The Future Gets Brighter: The Internet of Things Creates New Possibilities for Waste Data

Enthusiasm and interest surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) has been a mainstay of technology discussions for the last few years.  While the focus has generally been on consumer uses, the real impact of IoT is now being felt in commercial applications.

Today, businesses are collecting more data than ever with cloud connected machinery and analyzing the data immediately on their hand held devices.  Largely driven by the growth of the Internet of Things, businesses are able to push beyond the data and analytic boundaries that held them back in the past. 

According to the 2015 Gartner report the “industrial internet” is in its very early stages, like the Internet was in the early 1990s. In a survey related to the report, many business owners didn’t fully grasp how the industrial internet would impact their industries.  Those adopting IoT are just beginning to understand its’ full possibilities.

The management and cost of waste affects every business and every industry.  Integrating technology and IoT methodology in waste operations will not only transform an industry but also come to the rescue of a global epidemic, wasted food. 

At BioHiTech Global, we give our commercial customers the ability to collect and analyze real-time, detailed data on their food waste that is processed through our on-site aerobic digesters. While still in its infancy, this data provides management with the intelligence and insight that can result in dramatic reductions of food waste; the benefits of which are a cleaner environment and improved operating margins.

The unexpected combination of waste disposal equipment with immediate data analytics is proving to be a fundamental means of addressing the world’s waste disposal problems.   Connecting disposal behavior and activity with the Internet (of Things) can provide a level of transparency that will assist in the avoidance of waste generation all together. Some ways the data can be used to make a significant impact include:

Sustainability Initiatives and Branding to Drive Sales

Twenty years ago, hotels began asking guests to help save water by hanging up and reusing towels. That initiative was based on hard data that showed that reducing laundry services could have a significant impact on reducing water usage. Today, this initiative is part of the brand image of many hospitality organizations worldwide.

According to a LinkedIn post by Arne Sorensen, President and CEO of Marriott International, guests have gladly participated, stating: “the cards in our guestrooms are ubiquitous now; they became a brand standard in our hotels in 2012, and guests worldwide now not only understand them, but appreciate them.”  Today, the American Hotel and Lodging Association estimates that the laundry request reduces the number of loads of laundry washed—as well as the related water, sewer, energy, and labor costs—by 17 percent.

Hotels are just beginning to understand the environmental impact of food waste diversion and how sustainability has begun to impact their reputation.  Like the hotel guests of years ago, they need to be educated on the value, and environmental impact of food waste diversion. With the ability to gather the data showing the positive impacts of food waste diversion, we can foresee a future scenario where customers would expect, and look for numbers related to food waste. Some of these customers, looking to reduce their own impact on the environment, may choose to patronize a specific restaurant or chain based on documented information showing that food waste from that restaurant is not going into the landfill.

As IoT growth continues, sustainability supported by data is a strategy hoteliers and other businesses will use to boost sales, increase loyalty, and create new branding opportunities. It is easy to imagine that in the near future, like the green revolution in hotels, data related to food waste will create new branding opportunities.

Compliance With Government Standards and Legislation

New York City, which operates one of the largest waste management operations in the world, has recently made a commitment to send zero waste to landfills by 2030 and reduce commercial waste disposal by 90%.  The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability launched a Zero Waste Challenge beginning in February asking for a subset of businesses that generate large amounts of food waste to voluntarily share their waste diversion data with them. 

As more municipalities work to reduce the negative impact of landfilled food waste, the need to measure and analyze that waste stream will continue to grow.   A highly desirable set of data points could be used to guide legislation, prepare for infrastructure planning, assist in future compliance reporting, or provide a tax incentive to businesses based on volume reduction. 

Employee training, improvement and incentives: Gamification

By utilizing data and analytic tools, human resources departments can develop highly competitive and incentivized training and work environments through the use of gamification. For example, according to an employee training website, some of the best practices for internal gamification include something earned, such as points or badges, in exchange for prizes that are tangible, (gift cards, time off etc.) but for gamification to work, you need to have specific goals and be able to show employees how those are measured. Without the data to show how well employees are doing, it is impossible to create an incentive program that works.

Access to data enables businesses to drive a measurable and positive impact in the areas of sustainability, performance, and behavior either individually or in groups. Gamification strategies empower employees to meet company objectives while driving participation and productivity in a creative way, affording others inspiration to do the same.

In addition to the fun aspect of gamification, underperforming personnel will be easier to identify utilizing real time data while comparisons between employees can offer insight into whether there is full compliance with company goals.

Supply Chain Management:

There is a ton of detailed information and tracking already available in the supply chain, that is not fully be taken advantage of.   For example, our aerobic digesters can be fitted with peripheral technology, such as barcode scanners and RFID readers, allowing our customers to effortlessly categorize food waste and associate it with its place in the supply chain.  The qualified data can be linked to a specific purchase order or supplier, driving greater food waste efficiencies for commercial organizations. 

Reports are exported via an application program interface into a customer’s local database for in-house custom reporting, accurately determining the quality and cost of each wasted product received from various purveyors. 

Ultimately, lack of accurate real time data makes decision making more difficult.  Access to accurate, actionable data is the key to making informed decisions and driving up operating margins. As the commercial IoT moves out of its infancy, we expect businesses to find expand on the uses of additional waste generation data to achieve increased profitability and a more sustainable future.

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