Technology and Environment

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

In this GDRC programme, "Technology" is taken in the broader sense 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 the sustainability aspects of technologies that are


to reduce its impacts on the environment

"Technology Management" is, in fact, a structural process of development where 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, 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 apply 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 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, or recover valuable by-products.

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

With this distinction between the two terms, environmental technology would therefore be a part of the Technology for Environment approach.

For this reason, we need to consider the proximate causes of environmental damage - machines, factories, cities, and so on - within 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.

From the perpective of the environment industry, technology management would include 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. It also covers eco-products (such as clean cars, efficient refrigerators and washing machines, biodegradable soaps).

Technology management for the environment includes goods and services which provide environmental protection in different domains: water, solid waste, air, soil, noise, natural resources, or othr miscellaneous services.

* 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

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