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The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing our world for the better. Up to now, measuring carbon and sustainability has primarily relied on manual processes that were time-consuming and prone to human error. IoT enables the real-time collection of this data, ushering in the era of IoT for sustainability.

In manufacturing, IoT can keep tabs on water use and leak management, for example. In agriculture, it can be used to monitor water wastage, soil conditions and air quality. The travel, healthcare, transportation, retail and construction industries are also looking to IoT to provide additional data and insights to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Government regulations are helping to drive sustainability and accountability. The US Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, is moving beyond just financial reporting to enforce emission reporting, too. The same is happening in the European Union with the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. Organizations’ stakeholders, board members, customers and employees are also driving them to make climate impact commitments.

These changes will affect the entire market, and organizations are thinking ahead. Most organizations have set climate targets. NTT itself has committed to a goal of net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030.

The latest developments in IoT have great potential to make this achievable. CEOs can now more confidently commit to such an ambitious goal by pursuing operational excellence on the one hand, and support for their sustainability and emission-reduction goals on the other.

Optical meter reading saves resources

IoT enables many use cases for sustainability. One of those is reading meters through optical character recognition (OCR).

Today, carbon emissions are calculated through a review of energy bills. However, the data is not always recent (it can even be months old) or gathered in real time, and may not be consistent when different utilities supply these services. Organizations that require greater accuracy may attempt manual data collection, but that approach is time consuming and prone to human error.

With OCR meter reading, a simple camera is mounted to scan readings on a gauge. It records only the digits and sends the data wherever it’s needed, as often as is required. Now the organization has data that would otherwise be almost impossible to obtain in real time.

The options include retrofit or pulse readers for which an organization may need utility permission as they interact with the meter. Other meters may be too old to monitor in this way. Optical meter readers do not interfere with the meter.

It's an affordable solution to the ‘rip and replace’ alternative – replacing old gauges or meters with ones that can transmit data can be expensive. Rather use what you have, just more accurately and intelligently.

Finding the leaks with smart sensors

Fresh water is a precious resource. Quickly identifying leaks not only preserves this resource but also prevents costly damage.

Our leak-management approach comprises two elements. One is basic leak detection through simple sensors that send an alert when they detect any moisture. The other involves installing actuators in the pipes themselves that, once a leak has been detected, help manage the problem by automatically closing the pipes.

Again, there is a clear return on investment here. This can reduce an organization’s monthly insurance fees, and less water is lost to leaks at an industrial, municipal or even state level.

That's the essence of marrying this technology with our sustainability ambitions: if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.

Run your assets more efficiently

Another use case is predictive maintenance.

Just like your car needs to be maintained to run efficiently, equipment in buildings and energy plants and on factory floors has to be maintained. For example, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems typically used to be checked once or twice a year in a physical inspection.

But now, thanks to IoT, we have sensors that detect vibration, sound, humidity and more.  When the sensors detect abnormal noise or vibration levels in the HVAC system that would indicate a problem such as a broken fan blade, you’ll know something needs to be fixed even before the system fails.

And these can be applied in many industrial environments to enable predictive maintenance and save time and effort. The human mind isn’t great at pattern recognition, and industrial machinery might be so specialized that only a few people can recognize the patterns in their behavior anyhow. Using IoT, such patterns can be identified and addressed much earlier.

Keep it cold – and save

Environmental monitoring, another use-case example, sounds simple, but even just humidity and temperature readings can tell us a lot.

Think of commercial refrigeration: using only these metrics, you’ll know the status of a refrigerator. And refrigeration is a big deal in healthcare, agriculture and the hospitality industry, among others. There’s a huge amount of waste and loss that can be avoided simply by making sure your cold-storage equipment is performing.

Simple changes can make a huge difference

These use cases employ technology you can buy everywhere. But it’s not only the technology itself that makes them successful. Whether you’re looking to support sustainability goals or any other business need, you need to integrate the sensors and the connectivity as well as the cloud, edge computing, platforms and applications.

These IoT integrations can be complex. Organizations might source their sensors from one third-party vendor, connectivity from another, and cloud and edge from a third – but then they fail when it comes to the integration. What makes NTT different is that even when we offer familiar solutions to the market, our additional integration expertise saves our clients a lot of expense and effort.

The same applies to the service and support we can offer. Many IoT projects remain little more than a proof of concept because of their complexity – there is no one to manage them in the long run.

In short, technology can help us as a society to achieve our emission-reduction goals – and IoT in particular gives us a manageable, structured way of approaching this massive challenge.

Our end-to-end solutions supporting IoT for sustainability are ready to help organizations use data intelligently to reduce their carbon footprint.

Read more about NTT’s IoT Services for Sustainability.

Sagi Elster is Senior Director and IoT Go-to-Market Global Lead at NTT.