Apr 28.2023

Unraveling IoT's carbon footprint: How can you make your IoT project sustainable?

Unraveling IoT's carbon footprint: How can you make your IoT project sustainable?

IoT has significant potential to address climate change, but without proper e-waste management, it could contribute to the same problem it aims to solve.

We are living in the dawn of a new era, where everything can be connected through the Internet of Things (IoT). It's estimated that by 2025 there will be around 75 billion active devices worldwide with an approximate value of $1.5 trillion. But before we get too excited about the potential for IoT and what it can do for us, we need to ask: How can we ensure this technology has a sustainable future?

In our modern world, the digital sphere has become an integral part of everyone's day-to-day life. However, the increased usage of digital technologies carries an environmental cost. IoT devices have a carbon footprint created from their manufacture, use, and eventual disposal. Without responsible implementation, IoT could become a massive contributor to the climate change crisis.

Fortunately, the conversation surrounding IoT sustainability is now being held internationally. In March 2021, for instance, the UN-backed Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES) was established to promote digitalization that can accelerate sustainably. CODES hopes to steer the application of modern technologies toward addressing climate change, biodiversity decrease, pollution, and waste, in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

While global leaders are turning the IoT sustainability wheel, IoT developers are also responsible for making the Internet of Things sustainable as it grows. So, if you fall in this category, read on for the best practices to adopt to make your projects climate-friendly.

1. Focus on optimizing energy efficiency

As the world grapples with the impact of energy generation on the environment, conserving energy is becoming one of the top priorities. Over 60% of global electricity comes from fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas. Given the rate at which IoT devices are multiplying, it is essential to examine the energy consumption of each deployed device to ensure it contributes as little as possible to the increasing demand for energy.

Therefore, one of the primary requirements of a sustainable IoT project is a design that is optimized to use as little energy as possible. Below are some creative ways to cut down energy consumption in your project:

  • Look for efficient components: Choose low-power components such as sensors, communication modules, and processing units.

  • Use an energy harvesting system: Implement an energy harvesting system that can draw energy from heat, light, or motion sources.

  • Utilize sleep mode: Put devices in a low-power sleep or idle mode when it is not actively processing data.

  • Address power leakages: Look for ways to reduce power leakage from components such as transistors, resistors, and capacitors.

With the right strategies, you can make your project more efficient and reduce its carbon footprint considerably.

2. Recycle and reuse old components

We are on the cusp of a tech-driven industrial revolution, and it is absolutely essential that we move away from traditional manufacturing operations. Fortunately, this upcoming era of Industry 4.0 provides an excellent opening to transition towards something better: a circular economy where resources can be reused or recycled instead of discarded as waste.

In the world of IoT, it is possible to apply this circular economy philosophy in various ways. One way is by reusing components from existing devices and incorporating them into new projects. This would reduce the need for acquiring new parts and save manufacturing costs. Another way is to recycle components like wires, processors, and memory chips from older devices that are no longer used.

When designing your IoT project, consider applying the circular economy approach for components that need to be replaced or discarded. You can also establish a return policy for such components or find third-party services to ensure the resources are reused and recycled correctly.

3. Create longer-lasting products

Our current consumption habits are creating an unsustainable environment. Every year, more than 50 million tons of e-waste are generated globally, translating to about 7 kilograms per person. Considering the rate at which technology is advancing, e-waste will continue to increase unless all stakeholders take steps to reverse the trend.

As an IoT project developer, you must strive to create products with the end of their lifecycle in mind. Switching from the traditional "cradle-to-grave" model of product lifecycles to more sustainable approaches such as "cradle-to-cradle" and "repair/refurbish" models can be an excellent way to reduce e-waste. Features like over-the-air (OTA) updates are also useful for easy patching and bug fixing instead of having customers purchase an entirely new product each time an issue arises.

Additionally, consider investing in better-quality materials built to last rather than using cost-effective but low-grade components that may need frequent repairs or replacements. This will not only reduce the need to buy new parts but also increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

4. Utilize renewable sources

After a relentless decade of advocacy, renewable energy campaigns are finally bearing fruit, with more and more businesses transitioning to eco-friendly operations. Renewable resources have firmly established themselves as essential components of sustainable development efforts worldwide.

Recently, renewable energy sources have experienced a surge in popularity due to the perfect storm of cost-effectiveness and heightened climate awareness. For instance, solar and wind energy produces less pollution and fewer emissions and are much cheaper than they were several years ago.

If you want to create a sustainable IoT project, consider utilizing renewable energy sources in your designs. By switching from traditional fossil fuels to solar or wind power, you can benefit from cost-effective and dependable electricity and significantly reduce your product's carbon footprint.

Developers must contribute to a lower IoT carbon footprint

IoT solutions have significant potential to address climate change issues. Recently, many IoT systems have been designed to make sectors like agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing more sustainable. However, without proper strategies and a greater sense of responsibility, there is a danger that IoT could contribute to the same problem it is trying to solve.

Developers need to be mindful of their projects' environmental impact. Every IoT project must strive for sustainability and energy efficiency by responsibly using resources and energy.

As a developer, you can use various strategies such as selecting low-energy devices, properly configuring sensors, controllers, and actuators, and using renewable power sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is also essential to consider how existing components can be reused or recycled.

By implementing eco-friendly practices and maintaining high-performance standards across all development stages, you can ensure your products are sustainable and help develop a greener, healthier world.

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