Sustainable security solutions—protecting people, planet and profit.

Guest authors


Steve Surfaro portraitThis post is written by Steve Surfaro, a former industry liaison for Axis Communications, with over 30 years of experience in the security industry. Read more about Steve at the bottom of this page.

More and more organizations in the security industry, whether manufacturers, integrators or security personnel, operate with sustainability in focus. Yet, despite this emphasis, many still face a similar challenge: How does one successfully develop, introduce or use technology solutions and truly comply with sustainability’s three goals (or pillars), environmental stewardship, profit and business ethics, and social responsibility?

The answer: Don’t over think it! Simply move past the abstract to the action by rebuilding these pillars into three terms that are a bit more familiar from a business standpoint: people, planet and profit. Let’s breakdown each pillar a bit more:

Planet (environmental) simply relates energy consumption and the use of renewable energy to the impact on green spaces.

Profit and business ethics (economic) evaluates how solutions are performing and contributing to organization’s economic health. Can your solutions operate at a reasonable cost and budget? Can your sustainable solution sustain itself? Yes, sustainability can mean this too—the ability to keep your security solutions operating efficiently!

People (social): Finally, the third pillar is itself “social,” considering how and if people connect via the security solution. The question the third pillar asks is: Does the system improve quality of life, and can it protect lives?

Let’s look at several cases where all three pillars work in unison to help businesses, organizations and cities operate sustainably.

Use case: Traffic incident management and traffic flow

Does our first use case, a traffic system with network cameras, check off all three boxes of sustainability: people, planet and profit? Let’s see.

Overwatch and ground level network cameras can increase safety for vehicles and pedestrians and improve the overall experience for businesses, visitors and residents in smart cities. How do they do this? A few ways include:

  • Automatic incident detection: Instead of waiting for drivers to update traffic conditions via mobile apps, cameras can instead provide real-time reports about stopped vehicles, wrong-way driving and congestion.
  • License plate recognition: LPR can be used in a number of applications, including access control, vehicle alerts for those on watch lists, toll roads and parking management.
  • Data collection: Typically, magnetic sensors, induction loops and other data collection applications are used to count vehicles and provide key information about traffic density. Intelligent cameras can instead accomplish this same task and more.

From a sustainability standpoint, intelligent surveillance solutions can ultimately lower carbon emissions and provide more measurable sustainability:

  • Profit – Warn drivers earlier about potential road hazards—preventing potentially costly accidents: check
  • Planet – Reduce transit time, more efficient public safety deployment and thus a reduction in energy usage: check
  • Social – Update drivers in real-time traffic, which better protects them and reduces time sitting in traffic thereby improving quality of life: check
Green grass with city behind it
Security solutions can keep cities safe and lower carbon emissions

Use case: agriculture—meeting the greater demands on water supply

Water is a precious commodity. That much is obvious. However, what may not be so evident is just how scarce usable water is becoming for basic necessities such as agriculture. Currently, 69 percent of the world’s freshwater withdrawal (and 51 percent of America’s) is committed to agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Currently most of that water is wasted by inefficient irrigation methods.

What does all of this mean? Advanced, intelligent technologies, such as thermal imaging and visible light network cameras, will continue to be an important part of agricultural water management. These solutions can help monitor foliage and soil, crop leaf temperature and ensure automatic irrigation systems have the ability to regulate water usage with greater accuracy. Monitoring the health of crops with sustainable technologies can also reduce diseases and pesticide usage.

The agriculture industry has evolved a lot since farmers first domesticated animals thousands of years ago, and the next (and current) step in this transformation is the continued adoption of smart farming.

Smart farming involves farmers using information and communication technologies (ICT), such as sensors, geo-positioning systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), data and analytics, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) and intelligent network cameras, to make better decisions about crop management, resource usage and irrigation, to name a few.

  • Profit – Use water efficiently for specific tasks improving crop output and conserving water resources: check
  • Planet – Reduce critical infrastructure required, which decreases carbon footprint: check
  • Social – Shared cost-saving methods among agriculture groups in real-time and an ample food supply for the public: check

Use case: more efficient light sensitive cameras to save energy

Rock Hill School District in South Carolina recently wanted to improve school safety while also reducing their overall carbon footprint in the process.

“With every project, we measure the energy consumption and report to the school board and administration,” said Rock Hill School District Energy Systems Manager, Kim Melander.

Many cities use “smart lighting,” which is made up of simple dimming control, LED luminaire and motion sensors. Unfortunately, these systems aren’t completely sustainable because they only enter power saving mode occasionally due to high pedestrian traffic.

Instead of using “smart lighting,” Rock Hill turned to a different technique. It looked to prevent crime while also saving energy by adhering to a “campus blackout” approach.

Anthony Cox, Deputy Superintendent for Rock Hill School District, noted that one of the reasons Rock Hill adopted this means of security was because it believed keeping lights on at night to reduce crime was more myth than fact. Several studies appear to validate Cox’s belief.

As proof, research commissioned by the Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate in 2002 of several previous American studies, found there to be a loose tie (if any) between lighting and increased safety. A different study by the University College of London published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, which analyzed data from 2010-2013, found there was no evidence that street lights deterred crime.

Rock Hill chose Axis’ Lightfinder technology, which enables network video cameras to capture, process and send high-resolution, color images in environments with light as low as or below 0.18 lux. When combined with analytics, cameras with Lightfinder technology can differentiate moving objects from people which require the light to operate at a higher intensity. With this, security personnel can create a “virtual boundary” in areas for early warning of signs of trouble. With improved recognition, Lightfinder can help security personnel better detect everything from moving objects and facial recognition to vehicles and license plates.

The result of Rock Hill’s new security initiative: It enhanced security and increased energy savings.

Now, if we also use cloud technology, we can easily evaluate data trends to determine lighting usage to help us gain a more accurate estimate of power consumption. The cloud can also take advantage of deep learning platforms to record recurring actions, which reduces bandwidth when responding to alerts. This is the perfect example of sustainable business technology. The more you use these solutions, the more accurate the response will be to the situation, thus reducing the need for associated energy and intervention. As you might imagine, this lowers the total carbon footprint.

  • Profit: Reduced use of lighting in specific areas and increased energy savings: check
  • Planet: Reduced critical infrastructure required, which reduces the energy footprint: check

Social: Low-light cameras can “see better” and help personnel quickly respond to potential threats and the savings resulting from reduced energy costs can be reinvested in student education: check

How cybersecurity protects and stabilizes the three pillars

Rounding out our need for three pillar support is the underlying requisite to protect your organization from cyberattacks with cybersecurity protection. After all, a breached network can quickly topple all three pillars, potentially taking down vital supply chain operations with it

Unlike other sectors in the U.S., the physical and cybersecurity of the nation’s electric system is regulated by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) program and by the federal government. Cyber hardening electronic security systems in use cases involving energy, food and water, some of which I’ve already described, are compliance requirements but also make sense for improved sustainability.

Axis Communications strives to apply cybersecurity best practices in the design, development and testing of edge devices, such as network cameras, card readers, intrusion detection devices, entry door stations and sound solutions, to eliminate flaws that cybercriminals may try to exploit during an attack. In turn, this can help protect customers’ operations.

Along with the design and development of software and hardware, we also provide helpful resources on cybersecurity best practices, such as guidelines and webinars, YouTube videos, and an e-book and cyber glossary.

Economic sustainability, or the ability of an organization to operate ethically and keep solutions running to compliance provisions, can help businesses reduce risk and prevent intellectual property damage. However, ensuring operational stability in all three pillars starts by achieving solution sustainability through cyber stability, hardening and resilience.

In saying this, we may even look at cybersecurity as a direct extension (or even part) of the profit and business ethics pillar. As I described, this pillar is less about how organizations can generate revenue and more about the way they operate to protect vital assets and resources. In other words, risk management. Today, organizations must be just as concerned with criminals damaging physical property as they are with cybercriminals breaching a network and stealing crucial information.

So, what’s next?

As I noted with the use cases, achieving harmony between all three pillars no matter the environment is simple when you rebuild these pillars into terms that are more relatable to your day-to-day: people, planet and profit, and ensure you’re adhering to the right cybersecurity policies and procedures to keep the three pillars upright.

Remember, an unprotected IP network can quickly leave vital solutions, important processes and the three pillars vulnerable to attack. A truly sustainable organization is one that not only operates with the present in mind but their future as well—where the entire value chain operates in sync and sustainably, and cybersecurity practices are adhered to, to protect solutions, stakeholders and other vital assets. As companies look to operate safely, efficiently and profitably, sustainable security solutions will be key to their long-term success.

Steve Surfaro, is a subject matter expert in physical and cybersecurity solutions with focus on next generation video codecs, forensic video, predictive and prescriptive analytics, data science, IoT, smart cities, security automation and UAS, UGV systems. He also educates on emerging trends and delivers an industry intelligence feed on Twitter (@stevesurf).
Steve is published in a wide range of security publications and delivers over 100 industry-accredited sessions each year. He is also author of the Digital Video Handbook, a DHS S+T publication providing guidance for law enforcement, fire and other first responders. He is a recipient of the Roy N. Bordes Council Member Award of Excellence from ASIS International. Steve also received the Harry J Pfister Award from the University of South Florida, College of Engineering, in recognition of his lifetime achievement of excellence in the telecommunications industry. He received his Bachelor of Engineering from The Cooper Union in New York City.