How can surveillance cameras and sensors help us achieve a more sustainable world?

Andrea Sorri

Sustainability is one of the most talked about topics in business. As more and more people are understanding the true extent of our impact on the world, new solutions for how we can improve the way we live – and the environmental impact this has – is driving innovation.

At the same time, two of the trends we are seeing in the security sector right now are: using existing technology to deliver environmental benefits and integrating newer technologies, such as sensors, in various devices to prompt ‘smart’ actions. So how are these ideas coming together to help create a more sustainable, safe future for the next generation?

Sensors and sustainability

Part of the sustainability vision is to tackle some of the most problematic areas to help put the brakes of the burn out we are inflicting on the earth. The cities in which we live are currently not sustainable – if we are to improve sustainability then we need to address several areas – and this is where using new and existing technologies can help.

Cities already have security systems in place that provide a high-level of surveillance. While this may be fairly basic in some places, it provides a network – or infrastructure – on which state of the art software, cameras and other devices can be used to monitor the environment and improve sustainability.

IoT sensors are a great way to collect information that cannot be gathered by visuals alone. They can often detect even more than humans, such as levels of pollutants in the air, noise level and vibrations. Thus, they are a useful addition to many camera-based surveillance solutions as they allow users to monitor (threatened) areas as well as environmental factors. For example, they can be connected to a central database to relay information in real-time on sustainability issues to create early warning systems that can alert authorities to a potential issue before it exceeds limits.

This type of data analytics could help many cities to reach their sustainability goals by 2030 – with the use of sensors integral to achieving this mission.

Multiple devices to prevent issues

Sensors today can already be used to monitor our environment. What makes the connection of cameras and sensors so effective is the ability to combine and aggregate all the different data for analysis. Not only are the sensors connected to cameras – and therefore visual data – different devices speak the same “language”, so they can be .

While these systems are already used in many sectors for safety and security purposes, they could also be applied more widely to improving sustainability. The combination of sensors, video and audio can improve sustainability management: By analyzing the recorded incidents of a build-up of pollution, waste dumping, poor lighting from street lamps, overcrowded areas or risk of flooding etc., it could be possible to determine certain patterns that could be used to prevent issues. Applying new policies based on concrete data means resources are not being spent on “trial and error” schemes that may not succeed. By maintaining ongoing measurement, the situation can be reviewed and adjusted based on insight rather than intuition.

Decreased costs

A secondary way in which the smart use of sensors and cameras can help sustainability is by using the information collected to decrease the costs for a city, which can then be invested in other sustainability projects, such as making the city greener. For example, data from sensors attached to LED street lights allow operators to adjust the lighting according to weather conditions such as fog, rain etc., as well as the natural lighting conditions, so street lights only use power when needed and can, therefore, lower the energy emissions for the city and the costs of running public lighting.

Regarding natural disasters, such as flooding, analyzing the environmental sensors’ big data could decrease expenses by helping to take actions before the situation escalates. By improving early warning systems and raising awareness to potential threats, the city can save the costs of repairs and other fallouts that can be caused by catastrophes.

Planning for the future

While talking about a city full of different devices such as sensors and cameras sounds like it is the answer to a more sustainable future, there are some initial drawbacks. They need to be maintained and installed, which antagonizes the sustainability of a city. In the future, this problem could be solved by instead of installing several sensors separately, having them all combined on one, multisensory device.

For example, current devices like smart street lamps can be adapted to include additional sensors, such as pollution monitoring all in one unit. Having all the necessary sensors included in one place not only make the equipment more compact and improve the aesthetic compared to numerous sensors in different places but would also increase their economic and sustainable value. In the end, this would also comply with the UN’s 12th goal to consume and produce more sustainably. Doing more with less, that’s the motto of the future and sensors could play an important part in this target.

Although we haven’t reached that point yet where sensors are part of our everyday life, the interplay of cameras and sensors has improved over the past few years and are an important tool to reach the aim of more sustainable cities. No matter if it’s waste, natural disasters or pollution, sensors are already of great help to making cities safer and more sustainable. If there’s a possibility to reach even one of the UN goals with a combination of cameras and sensors, it is worth working on improving the collaboration of these devices.

If you want see examples of how sustainable security solutions can protect people, planet – and profit, take a look at his blog post:

Protecting people, planet and profit