Published Aug 22, 2023 - The discussion surrounding climate change is more important and urgent than ever. As the earth faces dwindling resources and excessive waste, many have become aware of the impact they can make on the planet by investing in more sustainable choices and technologies. While an emphasis is usually placed on individual choices and reducing waste, an often forgotten aspect of sustainability is dreaming up new ways to use our existing resources and technologies to improve the world. From the home and office to farming, food production, and even cities themselves, there are many ways that technology is being utilized to change the environmental impact and sustainability of key industries and our own communities.
Many modern homes and offices offer built-in technology solutions to help make these spaces more energy efficient and sustainable.
While solar energy benefits are well documented, new innovations make solar energy an even more attractive alternative energy source. Passive solar allows the windows, walls, and floors to collect energy that can be stored and used to heat or cool a building.
With passive solar, energy consumption costs are significantly lower than those associated with conventional heating bills. While upfront building costs can be higher, this technologically innovative form of energy can save you money in the long run and, more importantly, drastically reduce your carbon footprint.
Tech has changed the way we build and remodel homes, and there are many ways to utilize modern technology to increase the sustainability of your home.
Home energy monitors can help you to perform an energy audit on your existing home and identify any areas of concern or overuse. Smart tech has infiltrated many homes, which helps reduce energy consumption by:
Automatically turning off power sources where they aren't needed
Adjusting to temperature fluctuations in precise ways
Tracking and responding to water waste
These smart home devices can even be controlled remotely from smartphones on days when you want to adjust your energy consumption from far away.
Tech has genuinely revolutionized the way people can practice sustainability in the office. Chief among these innovations is energy-saving technology, such as motion-sensing lights, smart thermostats, and monitoring devices that automatically adjust power consumption based on occupancy and use.
Additionally, the rise of digital communication tools and cloud-based platforms has minimized our need for paper or in-person communication, cutting down on both resource use and travel emissions. Virtual meetings and messaging platforms have allowed for the rise of remote work, which is generally more sustainable than traditional work environments.
Advancements in technology have vastly improved the effectiveness and reliability of clean energy systems. These systems create renewable energy while also being less destructive to our environment. Their implementation is crucial to a sustainable future and a healthy planet. Clean energy sources, such as solar, wind, and water, are already in use today and becoming more common every year.
In addition to individual building construction, solar power is also used to power whole cities. Currently, about 3.6% of the world's electricity is generated by solar. In the United States, 39% of the total electricity recovered into the power grid came from solar.
Wind power is the most common renewable energy source in the United States and provides 10.3% of the country's energy and 6% globally. In addition, wind energy use meant 334 million metric tons of CO2 emissions were avoided in 2022. The industry is growing rapidly, supporting over 120,000 jobs across all 50 states in 2021.
Water power, also known as hydroelectricity, is the largest renewable clean energy source and has been around for the longest. In 2020, 17% of electricity worldwide came from hydroelectricity. Hydropower plants are especially useful because they adjust output based on current power demands.
Clean energy systems will become even more common in the future as efforts to rely entirely on renewable energy sources ramp up.
While recycling and upcycling items is a practice that predates modern tech, it's undeniable that technology has changed the ways in which we view and practice recycling. Modern technology can create essential resources from recycled materials, incentivize individuals to recycle more, and connect people to their communities for second-hand and upcycled goods.
Innovations in technology and materials have increased the life span of many of the devices we rely on, such as smartphones, computers and laptops, TVs, and gaming devices. Because of this, there are more options than ever to create sustainable, closed-loop systems by purchasing refurbished devices. Seek out refurbished devices that are checked and restored by experts as well as 100% certified functional.
Advanced plastic recycling is a companion method to other forms of recycling, such as sorting and shredding. As sorting methods have become more sophisticated, such as using AI to increase the efficiency and accuracy of sorting, the correctly sorted plastic material can be treated by heat and chemical reactions to recycle the plastic into materials that mimic that of brand-new plastic. This creates what is known as a "closed-loop system," where the plastic produced in factories can be reused after being discarded instead of ending up in landfills where it is unable to break down.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are "smart" tags that communicate information to a larger network. In the case of recycling programs, RFID technology helps to track information regarding which houses, neighborhoods, and demographics recycle the most, allowing cities and waste companies to focus their efforts on incentivizing recycling in the neighborhoods that need it the most.
Platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and Depop are great examples of how we can use technology to improve our recycling and upcycling efforts. These platforms allow individuals to post their gently used goods, furniture, and clothing to local buyers with just a few clicks from their phone or computer.
Fast fashion and fast furniture are a massive sustainability problem, from the materials they are made with to the conditions they are made in, and keeping perfectly good items out of landfills can profoundly impact our individual carbon footprints.
As technology improves, so does the ability to quickly share information and connect with communities. This has helped to create an overall more knowledgeable population. With people more willing than ever to speak up on social media, a direct rise in environmental awareness and activism can be linked to the power of sharing our thoughts, observations, and information on a digital platform.
The capacity of social media has grown exponentially in recent years as well. From organizing virtual events to holding fundraisers and promoting specific organizations and causes, social media has evolved to provide the tech and tools that people need in order to take quick and direct action to improve sustainability efforts.
Food production, while an absolute necessity for our communities, accounts for a quarter of the world's carbon emissions. Despite this, innovations in science and technology have made incredible strides in improving the sustainability of food production.
One of the fastest-growing applications of food technology is the ability to produce realistic, high-quality plant-based meat products through genetic engineering and food extrusion technology. Historically reserved for people who were already vegan or vegetarian, products such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have been particularly successful at creating a product that is so high-quality they are able to target meat eaters.
Led by a new generation of data-focused farmers, precision agriculture uses the data obtained from sensors, trackers, and satellites to help farmers make precise, informed decisions about planting, watering, and fertilizing their crops. The main problem these farmers face is the loss of expensive and environmentally harmful fertilizers. While these fertilizers are an essential part of maintaining soil fertility and crop health, the loss of nitrogen-based fertilizers is both costly and detrimental to the environment.
Precision agriculture uses a combination of precise fertilizer management paired with cover crops and natural buffers such as wetlands to reduce the environmental impact of their farming operations.
Cities are taking sustainability into their own hands by enacting policies and implementing technology to reduce pollution in their communities. Technology has allowed for the growth of ride-sharing and bicycle rental apps, which decrease the number of people in cars and on the roads.
Many cities are also working towards more sustainable energy options for public transportation, with many places actively implementing zero-emission buses and trains. In addition, some port cities are even using new technology to reduce emissions and noise pollution from boats in their harbors. This shore-to-ship technology allows ships in the harbor to connect to an electricity grid powered from the shore. This means they can cut off their high-emission power sources and use energy directly from land while in port.
Some cities are even using technology and art to serve both a functional purpose as well as raise awareness. One particularly interesting use of technology to reduce pollution is the Smog Free Tower, which is the largest air purifier in the world. It has been implemented in parks in South Korea, China, the Netherlands, and Poland. The 7-meter tall tower uses green electricity to clean 30,000 cubic centimeters of air every hour.
As climate change continues to dominate conversations about the future, we must look to our current resources and technologies to see what can combat climate change and reduce waste.
The integration of technology in sustainability efforts is a foregone conclusion. With advancements in renewable energy, smart grids, and energy-efficient solutions, technology is playing a crucial role in mitigating environmental challenges.
Additionally, innovative monitoring systems and data analytics enable better resource management and waste reduction. The rise of smart cities promotes eco-friendly practices, improving the quality of life for inhabitants while minimizing their ecological footprint. Moreover, the accessibility of information and educational platforms empowers individuals to make informed choices that contribute to sustainability efforts.
As we continue to embrace technological advancements, we can foster a greener future by harnessing its potential to drive positive change and address global environmental issues. Together, we can shape a more sustainable world through the power of technology.
Miguel is always looking for new ways to provide unique perspective on popular tech and has taken his writing to the refurbished industry to promote sustainability. Outside of creating content, you might find him travelling the globe, coaching a fitness class, or cheering on his favorite sports teams (Go Dolphins!)