The Role of Technology in Environmental Sustainability

There are many types of technology, like sustainable transportation technology and blockchain technology, that can be used to improve our planet.

Sustainability, as defined by the United Nations, is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In the context of environmental sustainability, it revolves around the preservation of essential resources such as wildlife, clean air, and water for future generations.

We meet to make sure that our current practices do not harm these resources but rather conserve and protect them for the well-being of future inhabitants of our planet. In order to ensure we safeguard the natural world we must embrace sustainable practices.

What is Environmental Technology?

Environmental technology or sustainable technology is also known as Green Technology. It branches into two complementary ideas. The first is to remedy or offset carbonization or problems, whereas the other is to use green or ecologically responsible resources and processes. However, there is also a third one that combines the above two concepts to drive efficiency, in terms of energy use and natural resources consumption.

From 1760 to 1840, the industrial revolution introduced some new technologies that, despite giving the world immense power, proved detrimental to the environment. Increased air pollution, water pollution and carbon footprint became the unignorable outcomes.

Increased urbanization and the release of toxic fumes and gasses all contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer, which led to the increased spread of illnesses and diseases and disruption in climatic changes.

Hence, to conserve, protect and safeguard the environment, many states and countries vouch for following sustainable technology practices. In 2016, the Paris Agreement took effect. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “[The agreement’s] overarching goal is to hold ‘the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’ and pursue efforts ‘to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.’”

Advancements in Technology for Environmental Sustainability

Over the years, the world has seen many technological innovations that have contributed to a huge shift in preserving and protecting natural life and resources. Here's how technology has contributed to environmental sustainability.

Renewable Energy Technologies. The goal to drop the global greenhouse gas emission by nearly half by 2030 and eventually lead to Net Zero created an expansion in the use of renewable energy production. From small-scale advancements like installing solar panels to large-scale facilities like wind farms, the technology has been pacing faster, helping contribute to the target.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the capacity has achieved significant growth around the world. Renewable energy accounted for 82 percent of all new electricity capacity added worldwide.

Here are some forms of renewable technologies.

  • Solar power. This source of energy does not produce air pollution or contribute to greenhouse gasses. The cost of solar panels has decreased by almost 90 percent, which is making the accessibility of solar energy more convenient. Moreover, in 2020 it was one of the fastest-growing renewable energy sources.
  • Wind panel. This is one of the most cost-effective sources where the onshore wind provides the cheapest form of new power generation in many regions across the world. According to International Renewable Energy Agency, “More than 80 percent of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable, with solar and wind accounting for 91 percent of new renewables.”
  • Hydroelectric power. This technology is used in most countries. The total consumption of hydropower reaches 12.25 exajoules in China, 3.59 exajoules in Canada, and 42 exajoules in Brazil, per Statista.

Sustainable Transportation Technologies. The transport sector has been a major contributor to direct carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In 2020, it contributed 24 percent of emissions and accounted for 57 percent of global oil demand, along with the total energy consumption of 28 percent. However, to achieve the Net Zero target, governments are investing in the innovation of electric vehicles, and fuel-efficient cars have begun to launch.

Fuel-efficient vehicles have less consumption compared to the older versions. They emit fewer greenhouse gasses and save on fuel cost. According to the EPA Automotive Trend Report, the average fuel economy increased to 25.7 miles per gallon for light-duty vehicles. Bike sharing and other public transportation innovations also surfaced in many major cities.

Green Building Technologies. Advanced construction technology can help ensure minimal impact on the environment throughout the stages, from design to construction to operations and maintenance, even in renovation to demolition. These efficiently designed and constructed buildings ensure fewer operation costs and provide enhanced toxic reduction. In the United States, green buildings have witnessed a 10 percent increase in asset value.

Moreover, when it comes to using energy-efficient building technologies, with the use of advanced insulation, smart thermostats and other changes, energy consumption can decrease by about 30 percent, per the Department of Energy. The effectiveness and usefulness of this technology are also seen in the recent statistics that came across through Grand View Research, which says that the global market for green building materials is expected to reach $364.6 billion by 2022, which is driven by the increasing demand for sustainable construction practices.

Green building construction comes with a myriad of benefits. It can provide better indoor air, reduce carbon footprint and water, energy and air waste and improve quality of life. The success of green building practices has attracted many VCs, which led to an expected reach of $12.6 trillion in investments between 2019 and 2028.

Emerging Technologies for Environmental Sustainability

Emerging technologies that are contributing to environmental sustainability include artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, internet-of-things, and BigData.

Artificial Intelligence. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, AI has the capability to help reduce up to 80 percent of CO2 emissions by 2050.

Blockchain Technology. Blockchain technology can help track data, such as the carbon footprint of products and the waste carbon emissions coming out of factories for better environmental compliance. Moreover, Blockchain can help decrease any manipulation or fraud of data.

Internet of Things (IoT). In a survey from CityLab Insights and Northeast Group, LLC, participants who used street lighting with smart controllers and LED lights saw a 47 to 80 percent savings on energy. According to one study, “Analysis of smart metering, which provides real-time feedback on domestic energy consumption, shows that energy monitoring technologies can help reduce energy consumption by 5% to 15%.”

Looking Ahead

Although there have been several developments in the technological sector to ensure sustainability, unlocking industrialization's impact on the environment has a long way to go. The change cannot happen overnight. It will take many years to achieve the Net Zero emission target. Considering the commitments and dedication of the nations around the world, hopefully, the future will be better, safer and healthier.

About the Author

Elis Enano is a Co-Owner at OSHA Outreach Courses, an eLearning platform specializing in construction safety training. Enano is a mom of two, and a pet lover and is committed to promoting and building a culture of occupational safety for construction professionals.