We have seen businesses implement the Internet of Things (IoT) to transform operations and services they provide customers. However using IoT for sustainability is a relatively new discussion in the UK, which is beginning to gain traction. As we see an increase in natural disasters and climate change dominates the news agenda, it is clear that industrial advancements and human activity is taking its toll on the planet. Therefore, organisations are looking at the ways in which they can make a difference and try to restore some of the damage.
Organisations are now looking at how they can manage sustainability with new technologies, to not only improve processes internally but also for customers. Business sustainability will also help companies to grow, by adding value to an organisation and improving reputation, while at the same time helping to save the planet. Business sustainability is often defined as how companies manage financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities. Business sustainability requires firms to adhere to the principles of sustainable development. According to the World Council for Economic Development (WCED), sustainable development is development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
According to a survey conducted by Wipro Digital and Forum for the Future, there are some ways IoT can help reduce future harmful effects of using technology. The survey found that nearly 100 percent of C-suite leaders believe that IoT, data, and connectivity can actively help restore essential ecosystems such as oceans, forests, and wetlands, and will continue to do so in five years’ time. However, despite this optimistic outlook, only 50 percent of respondents are currently using data and connectivity to support sustainability efforts.
This shows that many companies are still holding back from using IoT to its full sustainability-related potential. This is due to competing business priorities, such as improving operational efficiency. But there are more nuanced, underlying issues – such as increasing energy demand and electronic waste production – that must be resolved for these technologies to be properly leveraged. In this article we have outlined a few steps business leaders can take to help pave the way for a more sustainable and connected future without sacrificing other strategic priorities:
Stop impeding collaboration – sharing knowledge, experiences, and tech is critical
Imagine a low-income housing community in which each house was customised to adapt to the local weather, optimise resources, and meet the individual residents’ needs. This could be a reality if the homes were constructed using the data and expertise of multiple businesses, individuals, and organisations, as well as sustainable building practices including local materials, 3D printing technology, and laser cutting.
To make this, and similar projects, a reality, businesses need to increase collaboration. As it stands, only 32 percent of respondents in the survey said there is significant collaboration between IoT/data and sustainability experts within their own companies, let alone within an external network.
According to the experts interviewed by Wipro Digital, emphasising cross-functional discipline helps lead to the creation of disruptive and systematic solutions. Companies should actively promote employees to network and share projects, budgets, and resources freely across departments. Doing so will facilitate a fluid exchange of information among groups and individuals of varying areas of expertise, which is critical in driving the sustainability initiative.
Enabling open data infrastructure will also be critical to increasing collaboration. Platforms that allow access to data will lead to better data flow, as well as easier collaboration, increased transparency, data integration, and meaningful data analysis. The creation of such an infrastructure could have a similarly profound impact on society as the advent of electricity, especially when it comes to addressing environmental and social issues.
Recognise the need for governance – create incentives and guidelines for tech development
Since technology advancements happen much faster than legislation can keep up, there is a lack of necessary governance for emerging technologies. But there are also structural limits when it comes to how much corporations can allow environmental benefits to take precedence over economic ones. After all, the key objective in any business is to maximise profit.
Working with the government could help businesses develop appropriate measures that ensure technology is being channelled for the greater good – and at faster scale. Government and businesses alike should work together to create eco-friendly standards for open data and IoT devices.
Promote digital citizenship – encourage individual responsibility
Companies’ sustainability efforts will not succeed unless individual employees believe that they are worthwhile. In fact, individual citizens – and employees – play a crucial role in shaping a future where strategic growth and sustainability opportunities are intertwined in new, creative business models.
Unfortunately, many individuals still view inefficient operations, safety and security, and product/service innovation as the areas that will benefit the most from IoT, data and connectivity investments. In fact, according to the survey, only 26 percent rank improving natural habitats and communities’ high on their list of areas that will benefit the most from these technologies.
Business leaders should empower their employees to take an individual stake in architecting the company’s sustainability initiatives. To do this, companies must instil a sense of individual responsibility. Using new technologies such as AR and VR, companies can enable people to better understand global challenges, and engage more deeply in situations that before felt far away in terms of location and lifestyle.
Businesses have the power to play an important role in building a sustainable future. Many organisations already hire chief sustainability officers to ensure they are bridging the gap between technology and sustainability. Businesses that can increase sustainability with IoT will not only be able to identify better opportunities to create better products with sustainability in mind, but they will also enable the sharing of ideas, expertise, and data between companies, individuals, and the government. The use of IoT will also lead to increased innovation across industries, and potentially save ecosystems, which will lead to not only better products for customers but a better plan.
Jayraj Nair, Global Head of IoT at Wipro
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