The planet is on everyone’s mind nowadays. Whether it’s hurricanes that are stronger, rising temperatures, or droughts affecting our crops, climate change is becoming a serious issue we need to confront head-on. From relearning your three Rs to swapping out plastic straws, we all have to show more concern and turn an eye towards a sustainable future. All this can be overwhelming, but how can one person affect the planet? It’s easy to get downtrodden, but one ray of light in this pantheon of sustainable talk is the development of sustainable technology. To help introduce sustainable technologies and all the good they will do and have been doing, we will look at its basics. We will review what sustainability is and how it interacts with technology, then we will look at the overall need for sustainable technology in our lives, as well as the uses for it today and in the future.
What Is Sustainable Technology?
Sustainable technology encompasses all technological entities that are working towards reducing the impact of climate change and making human life more harmonious with the natural world. Sustainable technology is often aimed at climate change mitigation, but it can also be focused on adaptation. Likewise, when looking at what ideas sustainable technology comes from, they can originate from long understood concepts, or they can be new innovations.
To get to the basics of what sustainable technology is, we are going to break down the definition by first looking at sustainability and then looking at how sustainability interacts with technology.
What Is Sustainability?
Sustainability is the study of how natural ecosystems function, grow, and remain in balance with the surrounding ecosystems. Sustainability acknowledges that humans take resources to sustain and maintain the modern world. The study of sustainability looks at how we can protect our surrounding environment while pushing forward innovation and live in harmony with the surrounding world without compromising our way of life.
Primary Goals of Sustainability
In 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development met to come up with a set of goals that mirror the Millenium Development Goals that helped to reduce global poverty. These included the following issues:
- Education and healthcare standards particularly aimed at sanitation and water quality
- Sustainable economic growth
- Promoting health of the land, air, and sea
- Tackling climate change, pollution, and environmental harm
- Gender equality
- Acknowledging that natural world has rights and humans are stewards of that world
- Eliminating poverty and hunger
Three Pillars of Sustainability
In 2005, the World Summit on Social Development published the three main areas that are key to the philosophy and social science of sustainability. These three pillars form the backbone of many of today’s sustainable initiatives in the private sector and in government.
Economic development is one of the main reasons there is political opposition to the promotion of sustainable development. The economic development pillar of sustainability is about reducing the red tape around getting businesses to incorporate more sustainable practices and also providing economic incentives to help them along the way. Economic development also pertains to allowing people to consume without using as many resources.
Social development is all about protecting people from harm. It can include protecting people from harm caused by both pollution and the harmful activities of governments and corporations. In the developed world, there is often strong legislation protecting citizens from these harms. One facet of sustainable development is enacting legislation to help protect those in the developing world. The other element of social development is educating people on environmental sustainability and showing them how their actions affect the ecosystem.
Environmental protection is all about maintaining and restoring ecosystems that have been destroyed or damaged by humans. It also pertains to mitigating human impact on these ecosystems. This can be done through human commitment to remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle. This is the main pillar that sustainable technology falls under – developing technologies that can help reduce our impact and reducing the impact of today’s technologies.
What Is the Role of Technology in Sustainability?
The place where technology and sustainability intersect is when technological development that incorporates sustainable practices and initiatives is carried out. Sustainable technologies are often powered by resources that are either renewable or so abundant that they can be considered renewable. These technologies don’t have a negative long-term impact on the environment.
Why Are Technologies Marketed as Sustainable?
One problem that has come up in the development of sustainable technologies is technological innovations that aren’t sustainable but are marketed as such. There are many reasons behind this phenomenon that is often called greenwashing. Often when a product is greenwashed, only one aspect of the product is sustainable, and the other aspects of the product are disregarded.
The technological product can be marketed as sustainable because, in this day and age, sustainability sells. Another reason to greenwash is to speed up the acceptance of the product by governments or to make it palatable to governments’ political plans.
Is There a Need for Sustainable Technology?
The short answer to this question is yes. There is definitely an increasingly urgent need for sustainable technology. Every year humans learn more about their impact on the planet and the dwindling time they have to save it. But why is this a question? To break down some stereotypes around sustainable technology, we’ll look at its benefits going forward, and the challenges sustainable tech has had to face now and in the past.
Benefits of Sustainable Technology
Within the scope of sustainable development, sustainable technology allows humans to maintain and improve their standard of living. As the world continues to change at an increasingly rapid pace, sustainable technology helps prepare the world’s population for the changes. There is also only so much humans can do, so sustainable technologies and sustainable innovation exponentially increase the potential sustainable impact.
Challenges of Sustainable Technology
A sustainable future full of energy efficient sustainable technology is possible, but before we get there, there are several hurdles we will have to jump over.
Lack of Interest
It wasn’t until a few years ago that sustainable tech really hit the mainstream, and because of this, sustainable products were often seen as niche and pricey. That’s not to mention their 20th-century reputation for a high cost and even sketchier reliability. Because of this lack of public interest, investors generally stayed away before the 21st century. Add that lack of interest to the Recession and the boom and bust cycle of oil, electricity, and natural gas, and it became a recipe that made investors nervous.
Governments around the world are rapidly coming to terms with how climate change will affect their citizens. But this is a very recent development, and there is often little public sector funding available to help get innovative sustainable technologies off the ground. There is also the legislative influence of natural resource companies and private businesses who don’t want to deal with the upfront costs of making sustainable choices.
Production of sustainable technologies, such as bio-plastics and biofuel, often take lots of energy and resources to produce. Critics will argue that focusing on these innovative materials takes away resources from creating edible and sustainable crops. Increasing reliance on these bio-based materials will only put more pressure on arable land and potentially lead to food shortages.
How Can Sustainable Technology Be Used?
There are so many ways to use sustainable technology. From building green cities to powering your home with solar panels, sustainable technology innovations are encompassing a larger scope of our world every day. Below we’ll look at several advances in sustainable technology to be excited about.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of particles or atoms at a molecular level. Nanotechnology already has wide uses in clean energy, sustainable manufacturing, and sustainable living.
Next Generation Nuclear Power
Next generation nuclear power brings low carbon ideas into fission nuclear reactors. It helps reduce the waste and water usage of fission nuclear reactors.
Oil supplies are pretty stable right now, but oil is still a non-renewable resource, and the use of it in our cars and in manufacturing is incredibly damaging to the planet. An alternative to oil is biologically produced oil for fuel and plastic.
Tidal energy is a new form of endlessly renewable energy that harnesses the power of the tides. Unlike wind and solar, tides are predictable and stable. Coastal cities like Swansea in the UK are already adopting this new form of renewable energy.
Smart monitoring devices increase the efficiency of energy consumption and water use in buildings. These devices can be used in your home to increase your personal energy efficiency, and they can be used in factories for green manufacturing. Companies are increasingly using monitoring devices to detect building faults and to maximize their resources, which is also cost-efficient.
Sustainability is a broad topic that you’ll hear about frequently in the coming years. While lots of discussions around the planet and climate change can be unnerving and disheartening, and the topic of sustainable living can seem overwhelming, let sustainable technology be a bright spot in your world.