We are on the era of “smart.” After the smartphone, the word has gained a whole new meaning for the technology industry, a fact marketers no doubt are thankful for. Right now, we’re on the edge of developing smart cities, a concept that might radically change our lifestyle in urban areas. However, there’s a new initiative that, while probably smaller in scale, can be a successful experiment on how to move forward in this connected world.

‘Smart islands’ is a concept that has gained a decent amount of popularity recently, and is shaping up to be a buzzword itself. There are already several organizations behind it, most of which aim to promote it and seek opportunities in how to develop it.

A European effort

One of those is The Smart Islands Initiative, a “bottom-up” effort of European island authorities and communities. The organization “builds on years of collaboration between European islands,” and its main goal is to promote and raise awareness of islands’ ability and potential to function as “laboratories for technological, social, environmental, economic and political innovation.”

According to the initiative, for an island to be considered “smart”, certain requirements must be met. The territory must be resilient and able to adapt, with efforts to combat climate change “in order to create sustainable local economic development and a high quality of life for the local population.”

Though a bit vague, there must also be “smart and integrated solutions to the management of infrastructures, natural resources and the environment as a whole.” This of course relies heavily on ICT (Information and Communications Technology), where things like IoT and Big Data are essential.

their smaller scale helps to serve as  a “testing ground”

In other words, smart islands are much like smart cities, with some obvious differences. Apart from the geographical aspects, smart islands also have a more direct responsibility towards nature and sustainable resources (Europe’s transition to a low carbon economy is mentioned.) Finally, they also tend to be way less populated, so their smaller scale helps to serve as a “testing ground” for what might follow in bigger cities.

The organizations knows as much, as it describes the following:

“Islands are living labs that can offer important lessons on multiple policy fronts, including energy, transport, circular economy, multi-level governance and ICT and for different geographies – cities and towns, rural and mountainous areas. This is due to the fact that islands themselves are faced with different challenges as a result of variations in their size, distance from the mainland, population density, governance and level of fiscal and political devolution.”

A similar entity from Italy also shares many similarities, citing the smaller islands of the Mediterranean from countries like Spain, Tunisia, Croatia, Turkey, Greece and Italy itself.

Going global

Held in Mallorca, Spain, Smart Island World Congress is the closest thing smart islands have to a “big event.” Created by Smart City World Expo (an event we’ve visited before) and hosted by the local public offices, the gathering has two editions now to brag about, with more planned in the future.

SIWC is aimed at a global audience, and it shows. It follows the conventional model of exhibition, talks, networking and workshops to establish itself as the place to go. It has collaborations with cities, islands and countries all across the globe: its second edition had 95 international experts as speakers and a projected 1,500 total of visitors.

The event followed similar principles to what The Smart islands initiative is proposing, but also adding to sectors like the potential of tourism and the need to connect islands to face global challenges, against which they might be at a disadvantage. Tourism, especially, can be a vehicle to economic growth and a chance to better improve environmental policies.

To be fair, the concept of smart islands feels more like a side-step rather than a “next step.” But we mean that in the best possible sense. To move forward with IoT, Big Data and smart cities, insular territories offer incredible potential for experimenting while gaining benefits in the process.

Smart islands feel like what needs to happen first. Their focus on sustainable models, the environment, rural settings and tourism might be more specific to them, but those sectors aren’t so far from mainland as one would think. Who knows, it might be islands that end up teaching a lesson or two to the dominant cities.