How Technology Moves the Needle
How Technology Moves the Needle
CAMPAIGN: GM Energy Efficiency
In a world of increasing volatility, where everything from natural resources to supply chains to political realities to the global economy can be turned topsy-turvy in relatively short order, “sustainability” takes on new, poignant meaning. It has to do with aligning economic, environmental and social interests, of course. But increasingly, it is taking on even more strategic importance, linked to reducing supply-chain risk and ensuring business continuity during disruptions, the right to operate in resource-stressed areas, reliable and cost-efficient energy supplies, and brand value and reputation.
In other words, the things upon which companies sink or swim.
This is the new world of sustainable business. It goes well beyond the nice-to-do issues of “corporate responsibility” and “eco-efficiency.” It views incrementalism as insufficient, ignorance as unacceptable, and unpredictability as the new norm.
Technology is playing a critical role, with the growth and expansion of the interconnected, networked world. What has been dubbed the “Internet of things” is enabling companies, cities, and others to monitor, track, analyze, and control just about anything from just about anywhere, and do so increasingly cheaply and efficiently. Sensor networks and associated software and controls mean even highly rated “platinum” green buildings still can enjoy dramatic improvements in energy efficiency. Vehicles of all kinds, from bikes to buses, can operate more efficiently by maximizing their overall use and minimizing downtime, optimizing their innards to decrease fuel use, plotting routes to minimize time and energy, and employing other technological tricks.
Take machine-to-machine technology, one part of this convergence that’s growing rapidly, largely behind the scenes. There is a vast and exploding network of objects embedded with sensors and able to communicate with one another, take measurements and make decisions — everything from light switches to refrigerators, utility meters to parking spaces.
Already, there are an estimated 10 billion connected devices worldwide, compared to “only” about 2.5 billion Web-connected PCs and phones. According to ABI Research, more than 5 billion wireless connectivity chips will ship in 2013 alone.
What does all this have to do with sustainability? Lots.
For example, the management of buildings and facilities is being revolutionized by M2M-based systems in a range of applications, including security, energy efficiency, predictive maintenance and asset management. Transportation is another area rich with M2M possibilities. Telematics and in-vehicle entertainment is one area of focus. For example, apps now allow EV owners to monitor and control vehicle charge settings, plan single- or multiple-stop journeys, locate charging stations, pre-heat or cool the car. Last year GM’s OnStar division partnered with Spain’s Telefónica to provide M2M connectivity to General Motors’ vehicles outside North America.
Wireless-enabled fleet management and telemetrics help trucking and logistics companies cut the number of empty or underutilized trucks on the road. For instance, better fleet management through wireless technology could cut the amount of time that trucks idle, reducing fuel costs per truck by $3,600 annually, according to a 2011 report by BSR and CTIA-The Wireless Association.
In our technologically converging world, everything that can be connected will be. Buildings, vehicles, electricity grids increasingly will make predictive “decisions” that anticipate energy needs without human intervention.
It’s not just energy. It’s about improving the efficiency of everything, improving lives, thinking in systems, and moving the needle. In other words, everything that “sustainability” should be about.
True, it’s a brave new world. But, increasingly, a more efficient and sustainable one, too.
Joel Makower is chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, and author of the annual “State of Green Business” report.