Sustainability, on the only habitable planet we have, is a concern of paramount importance. The United Nations in 2015 set up 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all nations to achieve by 2030. These goals bring along a promise of a world where economic progress and equal opportunities to grow are attainable for all in addition to caring for our environment.
These goals are best depicted in the image below.
IoT as we know, has the power to change the world. This change must be directed towards a more sustainable world. With that view, there are at least 9 of the 17 SDGs that ‘Internet of Things’ as a technology driver can help achieve. Let’s examine these a bit closely.
1. SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
The goal is to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. It aims to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production.
Smart Agriculture is needed to scale up food crop production to feed 7+ billion people on this planet. There are multiple aspects in this field like precision farming, water management, soil monitoring, pests and disease tracking and weather monitoring. Smart farming primarily involves using sensors to monitor crop fields and automating the irrigation system. Drone based analysis is also used to monitor crop health, planting seeds, and soil analysis to take necessary actions based on the insights derived from captured data. Livestock tracking and tracing is another useful application of IoT in the agro economy.
Each of these functions ensure a more predictive yield of crops and management of livestock leading to food security which is necessary to curb widespread hunger and starvation.
2. SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
The goal is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Connected Healthcare improves access to healthcare for those in remote locations and for patients unable to travel to hospitals and clinics. IoT enhances the reach of health services to everyone. In countries where the rural medical infrastructure is not as developed as in the cities, remotely operated, connected medical devices and mobile based accessibility can improve the availability of critical medical services equitably across geographies.
Further, IoT is also instrumental in the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries to enhance efficiencies in their operations, thus, scaling up operations to help achieve the goal of making health services sustainable and available for all.
3. SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
The goal is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
The presence of industrial chemicals and pesticides beyond the recommended limits is a commonly known fact in many countries across the world. Smart water systems based on sensors that measure water quality replace manual intervention. IoT based smart water meters can determine levels of pH, salinity, hardness, presence of manganese, chloride, calcium etc. and thereby support remediation. Certain other physical properties like temperature, pressure, flow and level can also be easily determined and necessary actions taken based on the use case. IoT in waste water management can also be helpful to effectively process water for further use.
4. SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
The goal is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. It also suggests substantially increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix and doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.
IoT is seen as the crucial factor in creation and distribution of renewable energy. Whether it's solar, wind, storage or other forms, Internet of Things is driving the transformation in the energy sector. IoT sensors can effectively monitor generation, transmission and distribution equipment for efficient and cost effective operations of energy systems. Predictive maintenance of such equipment also enhances reliability, which can be made possible by IoT.
Residential and business entities can deploy solar panels and wind turbines to generate their own electricity. IoT enables smart grid technology which helps energy companies manage supply and demand in this new, distributed energy set up.
5. SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
The goal is to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. It aims to achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation. Further, it also promotes decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourages the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.
A lot of technological innovation across many industries is made possible by IoT. The application of IoT in retail, manufacturing, travel, hospitality, medicine, pharmaceuticals, energy and utilities has given birth to thousands of start-ups and more business units within existing corporations. Such investments in innovative fields like IoT, Analytics, Cloud Computing and Connectivity have given rise to higher employment and, therefore, economic growth. Emerging technologies like IoT give rise to an ecosystem of new markets, investors and entrepreneurs.
6. SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
The goal is to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. It also promotes increased access to information and communications technology.
Internet of Things is the latest and greatest innovation in the digital space. It is the single largest cause of massive innovation across industry verticals. For example, Industrial IoT has transformed the manufacturing industry to bring about high levels of operational efficiency by collecting data, analysing it, making actionable insights based on it.
Ubiquitous connectivity and penetration of cloud services has democratized the connected, virtualized infrastructure for the masses. Internet of Things runs atop such high performance infrastructure. As the value based offerings in IoT proliferate across agriculture, buildings, workplaces, hospitals and factories, more investment in such technologies would be available to people across geo boundaries for further innovation. Such is the power of a connected, virtualized ecosystem.
7. SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
The larger idea of this goal is to offer safe, adequate, affordable, inclusive and sustainable housing, transport, green spaces and other utilities to the citizens. It is also about reducing the environmental impact of cities, especially in terms of air quality and waste management.
Smart Cities is one of the key domains where IoT provides real value. It includes public parks management, smart waste management, water quality, weather forecasts/warning systems, stormwater management, connected transport, smart kiosks, connected snowplows, smart lighting and many others. Most of these use cases involve putting sensors into equipment, capturing contextual parameters and taking decisions based on data analytics. These IoT use cases are able to achieve many targets set by federal(central) and provincial(local) governments to make our cities inclusive, efficient and sustainable for its current and future citizens.
8. SDG 13 - Climate Action
The goal is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
IoT is particularly instrumental in climate change reduction and climate impact mitigation by enabling sensor based monitoring and control of systems across industries and public utilities. It is aimed towards improving operational efficiency and energy optimization across many industry verticals.
Smart Buildings use cases, for instance, are geared towards HVAC, energy management and asset monitoring of equipment like generators, UPS, fuel tanks etc. Smart Agriculture aims to reduce and conserve water with a focus to increase agricultural yield. Waste management also reduces fuel consumption by optimizing routes of garbage trucks based on real time information transferred from connected garbage bins. Automated waste segregation contributes to less waste going to landfills , thereby, supporting the environment. A reliable and connected transport system of a smart city saves fuel and maintains air quality. Innovations within the technology sector like cloud computing have brought forth shared computing and storage of data, thereby, reducing the needs for more and more dedicated infrastructure for individual needs.
9. SDG 14 - Life Below Water and SDG 15 - Life on Land
The goal aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds. It also talks about minimizing the impacts of ocean acidification, enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems.
On land, the goal is to halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation to reduce the degradation of natural habitat and the loss of biodiversity.
IoT can help achieve these goals by helping improve water quality for fish farming and monitor toxic spills in water bodies. Further, early detection of natural disasters can certainly impact animal and plant life on land. IoT in conservation of natural resources is a yet under explored but extremely crucial area of research, due to its significant impact on life on land and below water.
Any innovative technology that is worthy of mass adoption must solve some real world problems that we cannot deal with otherwise. IoT is a game changing innovation which encompasses multiple technologies like cloud computing, device engineering, hyper connectivity, big data analytics and mobile applications. With a potent mix of these strong tools, IoT can truly bring about massive changes in the world we inhabit today.
The challenge of sustainability is as massive as the promise of IoT. Through appropriate use of IoT technologies, it is indeed possible to start making progress in achieving SDGs. As discussed above, Internet of Things can be instrumental in realizing at least nine Sustainable Development Goals. As the technology improves through constant innovation, so is the probability of making real progress to make this world more habitable and sustainable for the current and future generations.