Sustainability in IoT – is it environmentally sound?

sustainability in iot shown through green buildings

Sustainability in IoT is a very important matter, though perhaps often forgotten underneath all the tech hype. Here’s how sustainability works in IoT:

There are two ways of looking at sustainability in IoT, which we have tied to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: 1. how IoT solutions help improve quality of life and 2. what is the environmental footprint of these IoT devices. 

First, we’ve all heard the reports on increasing world temperature, depletion of the ozone and melting polar ice caps. Creating IoT solutions to drive change can help us fight these extremities by providing methods of pushing environmentally sustainable ways of operating and to maximize our efforts for environmental protection.

The second concern is the environmental footprint of the IoT devices themselves.  Creating environmentally sound devices is equally as important to the sustainability push of IoT. 

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

United Nations have created 17 Sustainable Development Goals, originally presented in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, intending to end poverty, ensure prosperity and protect the planet. 

Regarding sustainability in IoT, we have chosen the following five SDGs from the UN Goals and tied them with the two themes mentioned above: how IoT solutions help improve quality of life and  the environmental footprint of these IoT devices:

  • #3 – Good health and well-being
  • #7 – Affordable and clean energy
  • #9 – Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
  • #12 – Responsible consumption and production
  • #13 – Climate action
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for sustainability in IoT
Related Sustainable Development Goals

How IoT devices can help improve quality of life

You might wonder how IoT devices can help drive sustainability and how are they related to the UN SDGs? 

Globally large societal changes are driven regarding improving energy efficiency, creating better waste management, and improving air quality.

Over 40% of all energy consumed globally is done by buildings, and reducing this amount is good for all of us. This can be done by creating new technology solutions, like IoT devices that help monitor space usage to reduce unnecessary lighting, heating, and air conditioning usage. In the end, this results in more sustainable buildings and better living for all of us. 

One thing to consider regarding energy savings in old buildings is retrofitting them with small, wireless, battery-powered sensors. Retrofitting sensors that monitor environmental conditions and space usage helps in optimizing the building and may give a new lease of life to it. This repurposing of the spaces is more ecological than the creation of a new building. 

Using IoT devices to monitor air quality is another excellent use case. These new and relatively low-cost pollution sensors enable a new way of air quality monitoring, not limited just to outdoors environmental monitoring, but also expanding to indoor use cases. These include hospitals, offices, and shopping malls.

The sensors gather high-quality data on where air pollution is coming from and where it is travelling to, allowing companies to act rapidly. This helps in identifying bad air quality and in adjusting HVAC systems to ensure occupants’ health and wellbeing. 

What makes a building smart? Check out our article

Another use case for IoT devices in driving sustainability is waste management. Anything that requires remote monitoring has a great potential for IoT devices. Sensor-equipped waste bins can collect information on the fill level, temperature, and location, which enable the waste collectors or cleaners to plan their cleaning routes based on demand, instead of schedules.  

Improving air quality, reducing energy consumption, and reducing waste are just a few examples of how IoT devices can drive sustainability. There are a lot of other examples in how IoT helps, such as with smart water management and smart agriculture.

These examples are related to the #3, #7 and #9 Sustainable Development Goals, “Good health and wellbeing”, “Affordable and clean energy”, and ”Industry, innovation and infrastructure” respectively.

The environmental footprint of IoT devices

Considering the environmental footprint of IoT devices is important, as creating the solution aimed to improve our lives should be done in an environmentally sound way. 

Following the reduce – reuse – recycle steps is a good method to make sure you are being environmentally sustainable. This part of sustainability in IoT is also tied into the #12 and #13 Sustainable Development Goals, named Responsible consumption and production and climate action.

Manufacturing of the devices should be done through an economically sound process, minimizing the environmental impact while conserving natural resources. The locations of manufacturing, storage and your client are important considerations when setting up the supply chain. 

Consider the environmental effect throughout your supply chain, like manufacturing in locations that have been proved to be ecologically sustainable and avoiding excess transportation of the devices around the world. Most preferably the manufacturing of your products is done closer to the place of use, reducing the amount of logistics needed and thus having a lower impact on the environment. 

These are the first steps to consider when thinking about sustainability in IoT regarding the environmental footprint.

When it comes to the actual product being created, prioritizing bioplastics and other modern solutions in the materials chosen are ways to keep reducing the amount of waste created.  These principles should be followed also in the packaging of the product. 

Make sure that these devices are not single-use and that they are created in a reusable way. This can work through re-configuring the sensors for different use cases or upgrading them via software updates and battery changes. 

Once the product approaches its lifecycle, making sure that the devices are properly recycled is important. Setting up reverse logistics, in which the devices are moved back to the manufacturer can help in recycling. This enables the manufacturer to reuse important parts of the device so the amount of waste is reduced. 

One additional indicator of a good and sustainable provider is them being compliant with Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment, WEEE. This EU driven directive aims to contribute to sustainable production and consumption, addressing environmental and other issues caused by the growing amount of e-waste in the EU. 


Sustainability in IoT is important, from both the life improvement and the environmental footprint point of view. Driving change through these solutions is vital and can be done in so many different areas of life.

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