What Is Green Technology?

What Is Green Technology?

When you think about technology, do you ask the question, “What Is Green Technology?” Do you think about the impact it has made on the environment? Has the climate been adversely impacted, or can technology be eco-friendly?

Green Technology is any technology that does not injure or impact the earth’s environment through the process of supply, manufacturing, use, and disposal. Electric cars, solar panels, and LED light bulbs are a few examples of current Green Technology but are they really “Eco-Friendly?” 

Let’s explore the ways technology has affected the environment, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, let’s find out more about Green Tech and what it means to be eco-friendly.

What Is Green Tech?

What Is Green Tech?
What Is Green Tech?

The simplest definition of technology is using knowledge to solve problems. According to the basic explanation, technology has existed since early man started using tools millions of years ago. 

Green Technology describes something that’s purpose is not to cause harm to the environment but to repair and help it. The term “green tech” or eco-friendly technology refers explicitly to technology designed for protecting the environment or repairing existing damage.

Green Technology became popular only a few decades ago. However, “simple technology” that does not cause environmental damage has existed for thousands of years. What has to be discussed today is that there is not much humans do that does not affect our earth’s environment in reality. 

Eco-Friendly Technology?

Eco-Friendly Technology?
Water-efficient Drip Irrigation Green Technology for farming and revegetation.

Technology can be eco-friendly, as, in the 1990s, it became known as “Green Tech” or Green Technology. Although some types of technology are not harmful, other types can be detrimental to the environment, and we can do better.

Some of the original forms of what we used to consider environmentally friendly technology included firewood, water power, animal power, and wind. For much of human history, firewood heated domiciles, water ran grain mills, animals plowed farm fields, and the wind filled ship’s sails. 

Today, when people hear the word technology, they usually think of computers and other electronic devices, not plows or grain mills. But there is plenty of technology considered to be eco-friendly.

The Most Important Part of Green Technolgy

The Most Important Part of Green Technology, in our opinion, is that we support its creation and use. Even with the good and the bad, we will explore in this article we believe it is necessary and you have to start somewhere.

What is starting somewhere? Staring in the first place. Yes, the current state of much of Green Technology is based on profit motives and is still detrimental to the environment with mining, fossil fuel use, chemicals, plastics, and human suffering, just to name a few.

But how do you get to the good stuff if you don’t start at the beginning and work out the problems along the way? We have to work through the technical and biological issues with Green Technolgy, just like when the Wright Brothers learned to fly.

Implementing Green Technology 

Implementing Green Technology 
Implementing Green Technology 

Green Tecnology Can be Complex

Renewable energy, energy conservation, alternative power sources, air and water purification, recycling, and using plant-based packaging are just a few examples of Green Technology and advances in those areas.

Green technology can be complex, like a hybrid or electric car or a self-sufficient building, which allows it to operate without external sources. It produces energy from solar panels for electricity and heat. 

It takes major scientific study and investment to create Green Technology, and if you are going to save the planet, you have to start somewhere. Obviously, we are talking about trial and error until we begin to get it right, and hopefully, those two places will intersect before it is too late.

Green Technology Can Also be Simple

Green technology can also be simple, like planting trees. Window size and placement in buildings keep energy conservation in mind, so heat isn’t lost during cold months. Water should also be collected and filtered and greywater filtered through permaculture.

Another example is a vertical garden, also called vertical farming. Using vertical placement allows plants to be grown in places with insufficient space or suitable soil. There is a longer natural growing season by creating them inside a greenhouse or large building. 

Vertical Gardens often require less water than traditional farming and are lush and attractive as well. 

Please see some of our other interesting articles like “What Are Green Electronics?” and “Are Smartphones Environmentally Friendly?”

Good Green Technologies

Good Green Technologies
Good Green Technologies

Some of the most promising Green Technologies that do not adversely affect the environment in their institution and production are:

  • Conserving Water
  • Water Purification, Wetlands Reclamation for Water Purification, Bi-Degradable Water Filters
  • Reduce Energy Consumption, Use Energy More Efficiently
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • Elimination of Single Use Plastic and Plastic Bags
  • Net Zero Waste and Sustainable Building Design
  • Passive Solar Building Design
  • Passive Heating and Cooling Building Design

AI in Green Technology

Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) help us repair and sustain the earth’s environment? The list is endless, and Artificial Intelligence has amazing potential to help engineering, design, modeling, and monitoring of future green technologies.

AI machine learning algorithms and predictive capabilities coupled with renewable energy, energy monitoring and control, monitoring and predictive analysis in extreme weather conditions, and prescriptive data in future AI smart buildings, for example, will only fuel accelerating technology and innovation.

The environmental applications and implications of AI with decarbonization in global transport and supply chain, CO2 removal, modernizing the world’s recycling infrastructure, agronomic and natural microbiology innovation in products, services, farming, and digital technologies to increase efficiency and monitoring capabilities.

The Effect of Green Technology On the Environment

The Effect of Green Technology On the Environment
The Effect of Green Technology On the Environment

Even though green technology exists, and companies are working to develop more, and more of it, not all technology has a positive or a net neutral effect on the environment. Some of it can be and has been harmful. 

Let’s now talk about the harmful effects of Green Technology on the environment.

Types of Green Technology Not So “Green”

Some today would say that much of the Green Technology that we have invented and are using and calling Eco-Friendly is not Green at all. This observation is because solar panels, electric cars, and wind turbines require many materials used in their manufacturing that are not eco-friendly.

Many green technologies require rare earth minerals that are unsustainable and are open-pit mined from the earth. They may require other chemical cocktails of ingredients and generate pollution and destruction through their production. 

There is also air and water pollution and habitat destruction from these “Green” technologies. Large amounts of land required for solar and wind farms take up habitat, and wind turbines are killing endangered species at alarming rates. The American Bird Conservancy states in their article “How Many Birds Are Killed By Wind Turbines?”:

“Our projections leave little doubt that the annual toll in birds lost to U.S. wind turbines is at least more than half a million, and a similarly conservative estimate would put that number at nearly 700,000 birds. There is a case to be made that the number could exceed 1 million.”

How Many Birds Are Killed By Wind Turbines?

The Dark SIde of Solar Panels 

The Dark SIde of Solar Panels 
Open Pit Mining for Quartz or other Rare Earth Minerals

There is a laundry list of environmental issues with the manufacturing of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, and it has a dark side.

For instance, solar panels are usually made from silicon, metal, and glass. Many standard solar panels are made from silica (silicon dioxide) which is a derivative of Quartz and is mined, then processed in coal-fired power plants and made into metallurgical-grade silicon through extensive refinement and chemical processes.

In addition, mining silicon, starting with the possibility of acquiring the lung disease silicosis for the miners or the probability of the now four top-producing polysilicon manufacturers in the world will be from China by 2022 and concern that forced labor is used where the majority of polysilicon is produced. 

Only about 10 percent of solar panels are recycled in the U.S. annually. Wind turbines and solar panels last roughly 25 to 30 years, and waste disposal will become a huge problem of e-waste by 2050.

Industrial Revolution

Since the late 1700s and the start of the industrial revolution, technology has been blamed for damaging the environment. The increase in factories, vehicles, and mass agriculture created a higher demand for materials, causing a domino-like negative effect on the environment. 

The need for more materials meant the consumption rate of natural resources like steel, lumber, and coal increased significantly. Coupled with virtually no government oversight, water and air pollution became a considerable problem. 

Air pollution causes health issues for humans and animals, and it is to blame for global warming. The polluting of water causes diseases like cholera and typhoid and negatively impacts our food chain. 

Ongoing Impact

Ongoing Impact
Buring and clearing of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazille

After the Industrial Revolution ended, the depletion of natural resources, including metals, oil, and minerals, continued. Technological advancement made it easier to dig deeper and go farther to gain access to resources unavailable before. Overpopulation and the continual world population increase require more land for housing and farming use. 

Finding more room to house more people required removing trees, always faster than planting new ones. This also led to the deforestation of much of the planet for fossil fuel agriculture, accelerated by technological advancement in machinery.

More recently, the disposal of old or outdated electronic devices has become a problem. As the world embraced more digital products, more and more unwanted computers, monitors, televisions, cell phones, and other electronics were winding up in landfills. 

Discarded Electronics

Discarded electronics, called e-waste, sit in landfills, the metals, and toxic chemicals leach into the soil and seep into the water, wreaking havoc on the environment. Instead of the dump, these devices could be reused or recycled.

There are estimates that 80 to 85% of discarded electronics are not recycled. The 10-15% sent to recyclers does not consistently achieve pollution mitigation. It can be expensive to retrieve any reusable materials from e-waste. The process involves dealing with toxic chemicals, which workers, without protection, breathe in or absorb through their skin. 

Most of this work gets shipped to other countries where the labor is cheap, and there are no laws to protect the environment or workers.  

Environmental Protection Agency

Created in 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors the environment’s condition. They also set and enforce air and water quality standards. Changes the EPA implemented made significant improvements to heavily polluted areas. 

The Energy Star program created by the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) evaluates and rates the energy efficiency of electronics, appliances, commercial equipment, and other products. This label allows consumers to determine the most cost-effective products to purchase. 

According to the EPA, ¼ of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide come from electricity and heat production. The emissions are created by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and produce heat. 

Electronic technology produces heat and usually requires electricity. Most machinery uses electricity or burns fossil fuels, so you could say that technology is responsible for a good portion of greenhouse gas emissions.  

The Future of Green Technology

The Future of Green Technology
The Future of Green Technology

The current trend indicates technology will continue to become more environmentally friendly. Consumers are becoming more aware of their decisions that could negatively affect the planet, and eco-friendly items are becoming more affordable. 

U.S. Army

One of the biggest polluters and destroyers of the environment is the U.S. Military but they are working on some solutions.

DARPA is working on ways to extract potable water from the atmosphere. The Army Research Lab and DARPA are also addressing hydration. One of the lab’s researches methods is to decontaminate polluted water using panels that concentrate solar energy for purification

The U.S. Military often helps launch humanitarian relief after a disaster. It is now focusing on lightweight equipment that can be powered by renewable energy rather than fuels that need to be imported. This equipment is better for responding to natural disasters like wildfires and floods.

Many of the U.S. Armed forces organizations are continuously looking for new ways to make technology more eco-friendly. The U.S. Army has also developed biodegradable bullets to reduce the toxic metals that leach into the soil, harming plants, wildlife, and eventually humans.

Corporations To Battle Global Warming

Some corporations are motivated to use technology to battle global warming. Google, for example, is investing heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar farms. Their goal is to use 100% carbon-free energy by 2030. 

Investing in renewable energy and green technology ultimately reduces the overall cost, making it more affordable for everyone. It also reduces the price Google pays to power its worldwide operations, which are heavily dependent on energy for their server facilities.

Dell Corporation is tackling less environmentally friendly packaging currently in use. Instead of using styrofoam and polyethylene in its packaging, they are developing package cushioning made from mushrooms.

Environmental Activism

Environmental Activism

When environmental activists discover a corporation is doing something that may contribute to global warming, they publically call them out. In 2020, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft sold artificial intelligence (AI) technology to oil and gas companies to help extract fossil fuels. When the information was made public, Google agreed to stop.

When the average person cares about the legacy they are leaving their children and grandchildren, it starts to make sense that only you can make a change. You make your feelings known by environmental activism with your wallet. 

If you don’t pay for it, they won’t make it, and the profit motive is what is most behind the degradation of the planet. So as we research and purchase green technology products that make a difference, corporations and industry will focus more on those areas.

Big Oil Replaced with Big Green Energy and Overpopulation

In the documentary movie “Planet of the Humans” for the first time refreshingly shows that the Green Technology and Green Energy consortiums are not just the political left or right but profit-based. It doesn’t matter what side you are on as long as it makes money.

Unfortunately and fortunately, “Big Oil” is metamorphosing into “Big Green Energy.” Nothing in this world gets done without financing, and a consumer, so let’s not be naive. The documentary movie also shows how some of the major environmental groups are supporting destroying forests for biomass energy, among other unsustainable practices? Since when is burning wood in “Power Plants” on a massive scale good for the environment?

The real “Elephant in the Room” is Overpopulation, and we need to deal with population growth. You cannot forever have economic or population growth on a finite planet. Not a happy ending to the movie with a solution; so it was not fun to watch, but we sent it to our children and families to view because we think it is important.

Final Thoughts

Since humans started using fossil fuels to power technology, environmental damage has been a problem. It took over 100 years before people decided to clean up the pollution inflicted on the environment and create laws and policies to prevent it from happening in the future.

However, Green Technology is being developed and utilized at a growing rate. Corporations, individuals, and governments have made pledges to continue moving toward eco-friendly technology.

Continued progress in the development of green technology depends on the continued and increased support of individuals, businesses, and the government. 

References:

John Mortensen

I was a project manager and am a technology and science enthusiast who loves to study the latest technology, such as AI, smartphones, headphones, and software.

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