In this interactive activity produced for Teachers' Domain, explore five different areas of research and innovation in green technology: renewable energy and conservation; green building; transportation; manufacturing; and pollution and waste management. Within the categories, investigate examples of innovations in solar power, biofuels, energy efficiency, materials efficiency, planes and trains, automobiles, electronic paper, consumer electronics, carbon capture and storage, and bioremediation.
As awareness grows about environmental issues such as pollution, human impact on climate change, and depletion of natural resources, so is interest growing in environmentally friendly products and services. For example, the popularity of green cleaning products has increased in recent years. Nontoxic, biodegradable cleaning products are safer for use in the home (they are less likely to cause health problems). They also keep harmful chemicals out of the environment. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are another popular eco-friendly product; compared to traditional, incandescent light bulbs, CFLs use far less electricity. Electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels. If every home in the United States replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a CFL, fossil fuel consumption would be reduced and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by billions of pounds each year.
Green technology, also known as environmental or clean technology, minimizes impacts on the environment and natural resources. It is based on concepts such as conserving water and energy, reducing waste and pollution, harnessing renewable energy sources, finding ways to reuse materials, and developing less polluting technologies.
Being green can boost the competitiveness of companies: it can make for good public relations while also reducing waste and production costs. For example, one pharmaceutical company used green chemistry to devise a new way of synthesizing an anti-nausea drug. They reduced the number of steps and eliminated some hazardous compounds. As a result, they were able to lower costs as well as decrease their negative environmental impact; the new method eliminated approximately 41,000 gallons of waste per 1,000 pounds of the drug produced.
Although there is heightened consumer interest in things such as hybrid cars and sustainable building—hotels, for example, are advertising their green practices—green technology is not always welcome. Companies can be reluctant to market the eco-friendly nature of their product for fear of alienating mainstream consumers who are not specifically seeking green products. Instead, they may choose to emphasize other attributes, such as cost and convenience. For example, some people may choose to buy CFLs, not because they want to help save the Earth, but rather to save money and to change light bulbs less frequently.
On a larger scale, projects such as wind and solar power farms are often met with resistance from local communities. For example, when Cape Wind, a wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, was proposed, many local residents opposed it because of concerns over its visual impact and possible effects on tourism. This was despite the fact that the project could replace over 100 million gallons of oil burned per year, improve air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 700,000 tons per year. Although green technology can play an important role in protecting the planet, there are many factors—political, cultural, and economic—that influence its progress.
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