Many emerging technologies today are good for the planet and the long-term sustainability of our industries. The vast majority of them are good for business, too. Intelligent data collection and less wasteful production methods can help companies realize savings they didn’t even know were theirs for the taking. Here’s a look at several industries that are confidently moving forward into a sustainable future thanks to technology.
1. Product Life Cycle Analysis and the Circular Economy
Companies that produce physical goods like electronic devices, children’s toys, appliances, tools and industrial equipment have some truly exciting methods at their disposal. The Internet of Things generally, and electronic tagging specifically, make it possible to glean new insights about product life cycles even after they leave the factory floor. This has led to the concept of the “circular economy” taking off among manufacturers — and it’s changing product development and aftermarket support for good.
One way the circular economy manifests is by helping companies harvest data from products as they’re used in the field, and then folding those insights back into the research and development phase for future improvements. It’s a more organic and less wasteful process than developing products blindly.
Other companies, including Philips, engage with the circular economy by conducting analyses of customer and third-party repairs and alterations to their products and learning how to better support interchangeable parts and user repairability. This, too, cuts down on waste and keeps salvageable products out of landfills.
2. Recycling and Repurposing in Smelting and Fabrication
From the sourcing of raw materials to the delivery of finished products, the world’s supply chains are the veins and arteries that power supply and demand. Today’s supply chain companies are recognizing the value of sourcing more sustainable and easily recyclable materials. Every company that engages with the supply chain needs a solid foundation, after all. It simply makes good sense to work with companies that take the sustainability of fundamental materials — like aluminum, steel, tin, gold and the more eco-friendly plastics — as seriously as possible.
For instance, companies that play an active role in product reclamation and recycling can help reintroduce post-consumer materials back into the supply chain and ultimately keep e-waste out of landfills. Only about one-fifth of our castoff electronic products are recycled, but we can do better.
3. 3D Printers and Additive Manufacturing for Leaner Inventories
If there’s a movement within the larger manufacturing industry that’s captured the most mainstream attention, it’s probably 3D printers. There’s almost limitless potential here for helping us bring a newfound efficiency and leanness to industries of all kinds.
Digital twins provide the means to keep inventory in digital, rather than physical, form — and manufacture only what’s needed when it’s needed. Industrial companies can use 3D printers to fabricate wearable parts in-house and keep their equipment running for longer.
Household printers are becoming increasingly common, too. Hobbyists and DIYers can exchange plans online and create items and components on their own, and make repairs themselves. This eliminates the need to buy new items in stores before their useful life is fully exhausted.
4. Agriculture Analysis and Intelligent Land Management
Agriculture is an undeniable pillar of the Irish economy — but its environmental footprint is equally vast. Animal- and plant-based agricultural companies, and even small farms, are realizing the benefits of bringing next-generation technologies into the industry and proving it’s anything but slow to change.
Artificial intelligence increasingly points the way toward a more sustainable and scalable agricultural community. In the near future, it will become common even on relatively modest farms to use drones to feed images and data into machine learning programs and come to timelier conclusions about soil health, pest problems, the impact of changes in the water table and much more.
The result is a more efficient use of pesticides and herbicides — and therefore fewer herbicide-resistant weeds — more accurate crop yield estimates, a lower likelihood of crops being left to spoil in fields and an overall smarter use of our finite farm real estate.
5. Smart Metering, Solar Power and a Greener Housing Market
On Jan. 1, 2020, California will become the first state in the U.S. to require solar installations atop newly constructed homes up to three stories tall. Some say this new requirement will hurt the construction and real estate industries. However, plenty of people back in the ’80s said the same thing about mandatory airbags and seat belts visiting harm on the automotive industry’s bottom line. While there is still some opposition to solar farms in Ireland, seeing how solar power will impact its real estate industry is something to keep an eye on.
The point of California’s solar mandate on new construction is twofold: to draw a clear line in the sand for sustainability in the housing, construction and real estate markets, and to lead the rest of the country by example. Solar power, coupled with smart metering, residential batteries and peer-to-peer electric grids, are all vital for greening the housing market. Even if going green isn’t at the top of every property developer’s list of priorities, lower utility costs for all probably should be.
Given the rate at which fossil fuel-based power generation is compromising the livability of our planet, this is clearly the time for strong leadership. For decades, solar power has been an optional boondoggle to be enjoyed by affluent homeowners.
This barely scratches the surface of the ways technology is helping us revolutionize whole industries at a time. We can expect some pushback from entrenched interests and those who would assign a price tag to the habitability of planet Earth, but we’re all slowly falling in line with these ideals and reaping the economic and sustainability benefits — for the good of all.
Bio: Nathan Sykes is the founder of Finding an Outlet, where he writes about the latest in technology and business news and advice.