What Is Greentech? Greentech & Cleantech Definition
Greentech, also known as environmental technology, green technology or cleantech, utilizes some combination of environmental science, chemistry, environmental monitoring and electronic devices to produce new technology and methods for conserving the natural environment and the resources necessary for continued prosperity on Earth.
Green Technology and Environmental Technology Defined
Greentech refers to the use of technology to make positive environmental impacts or reduce negative environmental impacts. This can look like reducing CO2 emissions or minimizing waste in your practices. Greentech is also known as “cleantech” or “environmental technology,” and the terms are often used interchangeably.
The primary goal of greentech is to reduce the negative impacts humans impose upon the planet, like plastic pollution in the ocean, fossil fuel use and deforestation. Producers of green technology work to accomplish this by harnessing the power of renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind, moving water, organic plant material and the earth’s heat. By inventing new methods and products, greentech seeks to identify and replace existing wasteful or harmful habits developed over time to improve the quality of the earth’s environment and course-correct for a resource-rich future. Some specific goals of greentech include:
Sustainability. The act of fulfilling societal needs in a manner that can be utilized well into the future. Preserving resources is key to sustainability.
Cradle-to-Cradle Design. Current manufacturing processes often create products with the ability to be used only a limited number of times, sometimes intending for products to be used just once before disposal. “Cradle-to-cradle” manufacturing replaces this “cradle-to-grave” method of production by shifting focus to creating products that can be reused or recycled.
Innovation. Technology that is in-use today can have catastrophic results on the environment, global health and the survival of future generations. Innovation seeks to replace these technologies with more efficient means through constant research, design and development.
Viability. Viability is created by adopting new methods of green technology, creating new careers that facilitate preservation and designing supportive economic measures that embrace sustainability enable the success of preservation efforts.
Source Reduction. Changing production methods and reducing the consumption of resources in a widespread manner reduces waste and pollution, facilitating the success of conservation efforts. This can be referred to as source reduction.
Although greetech and environmental technology are commonly thought of as modern concepts, the idea of creating machines, devices or other forms of technology to be environmentally friendly is nothing new.
For instance: Solar panels were invented in 1954; the first electric wind turbine was created in Scotland in 1887; and inventors in Hungary, Sweden and the United States made the first electric vehicles all the way back in the 1830s. These early innovations showcase the interest humans have had in creating clean technology for quite some time.
Existing in tandem with early signs of green technology was a growing awareness of and interest in recycling. Modern recycling began during World War II, when 400,000 volunteers collected metal, paper, rubber and other materials — a trend that led to the first curbside collections for recycling or composting in the 1960s.
The social movements and organizations of the 1960s and 1970s, such as The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club — as well as the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency — were among the first widespread examples of the public taking a deeper interest in how humans impact the environment. But greentech as we conceive of it today didn’t truly take off until the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The turn of the century saw many changes on climate policy, including amendments to The Clean Air act to reduce carbon emissions in the United States, the UN’s ban on drift net fishing and Sweden’s establishment of a carbon tax. This period also welcomed cultural shifts — such as celebrities speaking about climate change and engaging in climate activism.
The technological and societal shifts in the past few decades have led to the modern greentech wave. From ridesharing apps to internet of things integrations that allow us to measure our energy consumption, greentech has changed the way we live.
Trends in Green and Environmental Technology
In the coming decades, we could have zero-emission cars and cell phones with reduced carbon footprints and access to renewable energy for every home. But environmental companies, energy companies and greentech companies need to make strategic goals and investments before we get there. Luckily, these targets are already underway.
Tech giants like Apple, Meta and Microsoft have all set goals and targets to achieve carbon-free energy consumption. Apple corporate operations use renewable energy and the company plans to apply this to their manufacturing efforts by 2030. In 2021, Meta used solar and wind energy for 7,500 megawatts power and has plans to continue its renewable energy usage. Similarly, Microsoft created contracts to remove 2.5 million mtCO2 in 2021 and 2022.
As trends like this continue, there will likely be greentech companies, big and small, aiming toward similar goals in the near future. Some tech startups are even taking extra steps toward helping the planet, like ocean clean-up initiatives.
Early-stage investments in greentech are another driver of change in the industry. In the past several years, investors representing over $60 trillion in assets under management have committed to driving action on climate change across their portfolios.
Greentech often goes hand in hand with sectors such as energy, construction, transportation and agriculture. While these areas will continue to benefit from greentech innovations, there are emerging fields the industry — like artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain — that are also set to change the way green technologies are designed and used.
AI and machine learning applications are able to control and balance electricity demand and supply in real time, allowing for optimal usage and storage of energy. Blockchain’s decentralized nature and ledger technology might serve as tools to streamline sustainable energy products, which often get tangled up in financing challenges. According to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme, blockchain may be able to empower renewable energy project developers and investors to create a platform that works with established international standards for due diligence and compliance. Green technologies will also be able to be rolled out faster and more wide spread thanks to cloud computing and software.
Even the aerospace industry is set to play a role in the future of greentech: Major airline companies setting new sustainability goals are prime examples of the industry’s embrace of green technologies such as alternative fuels, carbon capture and more. For example, Boeing is aiming to make its commercial airplanes capable of flying on sustainable fuel by 2030. The company is also researching how to produce aircraft powered by electricity.
Whatever the future holds for green technology, we are sure to see new innovations in green computing, electric vehicles, energy production and recycling.
Green Technology and Environmental Technology Examples
Some of the most important subject areas encompassing green technology include environmentally preferred purchasing, green building, green chemistry, green nanotechnology and, most crucially, green energy production.
Types of Green Technology
- Green energy is the development of alternatives to fossil fuels by discovering new and efficient ways of generating energy.
- Green building takes every aspect of sustainability into account when forming new structures, including building materials, choice of land, the use of energy-efficient appliances/equipment and the undertaking of additional measures when possible.
- Green chemistry refers to the invention, design and application of chemicals or reactions that have the capability to replace hazardous materials.
- Green nanotechnology combines green chemistry and green engineering principles to manipulate materials at minuscule scales, leading to revolutionary new means of production.
- Environmentally preferred purchasing is a method of government purchasing that mandates products created through energy-efficient means of production and those containing non-hazardous materials are purchased for use over dangerous or less efficient options.
Green Energy Production
The main function of green energy is to produce electricity and fuel through the use of renewable, naturally occurring energy sources. Green technologies are being invented and refined on a consistent basis to make better use of recurring resources and harness their power in hopes of replacing fossil fuels and destructive production manners entirely.
Current widespread methods of green energy production include the following:
Solar panels, combined into a tower, placed in a field or affixed to a roof, are used to convert sunlight into electrical energy through photovoltaic components or mirrors that concentrate solar radiation.
Produced during the breakdown of organic matter when oxygen is absent, biogas is primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas can be compressed once carbon dioxide is removed and used to power motor vehicles. Technology is developing to further harness these gasses to reduce fossil fuel use on a larger scale.
Geothermal energy is produced by harnessing the Earth’s heat just feet below the surface. Temperatures increase by approximately 1°F every 70 feet, so heat pumps and geothermal systems can be used to harness this energy for powering and cooling indoor spaces and water.
Biomass can be chemically converted into liquid fuel or oil, creating products typically made from petroleum that generate electricity or facilitate transportation.
Nuclear power is a zero-emission clean energy source that produces power through fission, splitting uranium atoms for energy. Heat released by fission creates steam that spins a turbine and generates electricity. Nuclear energy production successfully eliminates the harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels, possesses a minimal footprint and produces little waste.
Utilizing damns, mills, stream-reach applications and other technologies, low-impact hydroelectric systems extract energy from moving water. Though the energy produced is clean, existing hydroelectric systems can be damaging to local ecosystems, so new infrastructure is needed to reduce the impact of harnessing this energy.
Recycling and Upcycling
Another massive component of conservation and sustainability is recycling, and by extension, upcycling. These industries are also ideal candidates for being optimized and streamlined by technology companies such as TerraCycle, Routeware, Avangard Innovative and RoadRunner Recycling.
Recycling is the result of cradle-to-cradle design and is defined as reusing any item after fulfilling its initial purpose. It can be as simple as reusing a jar as storage or taking aluminum cans to a local recycling facility.
Upcycling is a form of recycling that refers to reusing an item for a purpose other than its original purpose, including combining or transforming items to form something entirely new. A good example of upcycling is cutting a glass bottle in half and painting it to create a decorative vase.
Composting has been used for centuries as a way to turn organic waste of all kinds into nutrient-rich natural fertilizer for the earth. During the composting process, bacteria work to break down and decompose waste into simpler compounds that are filled with microorganisms and nutrients, enriching soil and facilitating healthy plant growth. Composting can be done in large and small quantities, whether on a farm or at home.
Consumer Greentech Examples
Many envision greentech as looking like looming wind turbines or expansive rows of solar panels, but in reality, greentech can also commonly be found in the devices that people use every day. As more producers of technology adopt environmentally friendly innovation as the path forward, our technological interactions will place less of a burden on our environment. Some examples of consumer greentech include:
Many homeowners can now choose to affix solar panels to their roofs or place them within their yard to generate electricity. Though the initial cost to acquiring solar panels may be expensive, generating solar energy can reduce the overall cost of energy delivery over time.
The introduction of hybrid vehicles, and recently, fully electric vehicles, at a large scale reduces the heavy burden of fossil fuel pollution produced by gas vehicles every day. It’s projected that 45 percent of new car sales will be electric by 2035, according to industry analysis IHS Markit.
Lithium batteries have become standard in the majority of portable electronic devices to hit the market. These batteries are rechargeable and able to be reused multiple times, unlike alkaline batteries. The downside, however, is that lithium batteries can present fire risks and contain heavy metals that do not break down. Alkaline batteries do not possess these metals but must be replaced more often, creating excess inorganic waste.
Computers, hard drives and home or office servers can consume massive amounts of electricity and require non-renewable resources, but thanks to advancements in technology, computing has become more efficient. One of the most impactful innovations was the creation of cloud storage, which enables users to store nearly unlimited amounts of data on superpowered third-party servers built to ensure security and fast access from anywhere. This eliminates the need for having massive amounts of power or storage on hand and consolidates these power-drawing computing networks to a limited number of distributed locations.
Smart Power Bars
Computers and other home appliances can still draw massive amounts of power, even when not in use. Smart power bars combat this by featuring specially designed outlets that restrict the power being used unless the outlet registers an “on” signal from the appliance.
These thermostats can be controlled by smartphones to change the temperature of a home at any time. Reducing heat or shutting off air conditioning reduces the use of fossil fuels and electricity, leading to lower monthly costs and better preservation of crucial resources.