A growing chorus of global sustainability experts in business, science and government no longer believe we are facing climate change; they believe we are now facing climate emergency. The good news is that more businesses worldwide are starting to approach sustainability as both a business necessity and an opportunity, rather than an act of corporate goodwill.
Businesses no longer just talk about sustainability; their customers demand it.
I firmly believe the same digital technologies transforming industry can help us overcome our most epic sustainability problems — throughout business, society and our planet.
This last article in my series on how five transformational technologies are revolutionizing industry focuses on one of the most critical issues of our time: sustainability. The internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, fog computing and 5G can help improve environmental conditions and business ROI at the same time.
Underscored in my prior articles on the agriculture, manufacturing, and oil and gas industries, the transformational value of these digital technologies occurs when combined, functioning like the human body. As I mentioned in a previous article, IoT and 5G are the body, creating and transmitting data, and sometimes executing on it. AI is the brain, turning data into intelligence for smarter decisions. Blockchain is the antibody, making the system trustworthy, while fog computing is the vagus nerve, ensuring key functions are properly distributed.
Here’s how these interconnected technologies can advance business sustainability.
First, access to internet and IoT connectivity are foundational rights. I see no reason nearly half the 7.7 billion people on earth are still disconnected from the internet. Most are in developing countries, and they need the internet to access education, information and technology tools to attain sustainable lifestyles.
5G and low-orbit satellite networks can expand coverage to rural areas, where 78% of the world’s poor live, providing greater bandwidth to integrate and scale digital solutions. “Me + Moo” connects data to rural farmers in the United Kingdom via 5G, satellites, IoT and “smart collar” sensors on cows, optimizing robotic milk production, use of natural resources and product quality. Such local 5G solutions can extend globally.
I’ve seen some of the best opportunities for sustainability in cities, where 66% of the world’s population will live by 2050. Cities emit about 70% of harmful greenhouse gases but cover just 2% of the earth’s surface. More than 3 million people die annually from dirty air in cities, and now London, Delhi, Beijing and others are deploying networks of IoT sensor devices to better control air pollution and traffic congestion as well as alert citizens.
Barcelona, Singapore and Hamburg use AI and fog and will soon 5G to lower energy consumption and pollution by automating lighting and public transportation systems, waste pickup, traffic flow and parking. In Linz, Austria, I recently saw IoT-connected data from its light rail system cut 500 tons of carbon dioxide output, decreasing energy consumption by 10%. And U.S. cities are installing IoT sensors into pipelines to monitor, prevent and fix water leaks, which account for nearly two trillion gallons of water lost annually.