If We’re Going to Save The Planet We’re Going to Need to Be Smart About It

By Joanne Tsang, Marketing Communications Officer at Season Group

unnamedOne of the big takeaways from 2020 is the urgent need to tackle climate change. The huge popularity of documentaries featuring the beauty of nature seems to contrast with our destruction and abuse of it, but there is a rapidly growing sense of public awareness towards the need for urgent green, and sustainable action. This sense of urgency has also found its way into investment thinking. In 2020, investments in green ETFs jumped, with the asset category even doubling in size, according to ‘Socially Responsible, ESG ETFs Are Turning Heads’, Max Chen, EFT Trends, 21 December, 2020.

So how does this green mindset actually translate into business action, especially for those of us in the electronics industry? The answer is: we can be smart about it.

When speaking of smart devices, the term IoT (Internet of Things) comes to mind. This cloud-based technology, which provides users with large or regular amounts of specific data, can help manage resources, and encourage behaviour change – both of which are crucial to tackling climate change. Even the manufacturing process of these devices can be sustainable.

Resource Management: Optimise the Use of Limited Resources

With the development of sensory technology along with data transmitting/receiving hardware and data visualising software, there has been a great impetus for resource management, specifically to optimise the use of limited resources such as water and energy, and to minimise carbon emissions.

Large buildings such as office buildings which have occupants with varying energy consumption behaviours – in terms of lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning – can benefit from the use of IoT.

If we look at Hong Kong, where countless skyscrapers fill the city and a pledge for carbon neutrality by 2050 was recently made, resource-optimisation IoT are at the forefront of driving this green change in building management. The tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong, the International Commerce Centre (ICC) for example uses IoT to monitor, in real-time, the energy consumption levels of its facilities, such as lights, air-conditioners, escalators and elevators. These facilities can be shut down to save energy when not in use. The real-time energy data can also notify property management to make timely repairs before the building’s equipment begins to waste energy. According to the property management company, Sun Hung Kai Properties, the ICC has saved 15 million kWh worth of energy since 2012, reducing 10,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

You can read more about The City of Sustainable Skyscrapers on the BCC. The example of Hong Kong reveals the huge potential in IoT for promoting green action. We start by being minimalistic and efficient in our use of limited or carbon-emitting resources.

Behaviour Change: Information and Awareness Raising

Just as real-time data promotes the efficient use of resources in public spaces, it can also alter private, carbon-emitting behaviours.

Similar to how fitness watches encourage sporting action, IoT has the potential to encourage green action. An example would be an eco-responsible hotel I once stayed in which had a smart pad in the room that could control various facilities such as the curtains, lights, TV, etc. This smart pad also provided me with the statistics on my daily energy and water consumption in the room from having the lights or TV on, and from taking a shower. What’s more, the smart pad allowed me to opt out of certain hotel services such as daily bed sheet and towel changes or shower gel replacements. In turn, I was told the carbon emissions I reduced from opting out of each service.

Having never seen such a thorough analysis of my carbon emissions, I was definitely encouraged to minimise my energy and water consumptions. I suspect incentivising or gamifying these behavioral changes could enhance the impact of this data even further.

In fact, the joint study by COMSATS Institute of Information Technology and Bournemouth University argues that smart metering technology at home can give homeowners/occupants live data on their energy usage, which could lead to a 3-6% reduction in their usual consumption.

With the real-time data provided by IoT, individuals can gain greater understanding of their personal carbon footprint and change their behaviours for greener alternatives.

Recycling IoT Devices

We can also look at whether the hardware of IoT themselves is sustainable.

Take smart phones for example, up to 90% of their material is actually recyclable. Materials such as copper and plastic can be reused for other electronic appliances. Given the rapidly rising trend and consumption of IoT, it is important that we consider their End-of-Life treatment from the beginning of the design and manufacturing process. For instance, we are already hearing of companies and countries in Europe discussing plans on recycling lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars that are rising in consumer demand. In about a decade when more and more electric vehicles (EV) will come out of service, these EV batteries will have to be properly treated. The EU also proposed that the automotive industry and their manufacturers should be responsible for ensuring the recyclability and End-of-Life treatment of their product’s batteries.

Considering that there are increasingly more IoT devices, they should themselves also be green in addition to having green functions and impact.

Let’s Be Greener, Leaner and Smarter

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the environment is no longer something we can neglect and climate change, far on the horizon. As part of a growing electronics industry, consideration of sustainability and green action has become part of business thinking. With IoT becoming increasingly prevalent in public and private life, there lies a great potential for us to make a green difference either by producing a product that is constructive to resource management and changing carbon-emitting behaviours, and/or by designing and manufacturing a product sustainably.

We can definitely make a difference if we’re smart about it!