How Edge Computing Supports Sustainability

Did you know that data centers generate 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions? As demand grows, electricity consumption by data centers will eventually grow to 10% a year. In fact, the electronics industry as a whole is responsible for an estimated 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable practices and initiatives are needed to reduce emissions across the tech sector. Organizations that utilize electronic devices in their operations also have opportunities to make a difference. Can edge computing support sustainability? Yes, we think so.

And there are incentives. As we shared in our Investing in Green Technology blog post, sustainable practices can save businesses money. Additionally, sustainable companies achieve more stable stock prices and enjoy higher returns than competing organizations. A Deloitte study found that almost 70% of companies would decline a merger or acquisition because of poor ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) strategies. Enter edge computing. Edge computing stores and processes data on or near the device that created it. This means, at scale, dramatically less data transmission and CO2 generation. 

Let’s dive into the specifics around how edge computing supports sustainability and can help organizations reduce their carbon footprint.

Ten Ways Edge Computing Can Support Sustainability

The idea behind edge computing is efficiency. Send less data. Make decisions faster. Ensure processes are quickly adjusted or halted if something goes wrong out in the field, on an assembly line, or in a hazardous facility where faults can result in massive damage. That efficiency can have huge benefits for sustainable operations as well. Here are ten examples.

1. Reduced power-hogging data transfer and bandwidth consumption

From thermostats and security cameras to automobiles and trains, edge computing processes data locally, minimizing power-hungry data transfers to the cloud. This frees up lots of bandwidth and reduces network bottlenecks and congestion. Imagine how edge computing could support a range of sustainable cities initiatives when deployed across transportation, utilities, water/wastewater management and smart buildings.

Watch now. Sustainability in Infrastructure and Smart City Projects

2. Lower latency and energy consumption

By removing the need to continuously send and process data in the cloud, edge devices slash latency. Users experience quicker response times, and the system consumes less energy. In fact, battery-powered edge devices commonly work for years without a charge or refresh.

Smart city concept


3. Energy-efficient devices and infrastructure

The oil and gas industry offers an excellent use case for energy-efficient edge computing. The industry relies on edge devices and infrastructure to manage critical operations across millions of miles of pipeline in the U.S. Sending and processing operations data in the cloud is not only very costly, but bandwidth and latency are significant issues. Because oil operations often exist in far-flung remote locations, the use of localized edge processing infrastructure can dramatically improve energy conservation — an important step in modernizing the grid. The bottom line? Edge processing consumes much less energy than centralized infrastructure and can even reduce the need for power-hungry centralized data centers.

4. Optimized resource utilization

By design, edge computing architecture employs a platform, IoT devices and software to manage efficient allocation of computing resources. Edge architectures intelligently distribute processing tasks based on workload requirements. This takes some of the load off centralized servers, freeing up bandwidth and workload on cloud servers.

Learn How Edge Computing Solves Network Challenges

5. Support for renewable energy management

According to the International Energy Agency, the world’s ability to create renewables-based electricity is growing faster than at any time in the last thirty years. The "smart grid" is becoming a reality. But incorporating renewables into the energy grid comes with significant challenges. First, the energy grid was not designed to handle renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar produce fluctuating, intermittent power throughout the day, requiring constant balance to ensure consistent power delivery. By deploying edge devices at renewable energy sites, grid operators can use collected sensor data to predict energy supply, demand and fluctuations. As a result, edge computing helps create more stable and reliable grids that rely on variable renewables.

6. Smart building and energy management

A smart building can generate terabytes of data each day. Transmitting and processing all this data in the cloud alone is not only unmanageable and expensive, but it can also overload the network. With edge computing, real-time data processing happens at or near the device, streamlining energy usage while enabling more responsive control of critical systems such as lighting, heating and cooling.

7. Efficient industrial processes

As manufacturing and industrial operations become increasingly aware of the impact of their greenhouse gas emissions, they’re zeroing in on their carbon footprints. Edge computing in manufacturing at once reduces a manufacturer’s carbon footprint. By processing sensor data at the edge, industrial operations reduce energy consumption while also receiving help from efficient and real-time monitoring.

8. Precision agriculture

Edge computing has literally made precision agriculture a reality. Edge computing can connect everything from driverless tractors and GPS sensing systems to soil and water sensors in fields. With sensors at the edge, machines can precisely apply water, fertilizers and pesticides only where and when needed, significantly reducing waste and minimizing excess chemicals on crops and in the environment.

9. E-waste reduction

Manufacturing processes often produce high rates of scrap materials that end up in landfills. Everything from plastics and glass to electronic components become scrap when they’re found defective or left over from a manufacturing process. With edge computing in place, computer vision and AI technologies can combine to quickly detect defective parts and sideline them before assembly into a final product. In this way, edge computing ultimately reduces e-waste and contributes to a circular economy.

Additionally, waste management vehicles can integrate sensor technology and fleet monitoring and management systems to align the routing of vehicles for optimal efficiency. See our case study with Metro Compactor for one example.

10. Sustainable transportation

In the U.S., transportation encompasses the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, transportation accounts for about 28% of total emissions. Thanks to edge computing, traffic management systems can actively help reduce these emissions. Here is a fitting example of edge computing used in traffic management: A city installs edge sensors on traffic lights and along roadways in an urban area to analyze real-time traffic patterns. Automatically, the system can adjust signal timing to reduce traffic congestion. This minimizes vehicle idling and fuel-guzzling stop-and-go driving. The result? Lower fuel consumption, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and less air pollution. Learn about Transit Signal Priority in our TriMet case study, and see our Traffic Management page for more information on smart city traffic management solutions.

Smart traffic management


A remote management platform like Digi Remote Manager® is a critical piece of the edge computing puzzle, enabling organizations to oversee the deployed edge devices remotely, and making device and network management simpler. This centralized platform is a crucial part of the equation, ensuring accessibility, insights and notifications from anywhere via a desktop or mobile device.

As sustainability becomes a leading concern in every industry, organizations look to find ways to slash their carbon footprints. Edge computing supplies immediate benefits when it replaces power-hungry cloud systems in many situations. In fact, thanks to edge computing, whole new sectors such as precision agriculture sprout up to supply sustainable solutions not possible through any other means. By optimizing energy consumption, reducing data transfer requirements, enhancing resource use, and enabling more efficient and responsive systems across various industries, edge computing is a promising eco-friendly technology.

Work With Digi

The edge computing examples we've shared show the wide-ranging impact this technology has on sustainability across industries and sectors. When you’re ready to add edge intelligence to your network, Digi experts can support you at every step. Some of the most respected brands trust our edge computing solutions within their organizations, industrial outfits and smart cities. From cellular and networking solutions to embedded systems for OEMs to infrastructure management solutions, Digi provides end-to-end solutions and supporting services to help you achieve your goals.

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