IoT: a winning bet for the environment

Christophe

Chronicle of   Sigfox

Responsible for nearly 4% of greenhouse gases in the world (according to The Shift Project, 2021) – a proportion that could double by 2025 – digital technology already emits more than civil air transport . While data centers are mainly singled out, data storage is not the only one responsible for this state.

In France in particular, the production and use of digital objects is thus at the origin of 81% of emissions, where manufacturing, which includes in particular the extraction of the necessary minerals, alone represents 70% of the carbon footprint of the sector. In response, the National Assembly adopted a bill aimed at reducing the digital environmental footprint. How then can the IoT contribute to a more sustainable and less energy-consuming way of life?

The real issue of digital pollution lies essentially in the manufacture of digital tools. However, the number of conventional equipment continues to grow and the market for the Internet of personal and industrial things is exploding. With an increase in the number of IIoT connections , internationally, from 17.7 billion in 2020 to 36.8 billion in 2025, an overall growth rate of 107% (according to a study by Juniper  published in October 2020) which will see an increase in the number of industrial connected objects used on a daily basis.

Despite the apparent contradiction, this is actually good news for the environment. Indeed, whether in their intrinsic operation or in the services they provide, sensors, trackers and other recovery tools have been designed for economy purposes. Cost savings, size savings but also energy savings. This is why IoT must play a leading role in moving towards a more sustainable world.

From product to service: the paradigm shift operated by the IoT

It is difficult to reduce the carbon footprint of digital technology when the model in place encourages (over) consumption and the massive production of products of limited duration. Planned obsolescence is no legend … but with the Internet of Things, it may soon be a bad memory.

Indeed, through the evolution of a product-centric model towards a service model, the IoT promotes the emergence of a virtuous loop. The integration of sensors into certain equipment now makes it possible in particular to update the support concerned and improve the associated service. At stake: the ability to reduce the production of new products and, consequently, the negative impact of mass consumption. But without follow-up, it is impossible to automate the communication and update processes. Hence the central place of the IoT in questions of sustainability.

For whom the death knell sounds … of electronics

We are entering a new revolutionary era. Without transforming our uses and our way of consuming materials, electronics will end in less than a century! Why ? Because if we were already very few to have anticipated climate change 40 years ago, we are even fewer today to have perceived the imminent disappearance of the components necessary for the manufacture of electronics. Copper, lead, tin… constitute as many raw materials and resources which, at the current rate, will be exhausted within a hundred years maximum.

The countdown is on EXCEPT … if we consume these components today otherwise. How? ‘Or’ What ? By limiting their planned obsolescence and promoting the reuse of materials. And to get there, we’re going to need to monitor our level of disruption to determine our room for improvement. A real systemic revolution that must go well beyond the IoT issue to find solutions.

The IoT, the “plus” asset of the P&L (profit and loss account) of companies

For companies then the question arises of knowing how to combine ecology and profitability. This is where the IoT fits into the center of a virtuous economic and environmental circle. By saving natural or human resources, the IoT serves both the environment and the company itself. Thanks to the monitoring of resources made possible by the sensors, it will then be able to adjust its consumption in real time. The key to a positive P&L and a more sustainable world.

However, while companies seem to have the full measure of the environmental potential of IoT, governments are slow to legislate to impose specific targets. However, the virtuous circle of IoT can only be activated if all the stakeholders act together according to a clear roadmap shared by all the stakeholders. A necessary first step to open up the field of possibilities.

So, why not imagine glucose batteries tomorrow to power connected objects, paper with conductive ink, 100% biodegradable objects (or almost), and even energy harvesting from the IoT  ? While some of these avenues will remain at the stage of reflection, they nevertheless show the digital sector the path to take in order to move towards a future more in line with the environmental challenges of the 21st century.