From home automation to solar roadways to smart cities—sustainable design is making its mark on our built environment. To realize significant returns on sustainability depends on how well integrated these designs are with one another. The key to integration lies in data, and data starts with you. Here’s how the Internet of Your Things is helping to build a more sustainable world.

Figuring the grand design

Sustainable design is everything from a coffee thermos made of compostable material to a building engineered to make use of available natural light. Just as in nature, the design exists in the smallest of particles and the largest of ecosystems. For a system designed by humans to be sustainable, all the parts and pieces need to come together to create a restorative “whole.”

According to circular economists, invention is important but integration is the key to large-scale sustainable results. For example, greener cars are good, but they're definitely better when linked to a public transportation system made more efficient by big data insights that help alleviate traffic and improve ridesharing.

Plugging in to sustainability

Integration is the key to large-scale sustainable results

The Internet of Things powered by big data can transform a disparate and redundant industrial economy into an integrated, sustainable system—and it all starts with a personal choice. Say you buy energy-saving light bulbs for your house. That’s a good start but they’re definitely better when linked to home automation software that uses data to help reduce overall energy consumption for your home. Sound familiar?

Just like the car example, the green opportunity multiplies when a single product is plugged into a larger system that is also sustainable. That’s why green opportunities must extend beyond purchasing decisions—they need to be embedded in the built environment and connected via the Internet of Things.

Dreaming of now

Imagine living and working in a smart city that employs the same big data solution you have in your home: you’d wake up in your smart home, hop in your electric car, commute on solar roadways (that power your car), and arrive at your smart office. The built environment would mimic the natural environment in the way that everything is interconnected and self-restorative.

What’s cool is that many of these technologies are already underway. Microsoft is working with the city of Seattle to develop a smart buildings pilot for downtown Seattle inspired by the smart buildings pilot that was implemented on our Redmond campus. Engineers, Scott and Julie Brusaw, received federal funding for their solar roadways project and are running a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo.com to raise more money. And home automation, which is rapidly becoming its own major tech category, is being adopted by more and more Americans.

“Futurecasting”

The complete system may not exist just yet but the pieces do and it starts with what you do in your home and at your office. We are building the system from the ground up—pooling the Internet of Our Things to reimagine a more sustainable design for our shared build environment. How are you helping? What makes up the Internet of Your Things?