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What Does IoT Mean For Sustainable Business and Living?


Directly or indirectly, the Internet of Things (IoT) is overhauling the way we all live and do business. For the better? We think – absolutely.


This movement has occurred with relatively little friction (considering the significant change it is bringing) - and will continue to do so, with opportunities feeling boundless.


Aside from revolutionsing our monotonous routines, how can IoT can bring real world change? With the prediction that 25 billion connected devices will be in use by 2020, let’s explore.


Looking with a wide perspective, IoT can undeniably impact the larger issues facing society today, such as how global businesses interact with the environment.


Overconsumption of Earth’s resources worldwide is damaging our planet and placing significant strains on reserves such as water and energy, which has in turn created global community issues that need to be addressed.


The UK government’s 25 year environmental plan, as well as sustainability pledges towards bridging the ‘circularity gap’ by major brands taking centre stage at Davos provide recent examples to us that resource issues have rightfully become high priority on the global media and political agenda.


Recent research revealed that 98% of industry experts believe data and connectivity will contribute to a sustainable world, but only half reportedly currently use IoT technologies to support such efforts. We predict that these companies will look to IoT to help facilitate this.


One example that caught our eye came from a recent collaboration between Vodafone and Philips, who together developed a street light system that could see cities slash energy use by 70%. The mobile operator connected its machine-to-machine (M2M) SIM card network with Philips Lighting’s LED street light management system which created an infrastructure allowing engineers to monitor and control lighting outputs.


Vodaphone are no strangers to the technology and in their 2015 CSR report they noted that the ability to connect and share data through the Internet of Things has helped save its customers more than 3.5m tonnes of CO2e - larger than the annual energy output of over 350,000 UK homes.


Looking at such impressive figures, it’s difficult not to imagine a future that’s almost entirely inter-connected and the Unilever Foundry is looking for startups that can help utilise IoT to move towards a more sustainable future.


Last year we worked with BwareIT – a smart device that attaches to taps and showers to display water consumption and temperature in real time, helping to give users more awareness for wastage as well as optimising their experience.


This digital revolution is also impacting the food industry. Through IoT, suppliers and retailers are finding new opportunities for operational and monetary growth.

Global food manufacturers are utilising the technology around the world to monitor food temperature in real time, allowing optimal cold chain management, as well as ensuring food is as safe-to-eat as possible when it arrives on your plate.


A new wave of ‘agritech’ is also modernising agriculture, using IoT to measure the productivity of machinery and even to monitor the health and fertility of livestock. This has benefits not just in helping companies to identify inefficiencies, speed up times and reduce costs, but they also help to build transparency and trust with consumers.


With 400+ brands in our portfolio, this technology presents a source of untapped potential for innovating the FMCG sector.


With over 3 million connected ice cream cabinets in place around the world, in 2014 we partnered Magnum with startup NewAer to develop ‘mPulse’, a platform that that allows customers to connect with our cabinets, telling them where the nearest Magnum can be found as well as their friends, letting them invite these friends to share the moment with them.


In this sense, IoT has another benefit in allowing businesses to connect and interact with consumers in useful, meaningful ways, and presents the next opportunity in revolutionising consumers everyday routines and increasing the value that brands bring to these.


The efficiency which comes as a result of the IoT eco-system leads to more sustainable, business-efficient practices in multiple walks of life. In turn, buildings and cities are now being constructed specifically around this technology, giving IoT unprecedented growth potential.


We think that the relationship between sustainable and IoT will continue to boom, providing an exciting opportunity for collaboration between businesses and startups that are utilising IoT technologies, particularly those that bring real-world benefit.


At Unilever Foundry, it’s our mission to make sustainable living commonplace by collaborating with innovators and IoT represents unlocked potential in this space.


While IoT has seen widespread growth in recent years, we’re excited to see how businesses and consumers can embrace the technology for environmental purpose and positive change.


Watch this space. 

Add Comment
ignacio chavarria
It will be interesting to see what lessons in IoT our recent partnership with Alibaba will bring that we can implement in other parts of the business.

With over 2M results for “smart” devices, Alibaba surely possesses unique behavioral data on how Chinese consumers purchase IoT devices online, as well as insights on their demographics. I wonder to what degree UL will have access to this data and how we can use it for product development around the world.

Being an e-commerce platform as well as a cloud service provider, Alibaba not only has insight into what IoT offerings there currently are in China, but also to what data points these devices are sending back and storing in the cloud.

For example, Kenmore’s smart refrigerator collects 122 data types but only two of them are shown to consumers (remote temperature control and a door open sensor), while the rest help them understand how the fridge is functioning and when it might break.

Applying this insight to our 3M+ ice cream cabinet population, makes me wonder why UL’s 2014 efforts at The Foundry to find IoT providers for cabinets were mainly customer facing (geo-marketing) rather than business facing (capturing technical performance data to predict downtime, capturing location data to improve traceability/control, tracking outside temperature to identify store temps that maximize ice cream sales, etc…).
Posted on 4/5/18 12:29 AM.

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