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How can 5G & IoT enable exponential climate action?

Emerging technologies – enabled by 5G – have the potential to transform industries at scale and accelerate a step change toward meeting the Paris Agreement’s 2030 targets. To explore how this impacts today’s tech sector, industry leaders recently attended the Ericsson Brighter Futures event in Santa Clara, CA, to answer one question: How can 5G & IoT enable exponential climate action?

Women holding a phone in a fo
Bhushan Joshi

Head of Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility for Ericsson in Market Area North America

The Exponential Climate Action Roadmap Report released in 2018 outlines the overall decarbonization pathway required to meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. This report outlines a simple rule of thumb; the global GHG emissions need to peak by 2020 at the latest and thereafter reduce by 50 percent before 2030. Existing digital technologies can help reduce global GHG emissions by up to 15 percent through solutions in energy, manufacturing, agriculture and land use, buildings, services and transportation. Which corresponds to a third of the GHG emission reduction required by 2030. 5G and IoT technologies can take the pace of transformation to the next level and help to achieve the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.

How can digital technologies drive exponential climate action?

It's estimated that there will be 4.1 billion cellular IoT connections globally by 2024 (IoT Connections Outlook). Billions of sensors in factories, cities, on farms and in our homes, provide us with the foundational elements to innovate and drive the required de-carbonization. This, enabled by 5G, will ultimately support a sustainable future for everyone.

Ericsson assembled a panel of experts from across various technology sectors, including non-governmental organizations and startups, to discuss the question" How can digital technologies drive exponential climate action?" Taking place at Ericsson's Connected Intelligence Studios in Santa Clara, CA, the Ericsson Brighter Futures event offered a view into the opportunities and barriers of deploying technological solutions.

Below, you can read a summary of some of the key takeaway messages from the event.

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Rob Tiffany: Don't let perfect get in the way of good enough

Rob Tiffany is Vice President and General Manager of IoT North America at Ericsson.

Digital technologies like IoT and 5G are at an inflection point both economically and technologically, meaning that we can now begin to implement solutions to sustainably manage planetary resources. While implementing IoT solutions, its critical to focus on the business problems that needs to be solved and not only the underlying technology. Over-engineering a solution can lead to the technology stack becoming so complex that it ends up becoming a barrier to successful implementation. It's important we use the right level of technology for the right use case.

IoT takes us out of the guessing game and in to the knowing-remotely game. IoT solutions can enable agricultural and food sectors to both reduce waste and feed a growing population. According to the US Department of Agriculture, almost 30 to 40% of food supply in the US is sent to municipal landfills as waste. We can control food waste and determine food spoilage with IoT solutions such as sensors instead relying on expiration dates. In agriculture, soil moisture sensors that inform farmers about the need for irrigation can reduce water usage. As sensors and data analytics becomes cheaper, implementation of massive IoT solutions become increasingly critical for exponential climate action.

Beverly Rider: As solutions get commoditized, IoT eco-systems need to be simplified

Beverly Rider is SVP and Chief Commercial Officer at Hitachi.

Eco-system partners need to start with common objectives and work toward developing solutions that address challenges. It's easy to add complexity to an eco-system, for example through contracting processes or revenue structures, which makes simplification key to developing a successful eco-system. As solutions get commoditized, customers begin to look increasingly for simple turnkey solutions to implement technologies that reduce energy and water usage in their operations.

Technology adoption is driven by human elements like understanding technology, imagining yourself using technology and finally feeling technology. Exponential adoption of IoT solutions can be enabled by focusing on solving business challenges like cost reduction and increased productivity and by presenting technology in a way that it appeals to our human side.

Tim Fleming: ICT solutions can help to cut almost 10x more carbon than they emit

Tim Fleming is Director of Sustainability at AT&T.

At AT&T, we have established a goal to enable a carbon saving which is ten times our operational footprint by 2025. This goal requires us to tackle the problem from both sides, by reducing our operational carbon footprint and developing technologies that enable our customers to take climate action by reducing resource usage. This goal is based on a key finding from the Smarter 2030 Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) report which estimates that ICT solutions can help to cut 9.7 times the carbon dioxide emissions which they emit.

The projects which we are currently implementing to achieve this goal include IoT use cases for irrigation management in farms. For example, current rice farming processes accounts for up to 40 percent of global irrigated water and generate methane that constitutes around 1.5 percent of global GHG emissions. These GHG emissions can be reduced by implementing a technological solution to alternate wetting and drying processes. The solution includes IoT sensors that monitor when conditions are right and drive pumps to control the level of water. This solution, if implemented globally, could reduce millions of tons of GHG emissions and reduce water usage in rice farming.

IoT technologies can also help develop alternative financial methods which pay for investments to reduce energy and water usage. IoT solutions can enable us to get very granular measurement of the actual savings generated by energy and water conservation technologies, meaning you can monitor and buy the savings instead of purchasing the equipment.

Tim Flemming


Jason Morrison: Conflicting socio-political interests can make solutions impractical

Jason Morrison is President of the Pacific Institute.

The era of relative water abundance is ending. Current projections indicate that, by 2040, two-thirds of the global population will live in water stressed regions. Some food and beverage companies, with up to 90 percent of their water usage in supply chains, are already experiencing the impact of water scarcity. Technology companies are taking a role in developing water management solutions based on IoT and other technologies.

However, conflicting socio-political interests can make the most innovative water management solutions impractical. For example, an IoT- and blockchain-based solution that creates an accounting system to enable the transfer of water from farmers looking to fallow to those needing water will not work if there are vested socio-political interests that don't want to reveal how much water is being withdrawn.

Saeed Amidi: We are looking for a billion-dollar sustainability innovation opportunity

Saeed Amidi is CEO of Plug and Play.

Digital transformation is underway at the speed of light and, with the deployment of 5G and IoT, we are moving towards a connected society that will transform our lives. By driving 20 percent of total investments towards start-ups which develop sustainability solutions in IoT, mobility, smart cities and insurance, Plug and Play is focused on making a big impact on the sustainability journey.

To scale the development of financially-lucrative sustainability solutions, Plug and Play has created an environment wherein innovators with great ideas are offered financial support and the opportunity to work with some of the largest companies in the world, increasing their chances of success.

An example of this approach is the partnership between Plug and Play and Fashion for Good, which is focused on accelerating sustainable innovations in the textile industry. This eco-system includes major retail brands like Adidas, PVH and Target, to name a few. This global initiative is an open-innovation platform which is focused on identifying, supporting and investing in start-ups to accelerate the transformation of apparel sectors towards circular and environmentally-sustainable business models.

Saeed Amidi


Shannon Lucas: Role of Ericsson's Connected Intelligence Studio

Shannon Lucas is EVP and Head of Emerging Business at Ericsson.

Ericsson's Connected Intelligence Studio is focused on creating an eco-system in which to develop financially, socially and environmentally sustainable business models and create technological solutions that address real business problems. Only by bringing together services providers, industrials, start-ups, non-profit organizations and consumers, can we achieve the massive adoption of technology required to take exponential climate action.

Watch the Brighter Futures panel discussion in full below:


Want to learn more?

Watch Ericsson's Brighter Futures panel discussion in full on YouTube.
Find out about other exciting IoT use cases by Ericsson.
Read more about Ericsson and the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap.
Learn about Ericsson Industry Connect network.


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