Technology is application of knowledge to practical requirements. Green technologies encompass various aspects of technology which help us reduce the human impact on the environment and create ways of sustainable development. Social equitability, economic feasibility and sustainability are the key parameters for green technologies. Today the environment is racing towards the tipping point at which we would have done permanent irreversible damage to the planet earth. Studies done by the Inter Governmental Panel on climate change indicate that it is not necessary that the climate would change continuously, once we reach the tipping point entire atmospheric cycles can just flip and within next four decades earth might start becoming totally inhabitable due to unimaginable climate situations. Our current actions are pulling the world towards an ecological landslide which if happens would make destruction simply inevitable. Green technologies are an approach towards saving earth and are necessary if we want to live on earth beyond two centuries. Green technologies are our way out of destruction, but nothing is perfect, everything has its downsides also. Thus both its positives and negatives need to be investigated.

Benefits of using green technologies are many. One of the most sought after goals of major world economies is to reduce carbon emissions and control temperature rise, which can be addressed by the use of green technologies such as sustainable manufacturing, green buildings, fuel efficient transportation, paperless offices, energy efficiency measures, waste recycling etc.

Since Green technology requires more involvement it also empowers people. It (green technologies) helps people as it can be diffused much more easily in remote areas due to its discretized nature. It would be productive to list all the benefits of green technologies in a point wise manner with examples.

Corporate Benefits: One of the basic aims of any corporation is to reduce the cost incurred at the input side. Green technologies like green buildings, energy efficiency measures, green manufacturing etc have qualified as energy and resource savers. Usage of efficient lighting, air-conditioning etc. not only saves money at the consumer’s end but it also results in significant savings at the power production end. One unit of electricity saved at user’s end results in about 4.5 units saved at the production end. This not only helps the corporations to slash their input costs but also serves as an avenue for them to fulfil their social responsibilities. Many corporations have already put these measures in practice, e.g. GE has doubled its research and development budget to $1.5 billion to reduce energy consumption and waste products. The return on the company’s investment appears is also high; GE’s “Ecomagination” line of products generated $10 billion in revenues in 2005, and is on track to eclipse $20 billion by 2010. Furthermore, ICT reports indicate that programs in Holland have found that employing green ICT measures can reduce average space required by an corporate employee by more than 50% from 25m^2 thus reducing required infrastructure and cutting down on emissions and capital investment.

Manufacturing firms can also achieve significant benefits by green manufacturing. In manufacturing, green technologies emphasise on “cradle to cradle” design thereby ending the “cradle to grave” cycle of manufactured products, and thus creating products that can be fully reclaimed or re-used. This includes reducing waste and pollution by changing patterns of production and consumption. This not only reduces the environmental footprint of a product but it also makes production an environmentally sustainable and economically cheaper activity as inputs from source are reduced by design. Further as global concerns about the environment rise manufacturers will be bound to use green manufacturing processes to be competitive in the global market.

Using lesser resources and recycling at the source itself entail lesser pollution and a cleaner environment in addition to the large economic savings that are bound to come by.

National benefits for Energy Generation: Power generation is another sector where green technology might create wonders. Distributed generation technologies e.g. solar PV, biogas production, wind power etc. have practically proven that they can provide more employment opportunities to people and can be applied to provide energy solutions to communities in remote areas successfully. In India distributed generation holds a lot of promise. Small scale hydro-electric power and the PV sector have already achieved significant private sector involvement which is a major indicator of growth. Companies like Moserbaer, TATA BP solar, and Signet Solar have dived into the PV market by making huge investments. Clearly the distributed generation market is bound to jump start soon which will create a large job pool and thus provide service and raise the standard of living of the people with minimum environmental impact. The fact is that all the green technologies take into account the needs of the people and environment, thus it is no wonder that an achievement in one area trickles down to other areas also. Distributed generation also takes the load off the national electricity grid as people become empowered to put up their own power sources and installation of large plants are avoided which further increase efficient usage as power is consumed on the site thus reducing the transmission and distribution losses. Live examples exist in India where people have used alternative green power generation technologies and have not only fulfilled their own energy needs but have also sold their energy to the grid thereby making significant income. Same is in countries like Germany, where people sell the electricity generated by their household Photovoltaic panels to the national grid and in rare cases may end up charging money from the utility instead of paying! In this way a person not only helps himself or herself but also helps the nation by actually contributing to the national power generation and thus proves to be an asset rather than a liability to the society.

Benefits to the Rural Areas: Green technologies involve humans in a much bigger way than conventional technologies and thereby empower them by giving them responsibilities and avenues to gain, learn and progress. Green technologies have had great impact on communities of the areas where they have been implemented. Provision of bio-gas plants to rural households has empowered communities and has increased their productivity. Same has been the case with distribution of solar lanterns through certain programs e.g. TERI’s Lighting a Billion Lives Campaign. It is clear that people have benefited from it by not only using the outputs personally but also by trading it! Initiatives such as the barefoot college in Rajasthan empower villagers by teaching them how to use eco-friendly technologies like solar cookers, mud refrigerators, and sustainable farming practices. Villagers have built their own water storage and rainwater harvesting techniques and are not dependent on outside help. This has raised the standard of living in the participating villages. Some programs have gone a step further and are envisioning to trade carbon credits for such rural technologies in the near future thereby creating a possibility of positive cash flow towards rural economies which will further generate employment and will encourage usage of such technologies further.

Benefit to the urban areas: Taking into account the current chaotic situation of the cities of the world one can easily argue that they need to take urgent environment improvement measures. Cities which actively pursued their environmental concerns in the last ten years are showing a marked improvement in their environment quality parameters. For example Delhi launched CNG fuelled public transport in a phased manner and in December 2002, the last diesel bus was flagged off. This was done as a measure to improve air quality of Delhi where the toxic gas levels were off the charts, some times exceeding 5-12 times the normal values. Since then Delhi has shown steady improvement in the air quality. The annual average level of restorable suspended particulate matter (RSPM or PM10) in residential areas was 143 microgram per cubic metre. It dropped to 115 microgram per cubic metre by 2005.

The following figure shows the Carbon mono-oxide levels in Delhi since 1996.

It can be clearly seen that CO levels have decreased significantly since 1996 clearly underlining the effects of application of green technology.

Creation of avenues: Green technologies have the potential to give birth to sectors which were previously not thought of. Particularly at the time of global economic slowdown and environmental crisis we need to create paths which can improve the economy and the environment. Green Technology gives us an opportunity to combine the two. We can see a very relevant example that of waste disposal. Earlier waste management was only limited to waste dumping; today waste management is a $25 billion industry in south Asia alone. It consists of 3 R’s viz. reduction at source, recycling and reusing. Thus resulting in cleaning up of environment, employment generation, reduction in toxic and green house gas emission and thus has multiple benefits. This industry increases choices for a person which is one of the primary requirements to human development. On an average people in a cleaner environment have better efficiencies and a healthier and empowered life than people in opposite circumstances.

The above graph shows a direct correlation between income and waste mass generation of an average Indian household, clearly indicating that as the economy grows we will waste more and more and the waste management sector will continue to grow.

Another interesting example can be taken of carbon auditing companies which have sprung up. Due to a cap on carbon emission and enforcing of environmental friendly trade practices ventures like carbon auditing have come up in a big way and many start-ups have been found to do this activity, this has clearly expanded the employment opportunities for people and has created a completely new portal of wealth generation, whereby cash flow from developed countries to developing countries has opened up; another upside of green technologies.

Green Farming: Green approaches to farming have been proven to be not only healthier for humans but also productive for the soil. It leads to higher productivity over sustained periods of time contrary to the inorganic farming practices which lead to decrease in yield after a certain period of time. Inorganic farming methods have had a very bad environmental impact and have resulted in degradation of aquatic life of surface water bodies; it has also stripped the earth of the various insects and worms which in fact helped in crop production. Fortunately the effects of inorganic farming are yet to be seen in a big way but they are inevitable. Places where organic (Green) farming is practised are already showing that it is a better approach in the long run.

Green Buildings: Green construction technologies are also coming up and are being encouraged in a big way. They have high initial investment but have minimal environmental impact and are energy efficient. Considering the fact that office and residential buildings consume a large share of the energy pie of any country they are certain to have significant benefits in the future over conventional buildings. Since they reduce energy consumption and wastage; these buildings can recover their cost over an acceptable time frame. Such constructions prove economical and eco-friendly in the long run and thus are beneficial to the individual and the society as a whole.

Thus we can see that there are many upsides of using green technologies. Since they create a full circle of usage they ensure sustainable development and will not help in sustaining the beauty of the earth as we know it. Employment generation, human empowerment, rural development, environmental improvement, energy security, health improvement, decrease in resource depletion are only a few benefits of green technologies, many more will manifest themselves as time passes.

Green technologies have been applied in many sectors however they have not been still put into full fledged use e.g. in the energy sector they are still “alternate sources of energy”. Since we have not seen them in usage full time we can not really observe what are their downsides. However certain concerns have been already raised, these are related to the reliability of these technologies, convenience of their usage, investment required, their hypocritical use, ethical and social issues etc. We will discuss these issues one by one.

Economic Downside: So far it has been discussed how good green technologies can be to the economy of a country however nothing is perfect and there are conspicuous downsides to this too. Viz. in India upper limit of installation cost of a 1 MW photovoltaic solar power plant is roughly Rs 300-350 million (discounting the government grants). On the other hand the installation cost of subcritical coal power plant (Ultra mega power plant 4000MW) is roughly Rs 184,736 million. i.e. Rs 46.184 million per MW. The difference is clearly extremely large and quite unaffordable for many developing countries; large investments in green technologies by government would effectively slowdown the cash flow in other important sectors e.g. health care and infrastructure.

Most of the green technologies e.g. green buildings, photovoltaics, energy efficiency measures etc. are expensive and need to be subsidised to promote usage, however this would put extra pressure on the already wounded economies. Thus use of green technology is reduced to an altruistic or enforced option; in both cases it seems to lose economic viability.

Technical Downside: To be popular any technology has to be reliable. Some green technologies have severe drawbacks in this area. E.g. solar PV power plants work fine on a sunny day but their performance becomes dismal the moment solar radiation on the surface drops, this can not be afforded in today’s competitive world. Similarly solar air conditioning fails in the rainy season when there is a lot of humidity and low solar radiation. These drawbacks push a person to actually install conventional technologies for his/her usage. We can hope that these flaws will be removed once these technologies mature with time. Power savers meant to improve the efficiencies of tube lights etc. themselves fail very early giving the use little incentive to actually use them. This causes significant operational discomfort to the user.

Social downside: Socially green technologies are still to become popular. This is more connected to the ergonomics and incentives of usage. The social downsides are extremely area specific. I will discuss one case each of rural area and urban area. In rural India millions of bio-gas plants were installed, however only a small portion is in operation today. This is because of many factors e.g. people did not find their usage comfortable enough, lack of serviceability in remote areas, defects during construction due to lack of skilled labour etc. Some people simply did not accept the technology as they still thought that burning dung cakes was easier. In some cases the problem was that people sold their cows and could not feed the bio-gas unit and it failed. These problems though area specific are quite generic in nature and present themselves differently during implementation of almost all the green technologies. Similarly in urban India use of solar cookers and solar heating equipment is yet to take roots in a big way. The solar heating equipment heats water during the day, however people mostly need hot water in the morning when there is very little or no solar insolation. Also most requirement of hot water is concentrated in winters when solar heaters are almost unused due to low solar insolation. Further because of low usage during the summer season the surfaces of the heater are corroded and the system fails. Thus the purpose of the heater is defeated and people prefer to buy electric heaters. In case of solar cookers also, ease of the use makes LPG and microwaves much better options. It also has other drawbacks such as low heating rate; glare etc. which make the cooking experience very unpleasant.

Ethical Downside: Today the world is in a very complicated state where ethics have started clashing, many a times environmental ethics clash with general human ethics. A very relevant example is when USA started to use corn to make ethanol for bio-diesel. How ethical is it to use food to create fuel for cars when millions are hungry no matter how environment friendly the technology is? This argument effectively stalled this project. Green buildings, solar power plants all are currently very expensive; how justified is their implementation when it is more necessary to feed a hungry population? Can a poor person be forced to purchase new fuel efficient kitchen equipment when he barely makes his ends meet? There are umpteen ethical issues that spring up and are mostly related to cost versus survival questions. Prices of green technologies will go down in the future, but the basic problem is that their prices will go down once we make the initial investment but doing the initial investment is definitely not easy. This is a vicious circle and is perhaps the biggest difficulty in implementation of green technologies.

Other possible negative effects of green technologies: Today the world has become a very complicated intertwined structure; a small change somewhere can induce an extremely large change somewhere else. Today solar panels are being manufactured at a prolific rate, however it is not certain what will happen to the panels once they finish their life cycle. The disposal of solar panels is still in the R&D stage. Many solar panels contain toxic matter which can be dangerous; this problem will surface after two decades if we are not prepared by then. The biogas plants also can create a problem as till now they have limited usage but as their use increases people might start using specific chemicals (congaing heavy metals) known to enhance the output of the plant. Since the slurry from the plant is used as manure, it can end up in degrading the soil. Bio- mass gasifier is another such technology which uses wood to produce producer gas; it effectively burns wood at high efficiency with minimum harmful emissions; but since it consumes wood at a high rate, rapid spread of such a technology can cause deforestation. Similarly if bio-diesel is used extensively people might stop producing crops and start growing producing fuel crops (e.g. Jetropha) instead, effectively starving the world in the process.

We might end up seeing many effects that we can not think as of now because we still have not experienced green technologies in a big way. We can not say for certain that green technologies will be good for us in all ways in distant future, but one thing is for certain that we will be risking the fate of the mankind if we do not adopt them in the present. Today green technologies are the need of the hour without any doubt as they are most appropriate to our current world needs. Having discussed green technologies in depth we can now discuss the issue of appropriate technologies (of which green technologies form a part) and issues on responsibility of humans to use them.

Appropriate technology is technology that is appropriate to the environmental, cultural and economic situation it is intended for. It usually describes technologies which are suitable for use in the developing nations however the term is equally applicable to developed nations. Appropriate technology works from the bottom up; it is not just an overlay to the situation; it is a genuine grassroot solution to economic needs. The definition of “Appropriate Technology” changes with each situation. What’s appropriate in a large urban location is very different from what’s appropriate in a remote, isolated environment. As sensible human beings it is but logical to use appropriate technologies to our advantage. Appropriate technologies aim at sustainable development. It is a way of fulfilling our duty as humans which is to take care of what we have and pass on what is the best to our posterity. Nature has bestowed us with intelligence but with this power come responsibility. We need to develop to move forward and for that we need to consume natural resources, but our quest for prosperity must be backed by an unflinching commitment to sustainability and the principle of precaution, we need to ensure pro-active protection of the environment and careful management of its diversity. Our acts should reflect our duties and we should contribute in a positive way to the betterment of the world with an understanding that smallest of contributions count. As a responsible citizen of the planet my contribution should be “to proactively encourage, develop and create and apply appropriate technologies that will add to the wellness of humanity in general. I should personally contribute by doing what I know is right, and applying the technologies which I know are good for myself, the society and humanity. I should use the right technology in the right place which by definition is the appropriate technology.

Appropriate technology may not always be “low-tech’ but it is always the best way out. In today’s world it might not be always the easiest way out but that is where my effort comes in.

My message to the society should be to take whatever we have inherited from our past and analyse that. Whatever we find is sustainable, helpful to individual and society in particular and humanity in general should be continued and improved. We should innovate and invent in the interest of all, for everything is connected ultimately and we can not describe anybody’s loss as our gain not at least in the environmental regime. We all are the part of the same ecosystem. Wrong practices carried by anyone will affect everyone in the long run. To prove this point we just need to see the effects of climate change. We should use and do what is appropriate to our locality with the global effect in mind. In today’s world it is almost impossible to have everything created in the locality but we should try to minimise our impact on other parts of the world. Thus we should use appropriate technologies which are concentrated on using and creating goods and following practises that are appropriate to the local needs and on using local resources to fulfil them. In this way we can better measure and control our effect on the environment and in consequence its effect on us.
Society should spend time on thinking about what is the best practice for itself and all and should not unquestioningly follow prevalent or most popular practices. What might be appropriate technology for a particular situation might not be so in the other situations.

To the humanity in general my message should be that we need to encourage all societies to collaborate and develop technologies that create minimum impact on the environment but ensure maximum development since a good environment should be the outcome of development. Balanced development should be the goal. We should not race blindly to achieve maximum economic and technological development while destroying the environment because at the finish line of such a race is only suffering. Humanity should function as a team to achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Only in that case can we ensure that everyone has access to clean water, air and food. We need to understand that our needs are really simple and nature has been kind enough to endow us with enough resources and intellect that we can be address most of them locally. We just need to develop and use the appropriate technology that suits our needs and conditions. E.g. in hot areas one idea is to blindly install an air conditioner and make the surrounding area hotter. The other idea is to use a passive solar chimney to keep the temperature of the building low. Another example is pot in a pot refrigerator that was invented in Africa, it is proven to increase shelf life of the food kept in it. Made from just clay and sand, I feel it is a terrific invention which is appropriate to the needs of the people and solves it in a very effective way. It has been a hit among homeless people in Africa who need to keep their vegetables cool. For corporate persons located in different parts of a country video conferencing might turn out to be the appropriate technology instead of high speed rail travel which might cost more and also spends a lot of fuel. Plastic money and paperless offices and colleges can be appropriate alternatives to paper. Thousands of examples can be put up to show that appropriate technologies actually make life better. It might take some effort initially but it gives good results in the long run. If we are to survive we will have to use them ultimately, why not we start using them now? To the posterity my message should be to understand and assess the state of affairs before it and cultivate those practices which are not just sustainable but also appropriate to their situation. Appropriate technologies can always be innovated upon. The clay refrigerator might be replaced by another invention that might be more efficient or tele-conferencing might be replaced by energy efficient teleportation! There are infinite possibilities in the future. We should strive to take the best way out and not the easiest, as that is what will pay us in the long run. This is what is guaranteed by appropriate technologies and the posterity should know this.

Thus it can be concluded that all of us need to understand and apply the concept of appropriate technologies to reduce overall human footprint on the environment. Appropriate technologies hold multiple benefits for us and call for the spirit of enquiry, innovation and invention. Green technologies have upsides and downsides but they are a necessary approach towards human survival. In the long run they have been proven to be beneficial to the society but their true effects can be observed only in the future which we can safely hope to be good for the society.