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The role IoT has to play in green recovery

(Image credit: Image Credit: Melpomene / Shutterstock)

Covid-19 has undoubtedly caused major global disruption to both businesses and the wider economy, but not all for the worse. There are, of course, negative repercussions of the pandemic with long-term economic and employment impacts forecast but there have also been some positive changes that have been brought about by this disruption such as the need for the recovery to be sustainable and green.

The various forms of lockdown across the world have had an extremely positive impact on our surrounding environments. The first most notable impact was perhaps a drop in air pollution levels in major cities globally as well as an overall restoration of nature. LA can now see its skyline while in Venice the lack of pollution in the canals has seen a return of wildlife such as swans and dolphins. These events have caused many to realize the extent of the damage that is being inflicted on the environment due to our everyday actions such as commuting. However, as restrictions are beginning to ease there is a greater pressure from consumers and public offices to build greener operations into recovery plans to ensure that all the positive progress made in lockdown is not lost within a matter of weeks of returning to ‘normal’. 

The UK already has a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 with some industries committing to an earlier deadline of 2030. Post-recovery lockdown presents an opportunity for businesses to test and roll out new operations and technology that will aid more sustainable business practices.

In particular the internet of things (IoT) provides wider opportunities for businesses to comply by social distancing measures, while also implementing sustainable solutions. IoT allows data to flow easily from anything to anyone and, although traditionally associated with smart home devices this technology opens up a huge opportunity for a wide range of businesses to become greener as they roll out their recovery plans. 

Tackling carbon emissions by reducing food waste

Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions with a recent study finding that if food waste were a country it would be the third largest contributor with over one third of all food produced never reaching the consumer’s table. With food waste so damaging to the environment it is vital that businesses take steps to reduce as much food loss as possible.

Food travels across oceans to get from farm to table which makes transporting produce on long journeys often extremely difficult to keep it from spoiling. Without an adequate solution for transportation, long-haul or short, food waste will only continue to increase with supply chain food waste accounting for 30 percent of the UK's total.  Aside from the environmental impact this also affects businesses financially.

However, IoT technology is changing this. Typically, tracking food produce can be difficult and expensive because it travels through remote areas of the globe that do not have any internet connection. However, spacetech combined with IoT technology is opening up these parts of the world to connectivity, providing numerous benefits. This monitoring solution works by utilizing an IoT network enabled by nano-satellites.  Such a network can transfer data from modems and antennas on sensors and applications directly to nano-satellites, providing internet of things connectivity to the 90 percent of the world previously without access.

With this tech now available, businesses are able to remotely track, monitor and understand the quality of the world’s food when stored and transported - even in rural locations and out at sea. Modems can be installed in delivery vehicles and ships in order to reduce the amount of food waste that occurs during transportation by alerting businesses to critical changes in storage conditions. Implementing this technology allows companies to be able to consistently remotely monitor crucial elements to remedy any anomalies at the early stages of food transportation such as air moisture and temperature. With access to this key data post-harvest quality can be maintained at a higher rate and losses reduced.

Through data, this technology enables an efficient solution to the traceability of food. Globally there is a growing demand from consumers to know where their food has come from,  its quality of life and production as people become more aware of the impacts farming can have on the environment and quality of produce. Having data on hand makes it easier for businesses to provide this traceability for consumers as well as ensuring the highest food safety standards. When a potential food safety problem is identified, whether by a food business or a government agency, an effective traceability system can help isolate and prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers.

The business benefits of IoT in the food industry are therefore numerous. Improved inventory management, cost savings, and faster lead times mean that businesses can identify and solve incompetence in the supply chain, reducing their food waste and carbon footprint while exceeding and meeting food safety regulations and offering transparency to customers.

Saving the planet one drop at a time

Alongside the need to reduce food waste, it's critically important that there are enough natural resources, such as water, to grow and sustain food sources.

Sustainable water management is becoming more vital than ever before. Despite 70 percent of the Earth being made up of water, it is a critical resource that is already beginning to evaporate as global warming changes weather patterns and raises temperatures. In fact, the UK experienced the driest spring on record this year.

Alongside global warming, a growing population is also increasing demands on food production and its water resources. By 2050 it is predicted that the world’s population will reach 9.8 billion and if global water management is not made a top priority now agricultural business’ ability to continue to deliver food globally will be in jeopardy. In the UK it has already been predicted that if not carefully managed, parts of England could run out of water within the next 20 years. Businesses therefore need to ensure that they are utilizing water in a sustainable way which IoT technology can aid.

Monitoring groundwater levels has traditionally been difficult and expensive, but the IoT industry is quickly changing this. Remote monitoring facilitates water monitoring for crops, ensuring that crops are receiving the right amount of water for them to flourish as well as alerting farmers to any potential problems at this stage such as being able to detect rising and lowering water levels which could cause floods and draughts. This conservation of water will yield better agricultural results as well as preserving one of our most precious resources. IoT monitoring also removes the need for people to travel to rural areas, which can often be difficult to access, to oversee food production. This can now be done remotely, reducing the impacts of travel on the environment and the financial cost to a business.

IoT technology is therefore crucial in aiding businesses to become more sustainable while lessening their impacts on the environment. Remote monitoring means that companies can safely and efficiently manage their products, improving their business operations and green impact in the long term. As Europe remains focused on a green recovery following Covid-19, innovations in IoT technology mean businesses have the ability to make a real impact, especially in the agricultural sector. However, in reality, IoT, allowing data to flow easily from anything to anyone, has limitless possibilities across a diverse range of businesses.

Coen Janssen, Co-founder & Director of Business Intelligence, Hiber (opens in new tab)

Coen Janssen is the co-founder and Director of Business Intelligence at IoT Space Tech startup Hiber.