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Ethical Challenges of Creating Green Technology

Creating green technology is often seen as a positive step towards addressing environmental challenges and reducing the impact of human activities on the planet. However, like any technological development, it can also present ethical challenges. Based on our ethical business practices, the following are the principal ethical challenges still associated with creating green technologies.


United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Source: M. Mabkhot et al., Mapping Industry 4.0.., Sustainability 2021, 13, 2560.

Environmental and Social Impact

The production of green technologies, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries, often requires rare minerals and metals extraction. Such green technologies lead to environmental damage, habitat destruction, and human rights abuses in mining regions. Ethical challenges arise when there's a lack of transparency or an attempt to downplay negative environmental consequences. Balancing short-term gains with long-term sustainability with zero environmental and social negative impact is still a far-future technology.


Diagram of the “Triple Bottom Line” adapted from John Elkington.
Source: G. Mazzucco et al., Application of Social-Life Cycle.., Buildings 2023, 13, 1659.

Fair Access and Distribution

Green technologies can be expensive to develop and implement. Ensuring equitable access to these technologies, particularly in low-income communities and developing countries, is an ethical challenge. A digital divide has emerged, where those with limited resources are struggling to cope with the adaptation of green technologies. Ensuring equitable distribution and affordability of green technology is still an ethical challenge.


Top 10/Bottom 50 Income gaps across the world, 2021.
Source: wir2022.wid.world/methodology

Technological Dependence

The rapid advancement of green technologies can lead to technological lock-in, where a specific technology becomes dominant, making it difficult to transition to newer and potentially more sustainable alternatives. The need for a holistic approach that includes behavioral change and reduced consumption alongside technological solutions for sustainability is not a sustainable solution. The current adopted environmental economics is still hindering innovation and limiting long-term sustainability.


System definition of the global anthropogenic cobalt cycle and modeling framework for cobalt demand and secondary supply potentials.
Source: A. Zeng et al., Battery technology and recycling.., Nat. Commun. 2022, 13, 1341.

Greenwashing

Companies may engage in unethical marketing practices by exaggerating the environmental benefits of their products (greenwashing). Ensuring truthful and transparent communication about the environmental impact of green technologies is crucial. Ethical concerns center around transparency, truthfulness, and accountability in green technology marketing and labeling.


Greenwashing
Source: S. G. Batwal, The Greenwashing stumper.., Passionate in marketing 2022.

Labor Practices

The production and maintenance of green technology currently involve exploitative labor practices like unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, and labor rights violations. There is a need to ensure fair labor practices and worker rights throughout the supply chain. Blockchain seems to be a good alternative, but the implementation of the blockchain brings other challenges.


Child Labour
Source: Save our children campaign, Joanna Lal, 2014.

Privacy and Data Security

Green technology, like Smart Grids or data-intensive environmental monitoring systems, often involves data collection and sharing, such as energy consumption patterns or personal behavior. There is still a need to safeguard individual privacy and ensure that data is not exploited or misused by Governments or Corporations for surveillance or commercial purposes. Collecting and managing data ethically and securely is essential.


Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 (DPDP Act)
Source: In-Country blog

Long-Term Environmental Impact

While green technologies aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental harm, their long-term impact on ecosystems and natural resources needs careful consideration. Unintended consequences and ecological disruptions can occur. Green technologies can have unintended consequences, such as increased energy consumption due to their manufacturing process or the displacement of traditional industries and jobs. There is a need for considerations to include mitigating these unintended observable consequences and ecological disruptions.


Life cycle of Micro Plastics (from origin to disposal)
Source: G. Lamichhane et al., Microplastics in environment.., Int. J. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2023, 20, 4673-4694.

Addressing these ethical challenges requires a multi-faceted approach involving governments, businesses, researchers, and civil society. EnviroChem Services is committed to sustainable and responsible development, equitable access, transparency, and unbiased environmental and social impact assessment of green technologies. EnviroChem Services further balances the benefits of green technology with its potential ethical pitfalls for a sustainable and equitable future.

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