Do you care about the environment? I’m guessing you do to an extent – we all do – though for some people that caring is about having a zero carbon footprint and for others it’s about not leaving the tap running whilst brushing their teeth. Whatever your view on it, investing in and creating environmental technology continues to promise much. The question is whether it can deliver.
Environmental tech is a very broad term but, for the sake of this piece, I am talking about technology which gives us energy, re-uses or disposes of material, or which offers alternatives which are less damaging to the environment. There is currently a particular focus amongst the public for waste reduction, especially in relation to plastics. Over the 2019 Easter weekend, the UK used exclusively renewable energy for 90 hours, breaking the previous record of 76 hours the previous April. So is getting involved in environmental tech a sound choice?
There is an unmistakeable push for banning single use plastics, with bags, cutlery, cotton buds and drinking straws all on their way out. So is the answer biodegradable plastics or reusable plastics? Or is it alternatives? Can big organisations like supermarkets be persuaded to try other things…99% of the answer to that is going to be related to cost. Do we need work harder to persuade the public? We may get upset seeing images of turtles entangled in multipack plastic but how many of us are going to come away from the supermarket with every item loose or in reusable packaging? It’s not just technology we need, but ideas and a wholesale cultural shift.
The picture in energy is also confusing. There is a good deal of resistance to fields of solar panels and wind turbines but the impetus for ensuring that houses and buildings are generating their own power is notably lacking. The technology around energy storage remains relatively primitive whilst all the while, we use more and more. Electric vehicles will demand ever greater supply yet there is no satisfactory answer to the disposal issue at the end of those vehicles’ lives.
Governments around the world, even when they agree on the general need to reduce emissions and waste, still seem to be casting about for ways to implement their green policies. When they manage to make policy decisions, vested interests and unintended consequences dilute the effect.
None of this is a reason to abandon environmental innovation; far from it. However, it is not for the faint-hearted. One step forward and two steps back seems to be the rule, so if you are genuinely bloody-minded and genuinely passionate, this is a technology for you. If not, perhaps doing your bit will, at least, be a start.