amounts of data leads to significant energy consumption used to cool data centers. According to the study conducted by researchers from Massachusetts, the process of training AI models to do NLP (Natural Language Process) affects the production of carbon dioxide that is equivalent to five times the lifetime emissions of the American car. Yeah, it may be a wake-up call for companies that are embarrassed by that fact. However, let’s view the entire picture with pros and cons. The previous example is only a specific case – it is not commonly used. As opposed to this case, there are even tools aimed at estimation of carbon emissions.
AI solutions for environmental sustainability
The solution for lowering the environmental impact is already here! Instead of using large hardware commuting powers for AI training, businesses have started to use cloud providers. For instance, to address the problem of energy overconsumption, Google data centers apply DeepMind’s super-efficient AI-powered servers that cool data centers which results in an energy reduction of up to 40%.
Businesses can leverage extensive capabilities starting from big data analytics that enable enhanced food system traceability to AI-based smart water management systems. Based on the PwC report “How AI can enable a sustainable future” we outline the main industries with the high demand for AI adoption. Let’s take a closer look at how artificial intelligence can contribute to sustainable development across industries.
- Agriculture. With smart spraying technology and precision monitoring of climate conditions, AI can efficiently predict the impacts on crop yields and improve them accordingly. In combination with IoT, AI allows real-time monitoring of crops, soils, and livestock health to ensure better management and prediction. Connected farming with agricultural robots can be leveraged by manufacturing businesses to autonomously manage tasks on the field with optimal timing.
- Water resource management. AI solutions can be designed to eliminate wastage and, overall, ameliorate the global water crisis by predictive maintenance of water infrastructure, anticipating water demand, and modeling water treatment processes.
- Energy. Energy grids, smart monitoring, and predictive analytics can optimize energy use, forecast energy needs of certain areas and external disruptions, and improve the operational efficiency of renewable assets.
- Transport. AI applications in the transport section may facilitate demand prediction and logistic planning, optimize traffic flows in real-time and autonomous vehicles, trucking, and delivery robots.
Blockchain: secure and sustainable supply chain management
Sustainability issues in supply chain management such as food safety, wasteful products, non-compliance with conditions, perishable products, and others can be resolved through blockchain solutions. Let’s shed light on what blockchain is and how it can transform supply chain sustainability. To begin with, it is worth noting that such world leaders as Microsoft, Maersk, IBM, Walmart have already adopted blockchain technology. According to the World Economic Forum Report, nearly 10% of GDP will be stored on blockchain by 2025.
So what is blockchain?
Blockchain is a distributed decentralized database consisting of blocks that function as transaction records that cannot be modified or deleted. Thanks to cryptographic hashing and distributed access to each transaction between all the members of the network blockchain network is tamperproof. In terms of the supply chain, it can be illustrated as follows: each participant of the supply chain (whether he is a manufacturer or retailer) is entitled to read each block of information and it is sent to each member of the supply chain to be verified, and only then, the block of information can be added to the chain. With such a solution, the recording of the business transactions is secured and all supply chain participants get holistic visibility into all supply chain management processes. Furthermore, blockchain can capture data securely with the help of IoT sensors.
Blockchain solutions for environmental sustainability
So how exactly can blockchain be valuable for supply chain sustainability?
- Blockchain facilitates “green logistics” helping to identify the vehicles in the supply chain that emit high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicle rerouting is one of the techniques aimed at optimization of vehicle route which will make it possible to prevent traffic and reduce carbon footprint. Moreover, with IoT technology, blockchain can be more powerful in terms of truck drivers tracking. For example, when a driver increases speed, carbon emissions increase as well. In order to efficiently control drivers’ behaviour, blockchain can incentivize them by token-based rewards that are generated via writing smart contracts. Owing to blockchain, drivers can be rewarded immediately which will help save energy resources and ensure driving safety. With IoT combined, vehicle performance can be constantly monitored in real-time.
- Blockchain can improve waste management. The main idea of blockchain for waste management lies in the incentivized mechanism applied for those engaged in recycling programs. The participants get financial rewards in the form of tokens for storing recyclable materials and exchange procedures can be automatically executed. In addition, IoT applications can improve environmental safety by detecting waste materials and transmitting this data onto the blockchain network via sensors.
- Blockchain can help improve the circular economy. By that, we mean that companies can assess the circularity performance of supply chains and, as a result, get entire transparency on how resources for products management are used. So that constant real-time monitoring can provide data on energy consumption. If products consume high levels of energy, they can be eliminated or substituted.
- Blockchain allows for water monitoring and other resources for the agrifood industry. Blockchain can also help to make food resources efficient and not wasteful. Therefore, agriculture can benefit from blockchain technology thanks to the environmental management of resources.
In terms of drawbacks of blockchain technology in sustainability practices, it consumes many hundreds of energy megawatts since decentralized technology requires more computing power to mine, create proof-of-work consensus systems, and more resources to maintain data security. However, there is an alternative to Proof-of-Work consensus protocol known as Proof-of-Stake protocol which makes blockchain computing less energy-hungry but at the same time increases security problems.
3 leaders in implementing sustainable (green) technologies
Since 2015, Apple’s manufacturing suppliers have transited to renewable electricity that resulted in the prevention of over 8 million metric tons of carbon emissions. And since 2018, Apple’s stores and data centers have operated on 10% renewable energy. By 2020, Apple announced its commitment to producing its products with totally clean energy. Apple’s energy-saving products account for 70% less energy use in 12 years.
Shifting towards renewable energy has also impacted the reduction of carbon emissions. With the usage of recycled and low-carbon materials for the new 24-inch iMac, the company decreased the carbon footprint by about 20% compared with the previous generation. One more interesting fact that Apple applies disassembly robots, Daisy and Dave, to reconstruct 15 different iPhone models and recycle at a rate of 200 devices per hour.
For more than 15 years, Walmart, one of the biggest retail corporations, has made great progress toward achieving sustainability goals, including waste and emission elimination, addressing climate changes, and efficient supply chain control. In 2019, Walmart installed more solar systems than any other company in the U.S. and recycled 80% of waste globally.
In 2020, Walmart implemented 120 electric car charging stations at its store. In agreement with US Solar, the corporation subscribed to 36 community solar gardens to facilitate generation of clean, renewable energy providing energy savings to Walmart locations in 13 separate countries.
In 2018, Walmart patented the idea of pollinating IoT-powered drones acting like bees to autonomously pollinate crops. In terms of renewable resources, Walmart initiated a recycling project to make shopping cart production more sustainable through remanufacturing and recycling. Walmart is a big contributor toward sustainability in supply chain management. The company created a Project Gigaton to reduce 1billion metric tons of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2020.
By 2040, Amazon’s intentions cover the carbon elimination across their supply chains to reach net zero. By 2025, the company anticipates to run their operations with 100% renewable energy. In 2019, Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge to be net-zero carbon across their business and invested $2 billion in technology adoption. As part of The Climate Pledge, besides net-zero carbon and renewable energy, Amazon has made ambitious commitments, also including:
- Shipment zero by 2030
- 100,000 electric delivery vehicles
- Investing $100 million in reforestation projects
Furthermore, Amazon Managed Blockchain helps businesses to provide transparency of supply chains, the circular economy, auditing and certifications at scale, and to track carbon emissions and marketplaces.
The demand for sustainability across industries has been increasing due to the continual growth of global problems that devastate the environment, affecting climate changes. Nowadays, manufacturing processes require more and more innovative approaches that enhance business performance, and companies seek ways to modernize processes by adopting new technologies, and maintaining sustainable approaches.
Therefore, such technologies as IoT, AI, and ML, Blockchain, and predictive analytics have become digital enablers for sustainable infrastructure allowing companies to transit to a low-carbon future with clean renewable energy. For this purpose, companies need to reassess their infrastructure systems and services to enable significant elimination of greenhouse gas emissions, enhance the supply chain to minimize waste, and implement nature-oriented solutions.
There are plenty of digital sustainable solutions that can bring enormous impacts on the environment, social, and economic state of businesses. However, there are also cases when blockchain or AI can produce a lot of carbon emissions since these technologies require high computing powers. But in order to understand how your business can balance and be more sustainable and tech-progressive, you need to be aware of the holistic picture of congruence between sustainability and technology. Contact us and our specialists will consult you and help you figure out what technology will be most suitable for your business, taking into consideration the factors of sustainable harmony.