Environmental Decision-makng
Criteria for Technology Selection

Hari Srinivas
Policy Analysis Series E-188. November 2022
Understanding ESTs

What are ESTs? Environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) protect the environment, are less polluting, use all resources more sustainably, recycle more and handle waste in an environmentally friendly way.

ESTs have the potential for significantly improved environmental performance relative to other technologies.

One recurring issue for the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is that of appropriate design, manufacture and use of technologies, particularly in them being environmentally-friendly. Technology forms a key part of the three "policy legs", along with law and regulations, and education/awaremess.

The SDGs promote selection of technologies that are environmentally sound, as outlined by SDG 17/Target 17.7: " promote development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries". A key starting point to meet this target is setting up of decision-making criteria to select appropriate technologies.

The priority for environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) embedded in Target 17.7 lie in globalized economic systems, and production and consumption processes, that produce significant air/water/chemical pollution, while using natural resources in an unsustainable manner, and produce significant amounts of emissions and waste.

Other SDGs that relate to ESTs include:

  • Goal 7 on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all;
  • Goal 8 on the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all;
  • Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production patterns, and
  • Goal 13 on taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

The United Nations recommends that " ... in deciding which technologies are most environmentally appropriate, there will always be trade-offs between cost and a range of economic, social, health and environmental impacts in varied national or local contexts and priorities. " [Metadata for SDG #17]

There is a need to support national and provincial governments and other actors with decision-making, and in defining the criteria to choose locally appropriate technologies. Listed below are a list of decision-making criteria that can be used for the development and use of ESTs.

So what are ESTs?

Environmentally Sound Technologies have the potential for significantly improved environmental performance relative to other technologies. ESTs enable this by satisfying five key issues:

  1. protecting the environment,
  2. being less polluting,
  3. using resources in a sustainable manner,
  4. recycling more of their wastes and products
  5. handling all residual wastes in a more environmentally acceptable manner

How do ESTs do this? Each of the above five characteristics are explained by a set of decision criteria that help in identifying and using ESTs.

Decision Criteria Set #1:
    Does the technology protect the environment by -

  1. Complying with local and regional environmental standards?
  2. Complying with MEAsMultilateral Environmental Agreements. Explore ... and internationally recognized standards (e.g. ISO)?
  3. Reducing cumulative air, water and waste emissions?
  4. Lowering ecological footprints?
  5. Reducing overall impact on ecosystem health and integrity?
  6. Complying with "design for the environment" criteria?
  7. Ensuring compatibility with immediate and adjoining facilities?
  8. Reducing geomorphological, landscape and ecohydrological impacts?

Decision Criteria Set #2:
    Is the technology less polluting by -

  1. Minimizing total quantities of wastes (solid, water gaseous) generated?
  2. Ensuring quantities of wastes are controlled by permits?
  3. Monitoring and verifying quantities of toxic wastes produced?
  4. Identifying potential for generation of secondary pollutants/byproducts?
  5. Reducing noise generation?
  6. Eliminating thermal losses and radiation emissions?
  7. Ensuring wastewater treatment requirements?
  8. Eliminating potential for long range transport of pollutants?
  9. Identifying and reducing potential for climate change impacts
  10. Complying with requirements for waste treatment and disposal?
  11. Reducing disposal costs for unmarketable byproducts and wastes?
  12. Lessening potential for soil contamination?

Decision Criteria Set #3:
    Does the technology use all resources in a more sustainable manner by -

  1. Ensuring efficiency of energy, water and materials use?
  2. Extending the useful life of technology, and of products/services?
  3. Replacing non-renewable resources with renewable ones?
  4. Conserving water, including portion of recycled water used?
  5. Using of "environmentally friendly" materials?
  6. Ensuring sustainable use of local resources?
  7. Increasing investments in technology research and development?

Decision Criteria Set #4:
    Does the technology recycle more of their products and wastes by -

  1. Increasing the use of recycled, reused and waste materials?
  2. Incorporating "closed loop processes"?
  3. Enabling more quantity of byproduct recovered?
  4. Improving life cycle performance?

Decision Criteria Set #5:
    Does the technology handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner by -

  1. Reducing the costs of pollution abatement?
  2. Reducing waste disposal costs?

Sustainable development and the proper management of environmental resources requires us to meet basic human needs without destroying the capacities of natural ecosystems. Policy makers will have to have a good understanding of the interlinkages of different economic, social and environmental criteria and implies the adoption and use of alternative, environmentally sound development strategies and related solutions.

Within this context, ensuring that we use ESTs in order to improve efficiency of resource use (materials and energy), and reduce pollution, emissions and waste from different sources, becomes a critical policy objective.

  1. This document is based on work done by the author at the International Environmental Technology Center in Osaka, Japan.
  2. While the decision-making criteria outlined above is specifically applied to environmentally sound technologies, it can easily be adopted to other situations and aspects that require an assessment of impacts on the environment.

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