We all know that the way we live on Planet Earth is not sustainable. Modern technology is responsible for the development of new agricultural techniques, new manufacturing processes and new transport modes that have improved people’s lives but also impacted greatly on the environment and made natural resources more precious than ever.

I have always been interested in ecology and the impact of human activities on the environment. I also believe that if everyone makes a little effort, we can achieve great things. But to reverse the trend, to spare the few natural resources we have left and make a real difference, something bigger needs to happen, something that will radically change the way we live, grow food and manufacture products. And I believe that technology has a major role to play so let’s have a look at three examples in three different fields.

1- Efficient water management with precision agriculture

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture consumes 70% of the world’s fresh water, so efficient water management is essential. Precision agriculture makes use of a range of technologies, such as GPS services and sensors to collect data, which is then analysed and used to make informed, precise decisions.

With regards to water management, sensors are used to determine soil moisture and crop canopy temperature so that irrigation depths to be applied in different parts of the fields can be defined. The systems still need to be perfected, but it is the beginning of a new phase in agriculture, a phase called ‘smart farming’, where technology will help manage natural resources more efficiently, improve animal welfare, cut costs and boost food production.

2- Energy saving with smart electric and gas meters

Smart meters for gas and electric are part of the government’s plan to reduce carbon emissions. They allow people to monitor their energy consumption more accurately, communicate with their suppliers more easily and save money on their energy bills. It also improve efficiency in the way power is generated.

It is also becoming big business: in the last 2 years, British Gas sold more than 200,000 of its Hive smart thermostats and is now going to invest £500 million into developing its connected homes business. In February 2014, Google acquired Nest, maker of a home thermostat capable of learning user behaviour, for $3.2 billion.

Such investments can only be the sign of one thing: smart meters are destined to become the norm very soon.

3- Urban air quality data collection

Urban air pollution is a major problem in many large cities. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, every year, 1 billion people are exposed to outdoor air pollution and air pollution is linked to 1 million premature deaths and 1 million pre-native deaths each year. Rapid urbanisation, a high number of vehicles coupled with low fuel quality, especially in developing countries, are responsible for the increase in urban air pollution.

Many cities in the world do not collect information on air quality. Collecting data is the first step to identify if there is a pollution problem and take corrective action if necessary. This is where Google comes in… With their cars and their backpacks, they have already mapped and photographed virtually every corner of the planet. They have now created partnerships with EDF and Aclima to create air quality maps, getting equipment onto their Street View cars and collecting precious data about air pollutants, which can affect human health and climate change. And as we’ve just said, collecting data is the first essential step before taking action and improving air quality.

In a word…

For some, technology is scary. Others can only see the damaging effects that technology has had on the environment. But I believe that the most important thing to remember is that technology is just a tool. It is up to us to decide what we do with it and how we do it.

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