Unilever, Patagonia, IKEA, Nestle… not only are these brands recognized as being some of the largest in the world, they’re also global leaders in sustainability. We’ve all heard about the importance of environmental sustainability in business, but what does that actually mean for these companies and others like them?
- Unilever’s commitment to sustainability includes reducing energy consumption in its offices and sourcing all energy from renewables, among other things.
- Patagonia’s efforts include reducing air pollution both inside and outside its facilities (specifically VOCs), switching to LED lighting, and ensuring the proper circulation of air inside its buildings.
- As part of its sustainability strategy for 2020, one of IKEA’s goals was to become 20% more energy efficient in its operations.
There are other angles to sustainability (social issues are a big part of it, too), but asking businesses to help support and create a sustainable ecosystem has always been a significant area of focus. And even though some companies have pursued environmental sustainability goals for years, the Internet of Things (IoT) is now playing an instrumental part in reaching them.
In this article, we’ll briefly review the proven business case for environmental sustainability, and discuss how the IoT is impacting how companies achieve—and report on—sustainability initiatives.
Why is environmental sustainability important?
As far back as the early 1970s, the idea of a “global equilibrium” was already being discussed—how could people’s basic material needs be satisfied without overburdening the capacity of the earth’s natural systems? The answer is environmental sustainability, a term that essentially boils down to this: protecting and conserving the planet’s natural resources so they remain available for future generations.
For businesses that means balancing economic growth with environmental stewardship. Air and water in particular are primary focal points for business operations. Does your facility emit chemicals harmful to the environment or to workers? Do your daily activities use more resources than necessary? Becoming more cognizant of the impact of your business on both people and the earth is at the heart of sustainability. Increasingly, companies are setting specific goals in these areas in an effort to become more sustainable.
Environmental Sustainability In Business: 4 Reasons To Take Action Now
1. Sustainability boosts your company’s brand value.
We’ve all heard that consumers prefer brands that emphasize sustainable practices, but is it really true? In fact, yes—consumers (especially Millennials) really do care about your company’s sustainability efforts. Survey after survey confirms that companies demonstrating a clear commitment to reducing the environmental impact of their operations are perceived as being preferable over those that don’t:
- 92% of consumers would be more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues.
- 81% of people feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment.
- 88% of business school students think environmental and social issues are priorities in business.
- In relation to the attributes most important to reputation, 79% of Americans prioritize companies that protect the environment.
“Sustainability has become an urgent opportunity for companies to connect with consumers who are excited about change.”—Regan Leggett, Nielsen
2. Sustainable companies attract investors.
Investors want companies to focus on sustainability. According to Greenbiz.com, mainstream investment firms are now showing greater interest in companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data. (These three factors have been determined to be central to measuring sustainability.)
In the past year, the number of sustainable investment funds has increased by nearly 50%, with a record number of them—37 to be exact—launched in 2018. Not only did the sustainable funds attract record net flows, but their performance was admirable: 63% of them finished the year in the top half of their respective categories.
3. Sustainable practices protect the health and safety of your employees.
Responsible business governance isn’t just about the larger environment; it’s also about ensuring your own employees are not harmed as a result of your activities. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution represents the biggest environmental risk to health, and indoor air pollution in particular is the cause of death of approximately 3.8 million people annually. Further, the EPA estimates that poor indoor air quality affects 33% to 50% of commercial buildings in the U.S. And when you factor in the idea that poor quality air impacts negatively on productivity, this is one area of environmental stewardship you simply can’t afford to ignore.
4. Sustainable businesses gain efficiencies and operate more profitably than non-sustainable ones.
Part of the importance of environmental sustainability in business is that it also highlights economic goals. Many sustainability efforts target areas of high cost—for example, electricity usage, lighting, elaborate product packaging, and more. Making changes to address excess in these areas will also inevitably reduce costs.
For example, Walmart has a commitment to reduce by 20% its U.S. energy use per square foot by 2020. A comprehensive retrofit at one of its stores has already led to a 37% reduction in energy cost savings, and has an expected payback time of two years. Another case in point is Starbucks, which hopes to save $50 million in utility costs over the next 10 years as part of its sustainability plan.
Sustainability Reporting: The Impact Of The IoT
In years past, sustainability reporting took a more qualitative than quantitative approach. Companies could talk about strategies they were implementing to improve—plans to reduce waste, reduce energy use, generate fewer pollutants, etc.—but there were very few ways to actually quantify the results.
The need for quality data in this area is critical. The benefits of sustainability reporting have been called into question in recent years (labeled with a so-called “credibility gap”), making it difficult to determine if such regular disclosures are actually painting a true and complete picture of sustainability performance. And the recent surge of interest in sustainable investing has also complicated things, bringing the need for data that is quantitative and transparent—and less subjective—to the forefront.
The IoT DifferenceNow, the IoT makes it possible to measure almost every aspect of the environment with IoT sensors, giving companies a quantifiable way to demonstrate whether or not their sustainability efforts are actually having an impact. Click To Tweet
For example, your company can use IoT data to show a reduction in energy use, which can then be translated into a quantifiable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This chart, based on EPA data, shows the average emissions reduction per megawatt-hour of electricity:
The IoT can deliver large quantities of granular data about your facility—data that can then be analyzed and used to achieve sustainability goals. Here’s how it works:
- Determine your environmental sustainability goals—What are you trying to achieve? Do you want to reduce energy waste? Reduce harmful chemical emissions? Increase water efficiency? You’ll want to create specific KPIs that will measure your progress toward achieving your sustainability goal(s).
- Monitor the environment—IoT sensors can remotely monitor just about any aspect of your facility’s environment, from air composition to water quality or leakage detection to energy usage and more. The low cost of IoT sensors makes remote monitoring an extremely cost-effective way to get environmental data.
- Measure the data—The sensors collect the data and cloud-based analytics measure it, assigning it real-world values (for example, kilowatts) so it can be interpreted and used to derive insights.
- Catalog the data—The data representing your otherwise “invisible” building characteristics is transformed into quantifiable data points that can be used in a statistical or analytical model for context.
- Perform data analysis for actionable insights—An advanced analytics platform helps put your building data into perspective so it can be interpreted and acted upon to achieve specific goals. Performance benchmarking is an important part of data analysis, so you can see how your building compares against the industry standard with the goal of making improvements. For instance, strategies can be implemented to directly address equipment using excess energy, or the root causes of air pollution. In addition, creating a visual analytics dashboard key both helps management compare progress towards goals and objectives, and also serves as a communications tool to demonstrate to stakeholders and customers your efforts in sustainability.
Need an IoT-savvy environmental sustainability partner?
We can help. Iota offers a simplified way of using IoT devices to help you achieve your sustainability goals. Our line of IoT sensors enables us to remotely monitor your building’s energy and environmental conditions, and provides visual insight into operations and conditions. And our advanced analytics and machine learning service helps you understand the data and derive actionable insights from it.
As your partner, we’ll be with you every step of the way, giving you everything you need to demonstrate the effectiveness of your sustainability strategies to your stakeholders. Get in touch today, and let’s get started!