Technological Strengths in the Development of Sustainable Technologies

By Dora Marinova.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Irrespectively of whether we agree with Engels (1844) about the third element, namely science, in the land-labour relationship and its power and limitless progress, it is widely accepted that sustainable development requires new technologies. The environmental behaviour of individuals, companies and countries, how much they pollute and what resources they consume, is of paramount importance and a major role in it plays what technologies are being used. The issues of cleaner production have become a major concern in the attempts to rectify the damages caused to the natural environment by industrial development. Renewable energy technologies are considered to be an alternative to fossil fuels in terms of preventing resource depletion and as a way of reducing air pollution. New ecological technologies are expected to help decrease the human pressure on the environment while providing or keeping the desired standard of living. Nanotechnologies, which are at the frontier of today's knowledge, are not only considered to be inherently green but are also expected to help deal with waste decomposition and treatment. How are the various countries placed to address the challenges of globalization and the imperatives of sustainability? This paper examines a technological strengths model based on US patent statistics applied to three classes of technologies which are expected to have a major impact for a more sustainable development, namely: (1) environmental technologies; (2) anti-pollution technologies as a special case of environmental technologies; and (3) nanotechnologies. The adopted approach uses patents in the USA registered by the top twelve developed countries between 1975 and 2002 in order to analyse the patterns in the development of the above technologies. The development of green technologies is the currently emerging technological and socio-economic paradigm. Although the absolute number of patented environmental technologies has been increasing, the annual shares of patents which address ecological issues and their implications remain very small The empirical findings demonstrate that the expertise and strength in environmental technologies are concentrated in a relatively small number of countries, namely Germany, Canada and Japan, with Australia close behind the leaders. Nevertheless, these countries show different priorities, being more successful in some aspects of technological strengths than in others. All of them, however, are currently establishing the foundations for the future significant impact of this important group of technologies. After strong levels in the 1970s, the interest in anti-pollution technologies has diminished in the 1980s and has again resurrected in the 1990s to level off in the late 1990s. The overall best performing countries in the area of anti-pollution technologies are Japan, France and Germany. These three countries also seem to have the bulk of technological knowledge and capacity in this area. There are, however, more similarities between Japan and France where the prevention and abatement of pollution appear to be a national priority. Nanotechnology is an area of significant patent activity in the mid- to late-1990s, in terms of absolute numbers and as share of total US patents. In comparison with the other sustainable technologies, the expertise and strengths in nanotechnology are also not evenly distributed among the most technologically advanced economies (Marinova and McAleer, 2003). These countries approach these developments with different national strategies and priorities. Although the top three countries are France, Japan and Canada, some countries are clearly more successful than others according to different indicators, and are currently establishing the foundations for the future impact of this new group of technologies.

Keywords: Environmental Technologies, Anti-Pollution Technologies, Nano-Technologies, Renewable Energy

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.155-162. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 673.645KB).

Prof. Dora Marinova

Head of School, Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Dora Marinova is an Associate Professor and Head of the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy (ISTP), Murdoch University where she teaches in the areas of economics for sustainability, demography and women and development. She is currently supervising 14 PhD students on topics related to sustainability. Her research interests cover technology policy and development, sustainable business and partnerships. She has published over 60 refereed journal articles and book chapters and has conducted research for Western Australian and Commonwealth Government departments.

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