The increased use of recycled, renewable and refurbished materials is to be welcomed, as is increased resource use efficiency and waste reduction, and the adoption of renewable energy sources and virtual and digital technologies. Constraining overall consumption will remain challenging, however, given increasing populations and per capita consumption in developing countries.
Although much progress has been made to improve sustainability in recent years, there are still many hurdles to be overcome.
Efficient use of energy and other resources is usually advantageous as wasting less energy is typically cheaper than producing more. Unfortunately, environmentally friendly approaches can be more expensive. It is important that when more sustainable products and services are available people are encouraged to use them. Using resources more efficiently and developing more sustainable ways of doing things will continue to be priorities.
Sustainable technology relies on resources that are either renewable or so abundant that we can treat them as such.
For technology to be sustainable also means that using it does not have any long-term adverse impact on the environment.
Progress to date
Very little modern technology is truly sustainable but industry and government have been giving this objective gradually more priority in recent years.
In energy generation, use of renewable sources is growing, whether the source of power is solar, wind, wave or geothermal. Biofuels and nuclear power are more problematic, but will continue to be important.
Efficient use of energy needs to be encouraged. The less energy we use, the smaller the amount of renewables we need to develop in order to reduce reliance on nonrenewable, polluting and carbon dioxode-emitting fossil fuels.
Efforts to reduce water losses in distribution networks are continuing and users will have an incentive to use water more efficiently as prices rise. In agriculture, drip feed irrigation holds the promise of a more effective use of water with less wastage.
Longstanding campaigns have already reduced the amount of material used in manufacturing, by better design and by recycling. This should continue to be encouraged as should the reduction of the amount of packaging.
Advances in information technology mean that many previously physical products — novels, films, music — can be provided digitally. An increasing proportion of business travel can now be replaced by electronic communications and use of the internet. However, we need to remember that manufacture of electronic equipment still requires scarce materials and using the equipment still uses some energy.
In summary, improved technology will continue to play a major role in moving humanity towards sustainability, but relying on improved technology alone is not enough. We still need to reduce individual consumption and stabilise our population.
Read more about sustainable technology.
Next: Sustainable lifestyles