At the Blackwell Inn’s Bistro 2110, on the campus of The Ohio State University, visitors and students alike come for the new American cuisine and popular lunch buffet. But food waste has also become a valuable commodity at the Blackwell. Each month, about 4.5 tons of scraps are collected from the inn’s affiliated restaurants, kitchenettes, hotel rooms, and conference rooms, and fed into a giant contraption, which mashes them into a slurry that is then converted into renewable energy. The process saves the business about $12,000 a year.
The food-waste recycling system, called Grind2Energy, has also made an impact in college dining halls, arenas, supermarkets, and convention centers. According to David Krems, general manager of the commercial solutions group at Emerson, which produces the innovative processing system, the business—and quantifying the environmental impacts it helps to create—didn’t really take off until the company placed sensors in both the processing table and the tank used to store the slurry. By tapping into the instantaneous data gathering of interconnected devices afforded by the Internet of Things (IoT), the value offered to customers and the system’s efficiency skyrocketed.
“Without an integrated IoT solution, we needed to physically go to certain sites to collect data,” says Mauricio Medaets, business operations and development manager of the Emerson business unit responsible for the Grind2Energy system. “You can imagine how difficult it would have been to scale under those circumstances.”
Now, all the relevant data is centralized in one online portal, resulting in a higher-quality, more sustainable product. “You only want to add the water necessary to grind the waste and keep it pumpable,” says David Krems. “So having a sensor on the grinder chamber has improved the slurry and diminished the amount of water our customers have to use.”
TECH FOR GOOD
The Grind2Energy system is just one of thousands of ways technology is being leveraged to reduce waste, conserve water, and improve efficiency. And the company that makes this high-speed IoT connectivity possible? AT&T.
AT&T has been a leader of the “Tech for Good” movement, cutting emissions in its own operations and enabling customers to do the same. IoT is at the heart of achieving this goal—both inside the company and beyond. To show its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, AT&T recently installed the Grind2Energy food-waste recycling system on its campus in El Segundo, California. In the past four years, the company has undertaken almost 90,000 energy-efficiency projects, and last year it committed to buying 820 megawatts of renewable energy—enough energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to providing electricity for more than 372,000 homes a year. And since November 2015, AT&T programs and collaborations have reduced greenhouse gas emissions equal to twice the size of its own carbon footprint. By 2025, the company aims to grow that number to ten times, an unprecedented ambition it’s calling the 10x Carbon Reduction Goal or “10x.”
“No one has ever done this before. So, when we set the goal, we didn’t know exactly how we were going to get to 10x,” says John Schulz, AT&T’s director of sustainability integration. “There was no book that we could pull off the shelf, so we used the standards that were available to chart our course. Now, two years into it, we’re no longer dealing in the hypothetical. We’re dealing with real-world examples.”
Water conservation is important to home-improvement retailer Lowe’s, where conventional irrigation systems at the company’s 900 stores were known to shower the landscaping even during rainstorms. Then, it teamed with AT&T and HydroPoint to install a new product, Smart Irrigation, that uses a network of sensors to modulate water flow based on current weather conditions and future forecasts. By using data to determine when and how much to water, Lowe’s saves $5 million annually in water bills and 650 million gallons in water (enough to fill almost 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools). Because treatment and pumping use so much energy, saving that much water also effectively reduces community greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equal to burning 84 thousand gallons of gasoline.
Smart irrigation controllers utilizing AT&T IoT solutions allow for more efficient, real-time maintenance of these connected devices at Lowe’s. “Before, water leaks, particularly those small in nature, were very difficult to detect,” says Richard Goodman, Lowe’s vice president of retail facilities management. “These types of leaks would simply filter into the ground, as they were not large enough to provide visible evidence or the physical presence of a leak.” And as with Grind2Energy, AT&T has installed the Smart Irrigation system at many of its own facilities and offers the solution to its customers as part of its Smart Cities offerings.
IMAGINING THE UNIMAGINABLE
The Internet of Things is also improving the environmental footprint of buildings, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of carbon emissions. The lack of timely visibility makes energy management especially daunting. “Every 30 days, you get these big numbers on your electricity bill,” Schulz says. “But all you can really do is inspect the equipment periodically and hope you notice if there’s a problem.”
By putting tiny, wireless sensors on pumps, fans, motors, lighting, generators, and boilers, building managers can now spot problems instantly, lowering energy costs while also lengthening the lifespan of equipment that would otherwise sputter without necessary repairs. When AT&T implemented that solution for its own real estate portfolio—690 locations generating more than 178 million data points each day—the savings were immense: $600 million in energy and operational costs since 2012 and approximately 9,400 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 alone, which is comparable to not using more than 1 million gallons of gasoline.
Robust connectivity such as this generates massive amounts of information. It’s one of the main reasons that customers come to AT&T, says John Krachenfels, AT&T’s director of IoT product management. “You realize pretty quickly that you need networking capabilities to capture all of this data that’s now flowing from your building systems,” he says. “And you also need to keep it safe, which are two areas where AT&T has unique strengths.”
For AT&T’s Schulz, the immense promise of IoT will lead to even greater innovation that can help to create a better, more sustainable world. “Climate change and caring for the planet are two of the world’s most pressing challenges. Technology and connectivity can play a role—and it’s exciting to think about all the applications still to come that will help unleash creative solutions for the greater good.”
This article was created for and commissioned by AT&T. More information on AT&T’s environmental programs and initiatives can be found at att.com/environment.