IoT’s impact on sustainability in industrial facilities

The Internet of Things (IoT) can help industrial facilities gather more information and use it to make their operations more sustainable and efficient. See four industrial IoT OEE benefits.

By Mark Adair June 1, 2022
Courtesy: Maverick Technologies


Learning Objectives

  • Industrial companies can leverage the IIoT to increase their sustainability efforts by reducing water and power consumption and removing harmful emissions.
  • Information is a key aspect of improving sustainability through the IIoT.
  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) also affects the profit side of sustainability.

When people think about sustainability, what often comes to mind are wind turbines and solar panels; however, those are just a tiny piece of sustainability for companies. The true definition of sustainability comprises three different but interconnected items – planet, profit and people.

Planet – This encompasses things that affect the planet, such as carbon footprint, water consumption and air quality.

Profit – This includes any items that affect a company’s profitability. All companies wish to stay in business and be competitive in the marketplace. By removing or avoiding costs, organizations can increase profitability or lower their prices and take a more significant market share.

People – This component relates to people – internal and external to an organization – who are affected by what the company does, as well as its products and processes. Without dedicated and happy employees, it would be hard to sustain a business.

A key technology helping in all aspects of this sustainability effort is the Internet of Things (IoT).

What is the IoT?

In the 1980s, the IoT was born when students at Carnegie Mellon University used the internet, microswitches and indicator lights to remotely monitor a soda machine to see if it was out of drinks, thus avoiding unnecessary trips to it. This IoT invention helped save time. The number and use of IoT grew over the years, and in 1999, the IoT officially received its name and was associated with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Around 2010, the use of IoT expanded in many different directions in commercial and industrial applications.

Today, the IoT connects people to billions of devices, all while collecting and sharing large amounts of data. A common application is the smart home. For example, we can use self-cleaning vacuums to alleviate household chores, or thermostats that learn our habits and adjust for seasonal external changes, making timer thermostats almost obsolete. Each of these devices can provide a wealth of data to be fine-tuned for the most significant benefit. The same holds true for devices in the industrial world.

Industrial IoT

When the IoT is used in industrial applications, it is known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). How can the IIoT help industrial companies become more sustainable? In a word: Information. Information is, after all, the most powerful tool known to humankind. For many years, industry has used various protocols in devices to make them more intelligent and to gain greater insight into processes. Getting more information with fewer devices is the primary goal here.

Standardization, however, is a constant issue as some protocols are proprietary in nature. Also, ordinary control systems have not been smart historically. A lack of insight into devices in the field leaves predictive maintenance to chance, and system failures may occur at the most inopportune times. Field protocol interoperability issues often require engineers to intercede rather than maintenance technicians.

Proprietary protocols continue to cause interoperability issues and be a challenge for facility maintenance personnel, but industrial Ethernet has lifted many of these problems. Local area networks (LANs) and virtual LANs (VLANs) are now the highways of choice in an industrial control setting. While the sensors and instruments are not necessarily part of the IoT, they provide the data driving the IoT at the enterprise level. As a subset of the IoT, the IIoT’s role is to collect and gather this critical device information. Managers can extract a wealth of meaningful data from their control systems and use this information in their company’s sustainability efforts.

Safety is also a top priority and a crucial metric impacting the people and profit aspects of sustainability. For safer processes, preventive maintenance reduces risk to people and equipment in a controlled manner. Facilities can leverage the IIoT to provide the necessary system information to keep personnel safe.

Four OEE benefits for the IIoT

Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) also affects the profit side of sustainability. In a perfect world, this metric would be 100% all the time, meaning machines would run 100% of the time, providing 100% production. Here, the IIoT can provide business managers with the historical data required to analyze just how good their production lines are performing. This information also can provide insight on how to increase this number without impacting safety or quality.

Below are some examples that highlight the planet, profit, and people aspect of sustainability:

1. Water consumption/Air quality

Industrial facilities can use IIoT to monitor water usage. Many areas of the country or even the world don’t have abundant water supplies. By employing sensors distributed across a facility site, sustainability managers can analyze water consumption data and ascertain which machines or processes are water-intensive or are wasting water. In addition, sustainability managers can improve air quality emitted from facilities through intelligent sensors. Managers can analyze gathered data and take steps to mitigate harmful emissions, keeping people and the environment safe.

2. Supply chain

For companies working to minimize their supply chain’s effect on the planet, fuel usage for fleets can now be monitored and controlled. By working with fleet drivers, companies can reduce their carbon footprint. If we extend this mantra to cargo ships, leveraging Big Data and the IoT helps mitigate environmental impact.

The true definition of sustainability comprises three interconnected items – planet, profit and people. Courtesy: Maverick Technologies

The true definition of sustainability comprises three interconnected items – planet, profit and people. Courtesy: Maverick Technologies

3. Power consumption

The IIoT can also quickly determine the amount of electricity consumed. Process plants and factories are the largest power consumers in the world. Many people might be surprised to find out that a motor can use its value in power in a few months, provided it runs 24/7. Another area of low-hanging fruit in power consumption is the addition of intelligent lighting controls. Sensors can detect if an area is not occupied and turn off lighting in that area. Sensors, combined with LEDs rather than fluorescent or, worst case, incandescent, can have a significant impact on power consumption. The IIoT can be a powerful tool in reducing costs when used to analyze data coming from power monitors.

4. Carbon footprint

Employees care about the actions of their companies. They appreciate working for ethical companies in all aspects of business, especially when it comes to the environment. They understand their families and communities are affected by their companies’ work. Organizations are very much aware of the social license to operate. They are taking appropriate steps using big data and the IoT to reduce their carbon footprints and harmful pollution.

As the above examples illustrate, industrial companies can leverage the IIoT to increase their sustainability efforts by reducing water and power consumption and removing harmful emissions. The healthy byproduct of these actions is creating a safer environment, lowering costs, and making employees happier. In addition, this raises an organization’s visibility in public, where many people are advocating for companies to be good stewards of the planet. By using the IoT/IIoT to gather enterprise-wide data, businesses and consumers alike can make the required changes in our communities and countries to increase sustainability and make an impact on planet, profit and people.

Mark Adair, PMP, project manager for Maverick Technologies, a Rockwell Automation Company, and a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,


Keywords: Internet of Things, sustainability


How can the IoT make your facility more sustainable?

Author Bio: Mark Adair, PMP ( is a Pensacola, FL-based project manager for MAVERICK Technologies, a Rockwell Automation Company, with over 25 years’ experience in the process control industry. He holds an MBA in energy and sustainability.