Environmental “Green” Techology – what is it and why is it important?

At a time when there’s talk of a “triple dip recession”, it’s encouraging to see the growth in the environmental technology sector. It is now at the heart of the British economy, providing around 8% of GDP and 940,000 jobs, and improving the performance of every other sector. But what is it, and why is it so important to us?

Ever since the first steam engines, we have harnessed fossil fuels to increase industrial production and provide work and prosperity for a growing population. However, this has led to depletion of natural resources, destruction of wildlife habitats, and pollution of land, water and air. Now it is changing our climate, causing death and disruption in countries around the world, with the threat of worse to come.

Environmental technology covers a range of goods and services which help us reduce these impacts, so that we and our children can maintain a good quality of life. It started with waste management and controls on pollution, to clean up dirty rivers and city smog.

Now we are turning to renewable energy which reduces our greenhouse gas emissions (although not in the case of big biomass plants importing trees for electricity). The Courier Energy supplements demonstrate how many companies in Tayside and Fife are securing valuable business in this sector. There’s a new Green Investment Bank in Edinburgh to stimulate further investment as opportunities open up in offshore wind, wave and tidal energy where Scotland is a world leader. Over $250bn was invested globally in renewables in 2011, and Scotland can gain an increasing share of that.

But the way we use resources is just as important. New technology means that our homes and cars and offices use less energy, saving money as a result. Recycling technologies enable our waste to be turned into useful new products. Businesses become more competitive by reducing their use of energy and materials, or generating their own electricity as at Michelin. Information technology helps to control building temperatures, and enables farmers to use fertiliser more efficiently.

The benefits are not just for businesses. The Government’s Green Deal will help householders to improve energy efficiency in their homes, paying for it from future savings. Installing domestic solar panels or heat pumps can provide a better return on investment than keeping money in the bank. The savings will only increase as energy prices go up. Communities can also fund improvements to homes and local facilities by taking a stake in a local windfarm, as at Fintry in Stirlingshire, Findhorn and the Isle of Gigha.

There’s also a new emphasis on “green-blue infrastructure” (trees, green roofs, and areas of water) which helps to make cities more livable as temperatures rise, whilst natural barriers can be used to reduce storm and flood damage. So we will see the benefits in many aspects of our lives.

And we shouldn’t just think of new technology. We can all reduce our environmental impacts and save money by making use of older and simpler technologies, such as bikes, clothes pegs and darning needles!

Andrew Llanwarne

Co-ordinator, Friends of the Earth Tayside

(This article was published in the Courier, Dundee, on 19 February 2013)