3 ways businesses can use the internet of things to save the environment

Natural disasters have been unnaturally on the rise. In the wake of such reports, it seems undeniable that corporations are responsible for a great deal of the environmental factors leading to extreme weather events. Think, for example, of how many greenhouse gas emissions are produced during the manufacturing process alone.

Fortunately, according to a new survey conducted by Wipro Digital and Forum for the Future, businesses have the potential — and the necessary technology — to contribute to the restoration of at least some damage and to reduce future harmful effects. The secret weapons in this battle? The internet of things (IoT), data and connectivity. 

The survey found that almost 100 percent of CEOs and vice presidents confidently believe that the IoT is already contributing to a more sustainable future, and will continue to do so in five years’ time.

Yet despite the vast potential, only half of the C-suite leaders reported that they currently use data and connectivity to support their sustainability initiatives, often citing competing business priorities and structural limits as major obstacles.

With that in mind, here are a few steps that business leaders could take to lessen the effects of these barriers and set their companies on the right path to become champions of a more sustainable and connected future.

1. Emphasize digital citizenship and individual responsibility

In order for sustainability efforts to succeed, businesses first should understand their duty to help people function through technology as citizens and to help employees recognize that their individual endeavors are worthwhile.

It’s important to remind employees that, as corporate citizens, they each play a critical role in shaping a future where strategic growth and sustainability opportunities are intertwined and can support one another. To help build a culture of commitment and community, business leaders should encourage employees to take a proactive stance in designing the company’s sustainability initiatives.

To do this, companies must instill a sense of individual responsibility for the organization's impact. For instance, sustainability teams can use technologies such as virtual reality (VR) to immerse people in "situations" that demonstrate the impact of short-sighted environmental policies and build empathy about issues such as deforestation or desertification that otherwise might feel too far away to matter.

2. Share knowledge and resources across departments

Once individuals recognize their responsibility, leaders then can help foster a collaborative business environment across multiple departments. As it stands, only 32 percent of survey respondents said there is significant collaboration between IoT/data and sustainability experts within their own companies, let alone within an external network.

According to the experts interviewed by Wipro Digital, focusing on cross-functional discipline can lead to the creation of disruptive and systematic solutions. When employees are networking and actively sharing projects and resources freely across departments, it creates a fluid exchange of information among groups and individuals of varying areas of expertise, which in turn can spark new ideas and inspire experimentation. Innovation often follows.

Increasing external collaboration is just as critical: One easy way to do this is enabling open data infrastructure. Open data platforms would allow better data flow and integration, faster collaboration, increased transparency and valuable data analysis, while also driving a potential maximum of $5 trillion in economic value. Similar to the advent of electricity, building such a public data infrastructure could have an immense impact on society, especially in addressing environmental and social issues.

3. Collaborate to create guidelines for tech development

Because technology develops much faster than legislation can keep up, there is still a lack of unified environmental guidelines for emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence. But there are also limits to how much corporations can prioritize environmental benefits over economic costs — as the key objective in most businesses, after all, is to maximize revenue.

By working with government organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, businesses could help develop appropriate measures that ensure technology is being channeled for the greater good at scale. At times, some businesses have trouble complying with federal environmental goals because the set timeframe is limited or because they lack internal resources. To overcome that gap, government and businesses can collaborate and together create more eco-friendly guidelines related to open data and IoT devices.

Businesses will play an important and necessary role in building a sustainable future. The exchange of ideas, expertise and data among individuals, companies and the government will allow the corporate world to better create sustainable products and services. It also will lead to innovation within businesses, across industries, and help restore the environment globally.