How Artificial Intelligence and IoT improve environmental sustainability

5 min

When we talk about environmental sustainability, we often refer to the negative impact of technologies on the world around us. Yet if we dwell more on the use than the potential of specific innovations, we see that it all depends on how we choose to act. In fact, among the innovations of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, several can help companies increase the levels of environmental sustainability of their processes if used correctly. Here’s how Artificial Intelligence and IoT can improve environmental sustainability. 

How important is environmental sustainability?

The United Nations have defined sustainable development as:

“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This definition emphasizes how important it is to meet our daily needs without ever losing sight of our actions’ effects on future generations. And this is where the moral responsibility of the entrepreneur comes in. Beyond those regulatory obligations that cannot be unionized and those that are the global guidelines to be followed, entrepreneurs who feel the weight of their actions are those who will make a qualitative leap for their company.

Environmental sustainability is not a fad to be followed, nor a marketing lever to be pointed at to get the green label. Today producing in respect of the environment is a necessity. Many times, nature has rebelled, showing its suffering, but political and business leaders still do not see environmental sustainability as a commitment.

The responsibility of technological progress

From a technology perspective, the only “fault” of Digital Transformation is speed. For years, the environment adapted to the changes that were happening gradually. Lately, however, technological development is so rapid that it has far exceeded nature’s adaptation time. In fact, during the pandemic period, the earth breathed a sigh of relief at our slowdown. Pollution levels, which we had been trying to combat for years, had been dramatically lowered thanks to reducing road and sea travel.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries, said:

“There is only one planet Earth, yet between now and 2050, we will consume resources as if we had three planets. The new plan will make circularity the norm in our lives and accelerate the green transition of our economy. Future-oriented actions will create business and job opportunities, enshrine new rights for European consumers, harness innovation and digitization, and ensure that nothing goes to waste, as it does in nature.”

Europe is trying to spur organizations through the European Green Deal, a set of goals to make the EU economy sustainable. Among the guidelines provided is the Circular Economy Action Plan, which aims for a green future, increased business competitiveness, and environmental protection.

Artificial Intelligence and IoT for pollution reduction

Pollution is one of the main factors of environmental degradation. Responsibility is linked to factory emissions, pesticide use, and intensive livestock farming.

The Internet of Things can offer support for pollution reduction through connected sensors. Their function is to measure values and monitor trends. IoT sensors will need to be placed at emission points or at high risk of pollution to capture data adequately. Awareness of exceeding permitted values in itself should lead the business owner to act accordingly. What, on the other hand, is the role of AI? Suppose the data collected by the sensors are passed to an AI software from their analysis. In that case, it will be possible to create predictive or prescriptive models that will serve to identify in advance the deviations in the monitored values. Detecting such variations will allow corrective actions to be put in place before the process gets out of control.

There are various forms of pollution and, consequently, various possible applications, but we can explain the subsoil contamination. Pesticides and intensive crops poison the soil, and part of these harmful substances reach the groundwater modifying its natural balance.

With the use of connected drones equipped with Edge Computing and Artificial Intelligence devices, it is possible to do, for example, intelligent monitoring of crops. That is, you can monitor the land through computer vision. If the drone’s artificial intelligence has been trained to recognize anomalies when the drone arrives at a spot that presents a problem, it will stop and send a signal to the central office. This way, we can monitor large areas and save crops before we risk losing them.

Artificial Intelligence and IoT technologies, used together can improve environmental sustainability by reducing waste, pollution and protecting the environment. Share on X

Artificial Intelligence and IoT for environmental protection

The combined use of Internet of Things technologies and Artificial Intelligence does not only act in the final stage of production processes. The real potential lies in the predictive phase. In fact, thanks to innovations such as computer vision, it is possible to protect endangered forests and animals through constant monitoring.

How? In forests, it will be sufficient to install cameras that warn of a possible fire. While for animals, you can connect, in a non-invasive way, a device that monitors the species by tracking their movements. The constant recording will trigger an alarm when the animals are in places that could threaten their health.

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In examining how Artificial Intelligence and IoT can be utilized for environmental protection, it’s essential to delve deeper into the role of digital technologies in environmental sustainability. In this regard, we recommend reading the book ‘Toward a Post-Digital Society: Where Digital Evolution Meets People’s Revolution’ to explore in more detail how technological innovations can be employed for a more sustainable future.

Artificial Intelligence and IoT for waste reduction

When it comes to waste reduction, connected sensor technology has already shown its potential. Just think of faucets with proximity sensors that stop water flow after hand washing or lights that turn on as you pass by. The next challenge will be to recycle devices, waste, and energy produced. A continuous recycling stream will require collecting usage data from users’ connected devices. Companies will then be able to take action before the item or service becomes waste.

Every year millions of electronic devices become waste that damages the environment. Large multinational companies have already started a path to reduce waste by working with recyclable materials and monitoring devices even when they are in the hands of consumers. In this way, it will be possible to replace the device before it breaks and recondition it giving it a new life.

The same goes for energy. The attempt to spread the Smart Grid also serves to minimize energy waste. Thanks to the union between the connected sensors of IoT and the flexibility of Artificial Intelligence, a sort of energy sharing is possible.

Technologies and progress alone are not enough. Climate change shows how we are in an emergency phase in which we all need to work together: institutions need to understand that stricter regulations are needed; entrepreneurs need to get serious about activities that go beyond economic return, and individuals need to understand that:

A better planet is a dream that begins to come true when each of us decides to improve ourselves.