While there are number of different ways to define “sustainable development”, a reasonable choice would be to think of it as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Companies seeking to make a contribution to sustainable development must be prepared to change their traditional way of thinking and allow social, environmental and technological considerations to sit side-by-side with economic performance when establishing their goals and objectives. Sustainable companies must also commit to acting in a socially responsible manner toward their stakeholders and maintaining high ethical standards.
Technology plays a big role in their pursuit of sustainability and economic development. Sustainable technologies include technologies that use durable, low-maintenance, recyclable and economic materials and technologies, including materials and technologies that can be locally sourced to reduce transportation costs. Sustainable technologies may be incorporated into sustainable design practices for products that are focused on designing products to leverage materials and technologies that will reduce product life cycle environmental impacts. An effective sustainable technology will facilitate improvements in the appearance, performance, quality, functionality and ecological, social and economic value of the products. From a technology management perspective, companies may consider investing in the development of new technologies that provide alternatives to traditional technologies that have been shown to be being damaging to the health of members of the community and to the environment.
Sustainable technology management is based on the premise that individual companies can and do make an impact on sustainable development through the decisions they make as part of their technology management programs: what products should they manufacture and what technologies should be included in those products; what process technologies should be used; what types and amounts of resources should be used in the manufacturing process; how much should be invested in research and development and which R&D projects should be given the highest priority; and can the company deploy technologies that do not harm the environment and improve the overall quality of life of their employees, customers and members of society in general.
While sustainable technology management obviously impacts the traditional economic “bottom line” that is relevant to investors, it also is important to many of the other key stakeholders of the company:
- Many customers are concerned about whether or not sourced components have been manufactured to meet certain environmental standards and may require that supplier provide the results of audits of their manufacturing processes to verify compliance.
- Employees are concerned about the health and safety aspects of participating in the manufacturing process such as air quality and exposure to harmful materials in the workplace.
- Local communities are concerned about the environmental impact of manufacturing activities including emissions, odors and noise and it is often necessary and prudent to providing information to community members about standards and performance.
- Regulators will be concerned about a company’s compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations as well as progress being made on effort to improve energy efficiency and reduce harmful emissions beyond the levels otherwise permitted by law.
- Consumer action groups will monitor various impacts of the company’s finished products such as greenhouse gas emissions and may engage in adverse publicity campaigns to force the company to take steps to improve its performance.
To learn more, download the chapter on “Sustainable Technology Management” prepared by the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Project. Additional Project materials on technology management are available here.