Creating an Environment for Environmental Technology


Hari Srinivas
Policy Analysis Series E-072. April 2015 (Updated February 2016).


Along with governance systems (laws, legislation, rules/regulations, codes and standards etc.), education (awareness raising, capacity building, training, professional development etc.), technology (technologies, and the skills, knowledge and innovation needed to manage those technologies)forms the third and a critical pillar in a policy mix that is needed to tackle environmental problems and aim for sustainability in the long run.

Developing technologies that can help solve environmental problems requires a broad range of actions that are to be taken by different "external" stakeholders, besides those that actually develop and operationalize the technologies' private sector companies, universities and research institutions et. al

This document aims to outline the elements of technology promotion policies that can create the necessary "environment" to develop technologies that can help prevent (or solve) environmental problems.

Environmental Technologies or Technologies for the Environment? Researchers tend to distinguish "Environmental Technologies" on one hand, and "Technologies for the Environment", on the other. These indeed have two meanings.

Environmental technology is a subset of the larger group of technologies that have a low impact on the environment.

Environmental Technology usually refers to specific technologies that are used only for the purpose of solving environmental problems. Examples include carbon-scrubbing filters, waste reduction technologies, water purification machines etc.

Technology for Environment refers to any technology that, while fulfilling its primary roles, also uses less energy, produces less GHG emissions and generates less waste and waste water - essentially promoting sustainable development in the long run.

For consistency in understanding these issues, the term "environmental technology" used in this document includes both types mentioned above.

What kinds of policies will facilitate and promote environmental technology? What roles can external stakeholders, particularly local governments, play in enabling such policies? What do we need to do for the development of environmental technologies?

These were some of the questions raised with more that 200 Japanese companies that were participating the "Biwako Messe," an environmental technology fair held annually at the Nagahama Dome in Shiga Prefecture in Japan. Their responses form the background that was used to develop this policy analysis paper. The document is divided into four sections, the first outlining the key issues in a technology transfer process; the second relating to understanding the user in detail; the third exploring the supportive strategies that ring fence technology development; and finally the fourth highlighting the need to 'leap-frog' environmental technology solutions to eventually become business opportunities, particularly in developing countries.

Technologies may help in taking remedial actions to solve an existing problem, preventive actions to avoid problems from happening, or management actions that help make the transition between the two.

Table 1: Remedial, Preventive and Management Actions
1. Remedial actions Remedial actions to find solutions for environmental problems can include conservation efforts, production process changes, waste recycling action, pollution prevention etc.

3. Preventive actions Preventive actions aim to primarily prevent environmental problems from happening. Such actions can include concepts such as Design for Environment (DfE)
3. Management actions Management actions are those that facilitate the transition from taking just remedial actions, to taking preventive action to solve environmental problems. Typical examples include the ISO Environmental Management System (ISO 14000 series), Energy Management Systems (ISO 50000 series) etc.

To ensure that the above actions can be taken, and to enable a coherent technology policy mix to be developed, the right environment has to be in place.

Transfer of Environmental Technology

There are many steps that need to be taken to facilitate a technology transfer. In order to develop a smooth and effective transfer of technology to users, we need to work on three factors - (1) two-way information flow between the technology developer and user, (2) in-depth technology research for better user adaptation, and (3) marketing technology as a part of business-to-business matching.

Figure 1: Linking Technology Developers and Users

  • Information:
    A two-way flow of information, between the technology user and technology developer has to be developed. This information flow, can consist of information on technology needs, user interfaces, problems faced, impacts on lifestyles, or wastes/emissions/pollution prevented by the technology.

    Such flows can be facilitated by third parties such as local governments, chambers of commerce, universities/research institutes etc. and will help in better matching information between developers and users.

  • Research:
    Research has to take place in order to make sure that the technology being transferred is appropriate for, and adaptable by, the end user. This flexibility in the technology’s design has to be an integral part of its design itself.

    Cost effectiveness and ease of maintenance and disassembly, among other criteria related to the entire lifecycle of the technology, are critical aspects that effective research can help find solutions.

  • Market:
    In order for a technology transfer to be successful and effective, it has to eventually create a business opportunity, including generate jobs and raise incomes. Unless there is a clear market for the technology itself, or for the product/service it produces, the transfer itself will fail.

    Lessons learnt have also pointed out the need to integrate technology transfer within the larger processes of business-to-business matching. While this may be an obvious point, there have also been a number of failures that highlight the importance of understanding the market.

Know thy User ...

In developing, transferring and adapting a particular environmental technology, three key words stand out and need to be kept in mind: Localization, customization and contextualization. These three key words are closely related to being sensitive to and understanding in detail, the needs of the user when developing and transferring environmental technology.

Figure 2: Three Elements that Define Technology Use

  • Localization:
    It has to be ensured that the technology is properly localized to the scale at which it is to be used.

    This will mean that we need to keep in mind several issues such as user needs, industrial production capacities, ability of the market to absorb the product/service being produced and availability of support services such as transport, energy etc.

  • Customization:
    The second keyword relates to ensuring that the technology is customized to the need of the area where it is to be used.

    This will mean that we need to keep in mind several issues such as specific user needs, situation of the market (and its saturation with respect to the product/service), innovativeness of the idea, and potential problems faced in the entire lifecycle of the product/service.

  • Contextualization:
    The third keyword relates to ensuring that the technology is adequately contextualized to the situation where it is to be used.

    This will mean that we need to keep in mind several issues such as financial requirements/availability, legal and legislative obligations, human skills needed/available, material resources, inputs needed/available etc.

Creating an Environment for Environmental Technology

For an environmental technology to be successfully developed and transferred, a number of factors need to be taken into account, besides the basic ones of technical, financial and market aspects that specifically affect the technology.

These additional factors include (a) laws and legislation, (b) management systems, (c) information management and (d) codes and standards. The factors array themselves around the core of technology development and affect all aspects of the technology’s management.

Figure 3: Factors that Influence Technology Development

  • Laws and legislation: A number of global and local environmental problems that we currently face has led to the promulgation of a number of laws and legislation to mitigate and minimize these problems. These laws and legislations have either targeted technology issues directly (for example, pollution prevention technologies), or have created a situation that require new technologies to be developed (for example, the packaging law of Japan). All aspects of technology management has to therefore take cognizance of the relevant laws and legislation in their development and implementation.
  • Management systems: A clear technology management system will have to look at various aspects of a technology’s ‘life-cycle’ from design and development to its manufacturing, use and finally to disposal, recycling or disposal.

    This includes the monitoring and assessment of its impacts on the environment (including emissions, pollution, and waste it generates).

    Such management systems, for example, the environmental management systems facilitated by ISO 14001 or energy management systems facilitated by ISO 36000, eventually help companies to reduce their environmental impact and transition towards a more 'green' business.

  • Information management: Management of technology information is also a very critical aspect of technology management as a whole.

    Providing the right information at the right level to the right person ensures that the best/right decision on technology choice can be taken. This technology information should be useful, easily accessible, trustworthy and current. Proper information management is not just about the information itself, or its exchange between different stakeholders. It also includes the need to develop appropriate capacities and skills to manage the information.

  • Codes and standards: Emerging out of laws and legislation, management of technologies is also affected by a number of codes and standards. These codes and standards may be international in nature (particularly those driven by ISO), or may be national in nature (for example, Standardization Administration of China for P.R. China, and Bureau of Indian Standards for India).

    Eco-labels, which help in identifying and purchasing of environmentally-friendly products and services also fall in this category.

    Codes/Standards cover a myriad of issues for technology, and help in making the development, manufacturing and supply of technologies and their products and services more efficient, safer and cleaner.

Leap-frogging Environmental Priorities

Much has been studied and analyzed on the issue of the post-war economic growth in OECD countries and the negative impacts that it has had on the environment. This environment pollution and degradation problems have been compounded by a high-resource consuming lifestyle that has increased the quality and quantity of wastes, pollutants and emissions generated.

Figure 4: From Technology Problems to Solutions

The development of environmental technologies in such a scenario takes place with a narrow that looks at the environment simply as a ‘problem-to-be-solved.’ Technology therefore is developed and used to ‘solve’ a ‘problem’ with the environment. This is the classic ‘end-of-pipe’ approach.

But for technologies to be successful in developing countries and emerging economies, there are additional socio-economic criteria that also need to be taken into consideration. Experience has shown that, in developing countries, technologies need to not only ‘solve’ the ‘problem’ but also generate income, save costs and create jobs at the same time.

In such a scenario, development of technologies takes place with an approach that looks at the environment primarily as a ‘business opportunity’ – to start a business, to create jobs, to generate income and to contribute to overall economic development. This is an important ‘leap-frogging’ approach that eventually also prevents an environmental problem from becoming a problem in the first place.

The take-away message here is that technologies are important elements that help in both solving and preventing environmental problems from happening in the first place.

But before that can happen, an environment for appropriate technology development needs to be put in place - not just to solve environmental problems, but also to create business opportunities for larger, longer-term sustainable development. Different stakeholders and actions need to come together for effective technology transfer between developers and users.

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