ESG in the IoT Industry: The 4 Pillars of Sustainability

Smart renewable resources. Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

The usage of IoT in ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and sustainability efforts is rapidly growing. According to the World Economic Forum, 84% of IoT deployments “are currently addressing, or have the potential to address, UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” which can indirectly push businesses to improve their ESG goals.

As climate change worsens, many businesses have begun to rethink their social and environmental responsibility. Past research has also shown that ESG-integration usually has a positive effect on a business’s financial performance and can unlock certain competitive advantages. For example, 70% of millennials in the workforce now say “they will stay with a company if that company has a robust sustainability plan.”

This blog will explore the role of IoT in the four pillars of sustainability (Human, Social, Economic, and Environmental) and introduce businesses and organizations that are utilizing IoT to improve their sustainability efforts.

Human sustainability

Woman checks health monitoring smart watch during exercise

Human sustainability refers to maintaining the human capital of individuals or societies “through health, education, skills, knowledge, and leadership practices.” It includes practices that contribute to the personal well-being and development of the workforce. Naturally, one of the first IoT use cases for human sustainability to gain traction is IoT in healthcare as many applications aim to improve people’s health.

The most popular example of IoT in healthcare is remote patient monitoring. Wearable IoT devices that collect patient data such as heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, glucose levels, and more are able to send patient data to a software application where healthcare professionals and patients can view it. Machine learning (ML) algorithms may be used to analyze the data in order to recommend treatments or generate real-time alerts. For example, an IoT sensor that detects a patient’s unusual low heart rate may generate an alert so that healthcare professionals can intervene. This is important for sustainability because patients do not need to be physically present or be emitted in a healthcare facility and instead send their metrics themselves to be treated.

In the future, we may see IoT devices that go beyond monitoring and provide treatment or relief through the use of robotic personal assistance devices, telecare for social interaction and leisure, and implantable medical devices, sensors, and microsensors. Large technology companies are currently responding to the growing demand for digital behavioral health products by enabling intelligent social care and healthcare systems through an IoT strategy. For example, Dozee, a Bengaluru-based health tech company, currently provides contactless remote patient monitoring solutions and has had success in the early identification of health risks in patients.

Social sustainability

Safety checks during construction to prevent workplace accidents. Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

While there are some overlaps with human sustainability such as the desire to uphold the well-being and interests of people and communities, social sustainability focuses on the rights of the people and the presence of social justice for the most vulnerable social groups and communities. Other areas that address social sustainability include human rights, labor rights, practices, and decent working conditions, community development, and cultural competence.

For businesses, efforts to generate social sustainability often means keeping employees happy, as investments in the well-being of employees are likely to generate economic benefits. For this reason, the influence and application of industry 4.0 technologies like IoT on social sustainability can also translate into higher employment rates, better collaboration among stakeholders, reduction in workplace accidents, and overall improved working conditions.

The combination of IoT sensors with computer vision in manufacturing has allowed manufacturers to collect data and help them make better decisions while also promoting worker and site safety. Since computer vision detects differences between environments and situations and responds accordingly by screening data from sensors, it can look for any abnormalities and automatically stop industrial equipment to prevent workplace injuries and accidents. Computer vision combined with AI software and facial recognition can also help improve compliance with safety protocols such monitoring employees entering and leaving the premises, thwarting off any unauthorized access.

In Europe, the Shift2Rail organization has made it its mission to make European rail transport a “more customer-centric and sustainable mode of transport.” It plans to leverage IoT-related technologies like edge computing and computer vision to ensure safety in rail transport by detecting obstacles. For example, in the event of poor visibility due to bad weather or human error, computer vision can become the eyes for a smarter, automated transport by detecting potentially hazardous and deadly obstructions. The organization aims to create an automatic obstacle detection system that improves any emergency handling capacity.

Economic Sustainability

NodeQ, a data collecting computer for smart factories

Economic sustainability refers to practices that support the long-term economic development of a society without negatively impacting social, environmental, and cultural aspects of the community. So while social sustainability focuses on improving social equality, economic sustainability focuses on improving the standard of living. One-way IoT enables economic sustainability in manufacturing. For example, sensors may be used in the production line for improved inventory and warehouse management.

Moreover, IoT systems improve the efficiency and effectiveness of supply chain management by reducing inventory inaccuracy and the time to market. IoT supports sustainability through productivity and product quality improvement (economic benefit) and can help to reduce operational costs, improve the circular economy and market share of products, and create a new business model which enhances economic sustainability in industries.

SDT has harnessed the power of IoT and computer vision to launch an IoT solution with NodeV smart cameras and a sensor suite to conduct product tracking and management across warehouses. Data can be captured from machines on production lines with the NodeQ data collection system, while the cameras scan a variety of inventory attributes including readability of text or logos, storage space utilization, and object dimensioning in order to identify inventory damage and warehouse safety hazards. In the tune of economic sustainability, the company is helping warehouse managers achieve better inventory accuracy and visibility, which can result in additional labor savings, decreased inventory waste, lower reverse logistics costs, and overall quality improvement.

Environmental Sustainability

Water treatment center harnessing sustainable solar power with IoT monitoring

Environmental sustainability refers to improving human welfare by protecting the planet’s natural resources: water, land, air, and minerals. For many, IoT applications seem to have the greatest impact on environmental sustainability. Recently, smart farming has emerged as a rising trend in the field of agriculture and refers to managing farms using technologies like IoT — whether that means optimizing farming efficiencies in seeding, irrigation, fertilization and fumigation or monitoring crop health with real-time alerts.

Ultimately, the goal of smart farming is to reduce inefficiencies with the farm while minimizing the usage of chemicals, water and other resources, thereby resulting in a lower environmental footprint. One example of smart agriculture and IoT-based water management projects that optimize resource use in farming with the use of sensors and smart devices is Ranch Systems’ solutions. It utilizes wireless sensors and controllers to monitor conditions and launch essential processes, including “applying water and fertilizer, controlling pumps and engines, and sending frost and heat alerts.” The use of IoT is critical in optimizing these operations to reduce water use and limit the time workers spend driving fuel-burning vehicles.

SupPlan, an Israeli precision agriculture and smart farming company, also uses IoT technology to collect data from soil, plant, and weather sensors “to understand and identify the main parameters affecting the optimal performance of plants.” By analyzing the data in real-time, SupPlant provides customers with precise irrigation plans and recommendations on daily and weekly bases so they can maximize crops and budget. In return, these processes enable farmers to support environmental sustainability by improving yields, productivity, and water use efficiency.

Future of IoT and Sustainability

There is no denying IoT is a major driver towards leadership in sustainability efforts, whether that’s reducing carbon emissions from creating more efficient warehouse and shipping logistics, or conserving and promoting energy efficiency and waste. As outlined in this blog, IoT devices such as sensors and cameras combined with AI and automation provide businesses the ability to monitor events in real time so they can more effectively achieve their sustainability goals.

IoT technology aligned with the SDGs is still in its infancy stages but is nevertheless growing in its worldwide applications as the technology gets cheaper. In fact, at least one fifth, or 21%, of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies have committed to meet net zero targets, and IoT is sure to play a major role.

SDT is currently working on their sustainability pledge and will soon announce their net zero pledge by the end of the year. The company aims to further drive sustainability goals by pledging to only use suppliers that are registered as RoHS compliant and committing to only develop all hardware and software applications with a power saving feature to reduce the cost of energy resources. On a company basis, SDT also plans to incorporate volunteer days and reduce in-company consumables.

Follow the SDT blog for more feature stories on these green-based projects to come! Also check out our Naver Blog for more stories featuring our ESG-based IoT solutions.

About the Author: Karen is a passionate B2B technology blogger. While studying at Georgia Tech, Karen first grew interested in cybersecurity and has since worked for several security and cloud companies as a global marketer. When she’s not freelance writing, Karen loves to explore new food trends.

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