Introduction to Green Technology

Making the Case for Sustainable Resources

Solar power installation with field & mountains
Philip and Karen Smith/ Iconica/ Getty Images

Green technology, also known as sustainable technology, takes into account the long- and short-term impact something has on the environment. Green products are by definition, environmentally friendly. Energy efficiency, recycling, health and safety concerns, renewable resources, and more all go into the making of a green product or technology.

Go Green or Face Extinction?

Since the invention of the steam engine kicked off the Industrial Revolution, our planet has suffered rapid changes in climate that include increasingly severe droughts, increased depletion of groundwater reserves, seawater acidification, rising seawater levels, the rapid spread of diseases and macroparasites, and the extinction of species. Unless we intervene, these changes may prove irreversible.

Green technology offers us the best hope to counteract the effects of climate change and pollution. Why? The world has a fixed amount of natural resources, some of which have already been depleted or ruined. For example, household batteries and electronics often contain dangerous chemicals that pollute soil and groundwater with chemicals that cannot be removed from our drinking water supply and wind up in food crops and livestock grown on contaminated soil. The health risks alone are staggering.

Plastic pollutants are another nonsustainable resource that's destroying the ocean habitats of sea creatures around the world—killing off fish, birds, and countless other species. Larger pieces pose choking and strangulation hazards, while the tiny particles of disintegrating plastic are making their way into the bottom of the food chain. As larger fish feed on contaminated krill, they too become contaminated and if those fish are subsequently harvested for human consumption, the contaminants are going to wind up on your plate and in your stomach. Not so appetizing, right?

Fast Facts: Principles of Sustainability

There are three principles which define sustainability in any type of material, as described by the American ecologist and economist Herman Daly: 

  • Nonrenewable resources should not be depleted at rates higher than the development rate of renewable substitutes.
  • Renewable resources should not be exploited at a rate higher than their regeneration levels.
  • The absorption and regeneration capacity of the natural environment should not be exceeded.

Renewable Energy vs. Nonrenewable Energy

Nonrenewable energy resources include nuclear, hydrogen, coal, natural gas, and oil. All of these currently fail the definition of sustainability in one way or another but most painfully in the ability of the environment to absorb and regenerate the expenses related to their extraction or production. 

One of the best-known examples of green technology is the solar cell, which directly converts energy from natural light into electrical energy via the process of photovoltaics. Generating electricity from solar energy equates to less consumption of fossil fuels, as well as the reduction of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

While some detractors argue that solar panels are expensive and unattractive, new inventions may be just around the corner to offset these concerns. Community solar groups, in which renters will share solar panel products, and new spray-on photovoltaic film using perovskites that have the potential to convert regular window glass to solar collectors are just two possibilities on the horizon that show great promise for the future of solar assets. 

Other renewable energy sources include hydro, biomass, wind, and geothermal, but unfortunately, these assets are not currently be exploited at adequate levels to replace nonrenewable sources. Some members of the energy industry are dead set against going green, while others see it as both a challenge and an opportunity. The bottom line is that while non-renewable energy resources currently comprise 80 percent of the world's energy requirements, over time, that's simply not going to sustainable. If we hope to maintain life on our planet, emerging green energy technology must be used alongside existing methods to transition from the unsustainable to the sustainable.

The Power of Positive Green Thinking

Here a just a few reasons why going green is in everyone's best interest:

  • Inventors should know that green inventions and clean technologies are good business. These are fast-growing markets with growing profits.
  • Consumers should know that buying green inventions can reduce energy bills and are often safer and healthier than non-green counterparts. 
  • Even making small changes can have a large-term impact. For instance, consider the waste created by plastic water bottles. Of course, drinking lots of water is a healthy practice but changing out reusable water bottles for disposable ones is health-promoting, eco-friendly, and green.

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