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Guest author: Mike Feil, Director of Cloud Solutions

The growth of big data recently has caught the attention of cities across the nation. Already, local governments are using data tracking and collection to see how they can make their operations more efficient, and sometimes even streamline the everyday tasks of their citizens as well.

One example is the water and power tracking system implemented in Dubuque, Iowa. Here, the city of Dubuque deployed a smart-meter program to monitor residents’ water consumption and provide real-time analytics on usage patterns. Starting with an initial group of 400 volunteer households, it has since grown to 1,000 locally. Among the first trial group, 77% said they improved their water usage as a direct result of the study, and 61% took specific action to reduce their usage. With these positive results, Dubuque is currently working to install smart water meters in 23,000 additional households, along with a new pilot program for electricity customers as well, with 11% power savings already reported from users.

Lari Saukkonen/

Lari Saukkonen/

Another innovative program occurred in Seattle, where researchers from the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning attached tracking tags to 3,000 items of household waste to see where each item was ultimately deposited after pickup. The findings were surprising, especially in how far some of the waste traveled. Overall, 75% of it reached recycling facilities, but some of the electronic waste items traveled up to 6,100 km away, calling into question the true cost of recycling these items when compared to the carbon emissions needed to move them so far away.

These are just 2 examples of how US cities are using big data and analytics to make our cities more sustainable. What examples or ideas have you heard of recently?

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