Digital technologies can drive growth, connect people and help us protect the environment. At the same time, they can lead to market concentration, fuel precarious working conditions and consume vast amounts of energy. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a perfect example of this tension, and embodies both the promise and the peril of digitalisation. Its emergence offers unique opportunities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the European Green Deal, but policymakers need to be aware of the need for tailored policies and investments, if they want to maximise the benefits of the IoT revolution while mitigating the risks. This report illustrates the key features and evolutions of the IoT, and provides an overview of how the IoT is mostly used today in sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare, energy and smart cities. We conclude that the IoT can massively contribute to several SDGs, especially through its capacity to increase efficiency and save costs. As the IoT is still a relatively young and complex technology, its use is mostly driven by wealthy cities and businesses. Its potential for more vulnerable populations in the global south and the environment remains underdeveloped. This points to an important dilemma for the IoT today from a sustainability perspective: while the main driver for IoT adoption is cost reduction and increased efficiency, sustainability goals such as poverty reduction and environmental protection often remain a secondary thought in its development. The role of public policy and investment will be essential to ensure that IoT solutions contribute to other SDGs in the near future and we outline different approaches for measuring this contribution. This report discusses in particular the policy measures that could be adopted in the European Union to boost the potential of the IoT for sustainability, in light of the European Green Deal and the upcoming 2021-2027 financial framework.
This report was created in cooperation with Hitachi, Ltd.