How the Internet of Things Affects the Environment

While the Internet of Things is oftentimes associated with areas that people come into contact everyday such as their home or car, IoT also has been impacting the environment in both positive and negative ways.

One of the most widely known environmental concerns is global warming, largely caused by excessive carbon dioxide emissions, which is “82% of US greenhouse emissions” even back in 2013 [1]. Smart energy grids connected to the Internet use smart meters that measure and help regulate the amount of CO2 that is produced. This alone is said to have the potential to “save over 2.0 Gt of CO2” [1]. Aside from factories, cars are another major culprit for releasing CO2. Connecting cars to the Internet and directing them onto optimal routes saves car driving time and therefore, CO2 emission. This is anticipated to save “1.9 Gt of CO2 in 5 years” [1].

Species endangerment is another large environmental concern. The Rainforest Connection uses a number of IoT innovations to track when deforestation occurs [2]. Through devices attached to trees, certain triggers like sounds or vibrations are picked up to detect potential tree cut downs and thereby prevent any illegal deforestation. Animals are also protected through IoT developments. The same Rainforest Connection uses similar technology as the one that protects trees to listen to sounds that are possibly related with poaching activity, such as guns or traps. These devices essentially serve as ears around the natural setting to prevent further endangerment of the species. The Bee Corp is another instance of animal protection that installs a device within hives to track conditions within the hive, allowing beekeepers to healthily protect and grow bee colonies [2].

Resource preservation is a third area in which IoT advances are positively impactful. Such devices “implement green practices across [the] entire supply chain, manage buildings and homes more intelligently, reduce water waste using flow sensors and real-time leakage alerts, and improve inventory management and distribution” [3]. All of these mechanisms automate management of existing resources that even humans could not possibly maintain in such granularity prior to these technologies. The greatest impact comes from efficient usage of resources that reduces wastage. In agriculture as well, IoT installations, like ones provided by IBM Watson, help farmers spend resources like water and fertilizer only where they are needed for perfect farming [3]. The added benefit of efficient agriculture is that it in turn helps with food security.

Unfortunately, IoT is not a panacea and does come with some negative impacts as well. IoT in general is increasing e-waste. In 2013, there was a recorded “53 million metric tons…disposed worldwide” and “the number is expected to accelerate” [1]. Furthermore, IoT devices are electric and their functionality doesn’t come for free. Energy consumption is rapidly increasing as more of these devices are being used, especially now with IoT devices that have to be on and vigilant all the time [1]. While batteries and these machines are improving energy expenditure, there are still so many new devices coming online that the amount of additional energy consumed exceeds the amount saved from improved batteries.

Even so, as the world pursues to improve itself through innovations like the IoT, there is hope that eventually, the benefits will outweigh the costs as clever methods are discovered to reduce negative impacts.


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7 comments on “How the Internet of Things Affects the Environment”

  1. As with most technological developments, there are pros and cons. IoT, as it pertains to the environment, is no different. You mention how e-waste and increased energy consumption are among the cons, but perhaps a more precise cost/benefit analysis is in order. As the use of IoT proliferates, e-waste of non IoT devices that get replaced increases but then peaks and phases out. Energy consumption is presently relatively high, but devices may get more efficient over time. It therefore seems that the cons of IoT are comparatively short-lived, and that it may be worthwhile to try and surmount these in order to enjoy the pros.

  2. Great post – it leaves me with more hope in the positive aspects of the IoT than before I read it.
    I’m still trying to figure out how to develop a crypto-currency where the proof-of-work is based on CO2 sequestration instead of burning energy like Bitcoin.

  3. Hi spak7!

    Really interesting post on the affect of IoT devices on the environment! I didn’t know about the niche of IoT devices built for alleviating species endangerment or resource preservation! I think more often than not we hear about IoT in terms of smart home devices, apple watches, etc — products that are more consumer-friendly. I wish the media publicized these specialized IoT devices more, and made the public aware of the great environmental work some IoT devices are doing, and at the same time how to limit our usage of IoT to avoid e-waste.

    How do you think we should handle this tradeoff? How can we promote these great environmental IoT devices, but at the same time reduce e-waste?

  4. This is an interesting post! Good to hear that many talents are paying attention to the environment.

  5. Thanks for the post. Very interesting to see the environmental view of IoT development. Everything has two sides. IoT can do a good part in the environment, however, it also can do bad part. I believe with technology and society movement, IoT can do more good parts, with little or nothing on bad parts.

    1. I am more interested to see how we deal with e-waste of IoT devices. Do you have anything thoughts to share? Thanks!

  6. I thought that your post covered an interesting aspect of the internet of things (IoT)—the environmental impact. While using connected devices can help us to be more energy efficient, it also increases e-waste. The increased consumption of such devices will have negative impacts on the environment. I hope that the benefits outweigh the costs.


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