Technology and Environment


Hari Srinivas
Concept Note Series E-071. June 2015.

In this GDRC programme, "Technology" is taken to mean not only machines and equipment, but also the skills, abilities, knowledge, systems and processes necessary to make things happen.

Technologies are meant to be total systems that include know-how, procedures, goods and services, as well as organizational and operational measures.
Focus on technologies that are


to reduce its impacts on the environment

"Technology Management" is, in fact, a structural process of learning. The key components of management can be identified as knowledge derived from real-world experience together with human expertise capable of transforming that knowledge into action. Applied to technology management in a broad sense, this is the application of knowledge from lessons learnt in technology development processes to take action to solve problems.

Much of this needs to be contextualized within a typical technology 'cycle'. A technology cycle covers the stages of needs assessment, R&D, design, manufacture of the technology, marketing, product line use, maintenance and disposal/disassembly *.

As with all other GDRC programmes, there is a subtle tilt in this programme to look at technologies for environmental management and sustainable development. How can technologies be identified, assessed, developed/used and maintained in such a way that the environmental impacts of the technology is kept to a minimum.

When looking at environment and technology, it is important to understand the context within which it has to analyzed. The situation is paradoxical - technology represents both the source of environmental damage that we are facing today, as well as an opportunity to repair this damage, and avoiding it in the future.

Technologies for environment, or Environmental Technologies?

Technoloiges for environment and environmental technologies are two different approaches, and is sometimes useful to distinguish between the two.

Technology for environment looks at any and all technoloiges and their impact on the environment - in their inputs, throughputs and outputs. They include, for example, cleaner and resource efficient technologies which can decrease material inputs, reduce energy consumption and emissions, recover valuable by-products, etc.

Environmental technologies are technologies developed for the specific purpose of addressing an environmental problem. These include, for example, technologies for sewage treatment, water purification, minimise waste disposal problems, processing pollutants, proper handling of toxic/hazardous wastes etc.

For this reason, we need to consider the proximate causes of environmental damage - machines, factories, cities, and so on - in a larger societal context, from which the decisions to devise and implement solutions arise. It helps explain the complexities of global environmental problems such as greenhouse gases emissions or hazardous/toxic wastes, but also demonstrates the critical role of technological innovation to address those issues.

The environment industry includes activities producing goods and services that range from “end-of-pipeEequipment pollution control and clean-up technologies, to recycling and technical and professional services.

An OECD report on the environment industry in the 1990s noted that clean production technologies, while important in re-structuring the industry, are more difficult to measure, as are eco-products (such as clean cars, efficient refrigerators and washing machines, biodegradable soaps).

One suggested way of describing the industry was to include goods and services which provide environmental protection in different domains: water, solid waste, air, soil, noise, natural resources, miscellaneous services, etc.

* Note that this description of a technology cycle follows more closely to that of a product life cycle. It is different from the well-known 'Technology Adoption Life Cycle' - a model used to describe the adoption of new technologies, typically including the stages of innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and technology laggards

Creative Commons License
This work by GDRC is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
. You are free to share and adapt this piece of work for your own purposes, as long as it is appropriately citied. .
More info:


Return to Documents and Reports
Comments and suggestions to -