Sustainability, IoT & Blockchain

What IoT and Blockchain can do for the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable developments.

On May 8th I did a speech about IoT, Blockchain, and Sustainability, at the Green Tech Innovation event organized by EU Business School and Naked Innovation.

The interest in IoT started growing when I realized that blockchain technology will be the catalyst for IoT adoption and that the combination of IoT, blockchain, and supply chain, will greatly foster future sustainable developments in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable developments.


This is the transcription of part of my speech at the Green Tech Innovation event about IoT, Blockchain, and Sustainability.

  1. United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development
  2. Why Sustainability (IoT + Blockchain+ Supply Chain)?
  3. Main use cases
  4. IoT, Blockchain, and Sustainability challenges
  5. My thoughts about Blockchain & Sustainability

1. United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

In 2015 the United Nations Member States reunited in a General Assembly where they defined the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. At the core of 2030 Agenda, there are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They are an urgent call for action by all countries — developed and developing — in a global partnership.

For each of those 17 SDGs goals, there are at least, 2 or 3 blockchain use cases currently implemented, or in development. Same happens to IoT, where most of the projects supported by this technology address many of the 17 SDGs, especially the ones focused on these areas:

#9 Industry, Innovation, Infrastructure

#11 Smart Cities and Communities

#7 Affordable and Clean Energy

#3 Good Health and Well-b¡Being

#12 Responsible Production and Consumption

As explained in greater details in the following two paragraphs, the impacts of the pair IoT and Blockchain to sustainable developments it is easily documentable.

2. Why Sustainability (IoT + Blockchain+ Supply Chain)?

Why is IoT in 3rd place in the McKinsey’s research, between the disruptive technologies with more economic impact?

a) Simply, because IoT connects things that before were unconnected!

What are these things?

· individuals (human beings)

· collectives (homes, organizations, companies, etc.)

· to things like physical and digital objects

b) The estimation of the number of connected devices in 2020 is around 30 billion and the numbers will be growing to 75 billion in 2025

c) IoT has been applied to supply chain since the twentieth century, to track products using RFID Radio-Frequency Identification and GPS sensors.

d) the ”invisible” technology that will allow IoT adoption, is blockchain; which is the backbone of the modern supply chain.

New RFID uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information, gaining data like the temperature at which an item was stored, how long it spent in transit, quality control, on-time deliveries, and product forecasting.

2.1 Blockchain and supply chain

More extensively explained in one of my papers Blockchain and Supply Chain: what matters and summed up below.

Supply chain is one of the fields where blockchain can express its capabilities at best. One of the aspects of blockchain that best suits supply chain is that it enables more secure, transparent monitoring of transactions. Supply chains are basically a series of transaction nodes that link to move products from point A to the point-of-sale or final deployment. With blockchain, as products change hands across a supply chain from manufacture to sale, the transactions can be written in a shared temper proof decentralized ledger reducing time delays, added costs, and human errors. Blockchain is inherently capable of providing significant advantages in almost real time, improving efficiency and transparency to the supply chain systems.

2.2 Advantages of IoT, DLT and supply chain

Simply put, the implication of the advantages below reflects on a great number of use cases applicable to cross-industry.

  • Real-time monitoring track and trace

Increase accuracy and speed, scale, leading improvements in the chain. Manufacturing, logistics, storage: optimize, batching, routing, delivery of goods.

  • Inventory management

-no buffer stock by providing visibility of inventory and shipments

-reducing bank fees for letters of credit

-urgent orders can be expedited or rerouted

-better service to consumers

3. Main Use cases

As I said, there are many use cases implementing the use of IoT and blockchain in a context of sustainable developments. The following below are just the most well known:

  • Provenance of fish. There is an increasing focus on sustainable fishing and especially the sustainability of fish such as tuna.
  • Europe’s largest retailer, Carrefour, trace the production of 
    free-range chicken in a region of central France: “Consumers use a smartphone to scan a code on the package to obtain information from each stage of production, including where and how the chickens were raised and what they were fed as well as where the meat was processed
  • Tracking critical parameters like temperature products that are sensitive to storage conditions. Blockchain coupled with IoT, tracks the conditions of assets in remote locations, such as temperature during transit.
  • A remote water monitoring solution that ensures clean water.
  • Providing warranties, blockchain helps to establish the proof of ownership of a product. This allows organizations to extend warranties to customers with genuine products and avoid losses in warranty fraud.
  • Counterfeit drugs and medical products from Ford’s article: combining blockchain and IoT is providing the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, reducing counterfeit drugs and medical products. Pharmaceutical serialization is the process of assigning a unique identity (e.g., a serial number) to each sealable unit, which is then linked to critical information about the product’s origin, batch number, and expiration date. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) approximately 1 million people, each year die from counterfeit drugs, 50% of pharmaceutical products sold through rogue websites are considered fake, and up to 30% of pharmaceutical products sold in emerging markets are counterfeit according to a recent study by DHL Research. DHL and Accenture are finalizing a blockchain-based track-and-trace serialization prototype comprising a global network of nodes across six geographies. 
     The system comprehensively documents each step that a pharmaceutical product takes on its way to the store shelf and eventually the consumer. The following graphic illustrates the workflow.

4. IoT, Blockchain and Sustainability challenges

Although the powerful combination of those technologies will leverage all the use case already listed and many more, in terms of production deployment and adoption, there are still lots of challenges to face.

  1. Budget allocation is a common challenge for sustainability and development of new technologies like IoT and blockchain. Mostly comes from the limited budget allocated under the label “innovation and digital projects”.
  • Sustainability has a cost that sometimes doesn’t find a justification.
  • Implementing new technology has a cost of the risk to step in a new and unknown field.
  • Allocating a budget for sustainability should be seen as an investment that brings commercial value. Companies that do not see the value long term today, will be forced tomorrow,(if survived), by competitors eating their market segment. Likewise, if a company doesn’t find a way to navigate through new technologies, or generally speaking innovation, the “long term” won’t exist.

2. Development Stage & Massive Adoption: IoT and Blockchain are two technologies at its infancy that still have a lot of challenges to overcome.

· IoT challenges:

o Mobility: authenticate ourselves, get authorization and access controls to the corresponding device services

o Interoperability: diversity and heterogeneity lead to interoperability problems, different manufacturers, vendors, communities and standard groups

o Scalability & Trust: in trustless networks, how to build mutual trust relationships between different systems

o Privacy & Security: security and privacy concerns to be taken into account as a consequence of the above properties of the technology

· Blockchain challenges (check my article: How to approach a blockchain Pilot and challenges):

o ROI identification

o Governance, Business modelling

o Global regulations

o Network effect

o Lack of resources with experience

o Blockchain brings technical complexity and risks

o Privacy & Security concerns

o Scalability and performance

o Interconnectivity between different type of blockchains

5. My thoughts about blockchain & sustainability

  • Blockchain uplifts people’s awareness: up until now we didn’t realize that we were surrounded by ledgers
  • Blockchain is as a network technology that works ONLY in a collaborative environment
  • Blockchain taught us the implication of a decentralized vs centralized governance and regulations system
  • Blockchain, directly, or indirectly, it will explain to everyone the importance of standards and common protocols
  • Blockchain enriches the globalization and a cultural mind shift
  • Blockchain taught and made us reflect on what money is and how banks works
  • Blockchain makes the first world countries to realize the magnitude of the remittance problem in the development world

I don’t see any other technology had the same educational impact to the human being and this is the ultimate reason for its intrinsic sustainable value.

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