In many cases, technology projects can be at odds with environmental interests. Technology can create a lot of waste, in device manufacture and energy use, and the increasing pace of innovation may only worsen these environmental issues. But there are a number of areas where this problem is seen as an opportunity, and technology is being used in the battle to protect our environment. Here are 5 examples of technology being used to powerful effect.
Connected Lighting and Heating
Technology is moving toward a state in which all of our devices are connected, creating an Internet of Things. We are currently in the first wave of these devices reaching the mainstream, and this trend seems poised to continue. Within this first wave are a number of devices that allow for greater control over the physical environment. For example, the Nest smart thermostat has redefined the task of home heating and cooling, allowing for control over the web, and automated optimization to reduce energy usage.
A number of startups have launched connected lighting products, using LED technology in an incandescent form factor with wireless connectivity. These lights can be controlled from a mobile application, allowing users to reduce energy consumption by ensuring the lights are off even after they leave the home.
Electric vehicles have become a mainstream notion in recent years, driven by the popularity of Toyota's hybrid, the Prius. Public demand for more electric car options has motivated a number of small, innovative startups to enter the automotive fray, despite huge capital and regulatory barriers to entry.David Aaron Troy/Getty Images
The most attention-grabbing of these companies is Tesla, founded by serial entrepreneur Elon Musk. But Tesla isn't the only startup in the mix, as Southern California based Fisker has met with early success with the launch of their plug-in hybrid sedan, the Karma.
For many of the technology giants, one of the biggest costs they face is in maintaining data centers. For a company like Google, organizing the world's information comes at the high cost of running some of the largest, most sophisticated data centers in the world. Energy use is one of their biggest operating expenses for many of these companies. This creates an alignment of environmental and business interests for companies like Google, who are finding innovative ways to reduce their energy consumption.
Google is incredibly active in creating efficient data centers, maintaining tight control of all their operation. In fact, this is arguably one of Google's core business areas. They design and build their own facilities and recycle all of the equipment that leaves their data centers. The battle between the tech giants, Google, Apple, and Amazon, is on some level a battle over data centers. All of these companies are striving to create efficient data centers that will house the world's information while minimizing financial, and environmental impact.
In addition to innovations in the design and construction of data centers, many larger tech companies are driving the applications of alternative energy sources, as yet another way to maximize the efficiency of their large energy usage. Both Google and Apple have opened data centers that are either wholly or in part fueled by alternative energy. Google has created an entirely wind-powered data center, and Apple has recently filed for patents for proprietary wind turbine technology. This shows how central energy efficiency is to the goals of these tech firms.
Mobile devices and electronics are rarely made in the most environmentally friendly way; their manufacturing processes often involve harmful chemicals and rare metals. With the pace of release schedules for mobile phones increasing, this only spells more trouble for the environment. Fortunately, this increased pace has made device recycling a more profitable enterprise, and we're now seeing significant venture backing for startups that aim to buy back or recycle old devices, thus closing the loop for many environmental waste products.