If humanity is to live sustainably on this planet, new sustainable forms of technology will play a pivotal role. Technologies based on ecological principles and the knowledge that everything is interconnected must emerge to replace the old technologies based on extraction and waste. Whereas in the past technologies have been applied to Nature, in the future we must integrate technologies with it. Past technologies have been applied to a specific function without much consideration to other unintended effects. For example, while industrial farming technology has allowed for mono-cropping and higher yields per worker, it has also altered the ecological balance in ways that are having disastrous effects on water, soil, and the air, creating ocean “dead zones” where all life is suffocated.
In general, technologies developed under the old framework have followed a linear system of extraction, production, and consumption before they are discarded into the environment as waste. In the future, technologies must be integrated into existing closed-loop systems taking into consideration not just in the intended use of the product but how its materials will be used at the end of its life cycle.
One example of such a technology is the study of industrial ecology (IE). IE is a production method that orients production processes to take advantage of product synergies. The waste of one industry is used as an input to another. If each company operates independently and are scattered around the globe, these synergies become more difficult to recognize and integrate.
Using biomimicry, we can develop technologies based on Nature’s secrets. After all, Nature has been doing pretty well over the past several billion years. It has learned a few things about how things work. For example, to make steel, humans must heat a furnace to 1300 degrees and have the metal undergo a series of treatments. But a spider is able to create a silk that is stronger than steel using materials that are readily abundant in nature at room temp. How can we mimic that process?
While it may not be possible to live in a society impact-free, technologies of the future must have less environmental impact than their predecessors. Nature only has one rule. No waste. The byproducts of one organism are food for another.
For more links to videos, articles and graphics on sustainable technology, click here.