March 18, 2017

Within the realm of communication, there are many devices and applications that hold promise for solving our most pressing issues of environmental waste, global poverty, and world hunger. However, the communications tool that I find the most promising is the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is a primarily open source communications system that can be used to solve many of our most pressing sustainability issues today. First, the Internet of Things is defined as is the “inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles,… buildings, and other items… that enable these objects to collect and exchange data” (Wikipedia). It has an incredible potential for application in many areas of sustainability including products like the “Nest” that regulate temperature in consumer homes and safety information systems that allow users to connect with their homes remotely. Specifically, I am interested in how the Internet of Things can limit overproduction and wasted transportation costs in businesses in the United States.

Each year, the United States produces millions and millions of dollars worth of wasted food, clothing, and other consumer products. For example, fifty percent of the produce in the United States is wasted on a yearly basis (Atlantic). In addition, almost ten and a half million tons of clothing are discarded by Americans each year (Atlantic). While both of these issues are caused by many factors such as agricultural subsidies and a consumer-focused society, the Internet of Things can be a valuable tool in solving the issue of overproduction. In addition, the United States wastes an inordinate amount of resources in manufacturing and shipping these overproduced goods, which is incredibly costly to the environment. According to the Union for Concerned Scientists, transportation makes up the largest portion of air pollution in the United States (UCSUSA). Factories, though most of them are not located in the United States, also contribute significantly to pollution and resource reduction.

In order to show how the Internet of Things can mitigate this overproduction and transportation waste, I will use grocery stores as an example. Grocery stores can use the Internet of Things to track the exact amount of food they need to supply to their customers. First, smart refrigerators can be used to accumulate data on the food products that consumers are using the most at home (Wikipedia). Then, this data can be shared via open source with grocery stores in the area to allow them to better understand the needs of the customers coming into their store. In addition, the store can integrate smart technology into the physical plant of their store to understand almost immediately exactly which products customers are and aren’t buying (MBTMag). After the store has accurate information on the amount of goods it needs in each department, the companies shipping the food products can use integrated smart cities to find the fastest and most efficient routes to deliver the necessary supplies to the grocery store (Mimeo). By allowing companies to collect better data on the needs of their customers and supplying transportation agencies with accurate information, the Internet of Things can be used to lower the amount of unnecessary production overall and ensure that those items being shipped are making the most efficient use of scarce resources.

Thankfully, there are an incredible number of open source and IP technologies currently being developed for the Internet of Things. Specifically, Kaa “is a multi-purpose middleware platform for the Internet of Things that allows building complete end-to-end IoT solutions, connected applications, and smart products” (KaaProject). In addition, websites such as offer a wide range of Internet of Things-enabled products that consumers can immediately implement to track energy and information usage inside their homes (IotList). All of these products and more can be used to not only eliminate waste on an individual basis, but also to eradicate the over production and transportation waste that plague our society.