What is sustainable development and which 5 technologies can boost it?

By Daniil Filipenco

What is sustainable development and which 5 technologies can boost it?

The term ‘sustainable development’ originated in 1987 with the publishing of the Brundtland Report which introduced the topic of the not-so-good effects of intense economic development and sought to find answers to the negative consequences brought about by industrialization and population expansion. The report warned of the harmful environmental effects of both economic development and globalization.

Built on the idea of sustainable development, in 1992 the UN Conference on Environment and Development took place in Rio de Janeiro. It was the first global effort to formulate action plans to enable a shift to a more sustainable pattern of growth. Ever since then, experts, policymakers, and governments, as well as a myriad of NGOs, have been desperately trying to identify the optimal path and balance between economic expansion, resource use, and preserving landscapes.

Defining sustainable development

The International Institute for Sustainable Development defines the term as development that satisfies current needs without jeopardizing the capacity of future generations to fulfill their personal needs.

With this in mind, the UN developed the Sustainable Development Goals – a mission to save the environment and ensure human welfare on a global scale by 2030.

Since the launch of this concept and up until now, the path of sustainability has seen uneven success for various sectors. Nonetheless, breakthrough innovations are launched every year, and some of these have the potential to boost sustainable development.

Five major examples of ways to boost sustainable development

These are only a handful of the many different examples of sustainable development that could continue to promote global transformation for the better; five major examples of sustainable development that have a bright future although some do have several downsides that also need to be considered.

1️⃣ Technology for wind-generated electricity

One of the most environmentally friendly energy sources now accessible to mankind is wind power. Over 50 nations around the globe have made use of the wind to produce at least 10% of their energy and wind-generated energy usage is growing. According to statistics, wind-generated power in the world has been rising steadily over the past 10 years (437GW in 2011 and 1870GW in 2021).

With 650.6 TWh, China produces the most power from wind energy but the country with the biggest share of wind-powered electricity in its portfolio in 2021 was Denmark (47.9% of total electricity generated).

The advantages of wind-powered turbines:

  • Due to their low cost and minimal land footprint, wind turbines are an excellent option for energy production
  • No harmful pollutants are released into the air
  • No need for fossil fuels
  • It is nearly universally accessible which helps to cut energy imports while also generating wealth and local jobs

The wind energy industry will continue to grow.

The downside:

Disposal becomes a problem when the massive wind turbine blades made of fiberglass need to be replaced. For the most part, discarded blades end up in landfill. Even though some organizations have discovered ways to convert fiberglass into lower-value components, this is still not widespread enough.

In addition, the growth of green energy sources such as solar or wind often impacts wildlife habitat, and the mining of the raw materials required for these technologies poses serious risks for biodiversity.

2️⃣ Technology for harnessing solar power

There is no denying that our Sun is a great source of renewable energy and the humankind does attempt to take advantage of it by creating technology – from small rooftop solar panels to enormous solar plants – that absorbs solar energy and transforms it into electricity.

The advantages:

  • It is limitless
  • No harmful pollutants are released into the air
  • It reduces reliance on natural gas or the electricity grid
  • Solar technology is becoming more affordable and thus more cost-competitive compared to traditional types of power generation

The downsides:

  • The technology used today is still expensive
  • It is weather dependent
  • Toxic metals like lead and cadmium are employed in the production of solar photovoltaic systems
  • The recycling methods available today are ineffective and little used, with most solar panels still expected to be dumped into landfill at the end of their lifecycle
  • In order to be efficient, photovoltaic panels must be kept clean of sand and dust. This explains why huge amounts of water are used daily in some locations where solar-power installations can be found. Water usage is another weakness that must be addressed by developers.

Top 10 countries in terms of total installed PV power capacity (MW/h, 2021):

It is interesting to note that if the EU was defined as a single country, it would have ranked 2nd in the world in terms of solar capacity.

3️⃣ Crop rotation

Crop rotation is the process of planting several crops in succession on the same piece of land in order to enhance soil health, maximize nutrient content, and tackle insects and weed pressure (the combined impact of weed growth in a field, including nutrient consumption, shading, and water diversion).

Examples of crop rotation: Say a farmer has a cornfield. He can plant beans once the corn harvest is complete since beans replenish the nitrogen that maize removes from the soil. A dozen or more crops may be thus rotated in a complex rotation.

Complex crop rotation systems have the potential to show better results than traditional monoculture in terms of productivity and profitability, researchers say. Moreover, this practice generates a wide variety of crops, is adaptable to different conditions, and increases soil carbon storage which aids in carbon sequestration (the process of removing and storing CO2 from the atmosphere).

4️⃣ Water-saving appliances

We are starting to realize that water is not inexhaustible as many people may have previously thought. Today this is becoming even more clear with many nations throughout the world experiencing a water crisis.

However, by using water-saving equipment, the amount of water needed for fundamental services such as showering can be significantly decreased. Water-saving equipment examples include dual flush toilets, toilet stops, and low-flow faucets and showerheads.

5️⃣ More green spaces

To be considered sustainably developed, urban areas must have green spaces such as parks, ponds, forests, or other ecosystems.

Green spaces are essential for providing safer pathways for people who commute on foot or by bicycle.

The latest numbers from the WHO indicate that lack of activity, which is related in part to limited access to recreational places, is responsible for 3.3% of all fatalities worldwide. Thus, green spaces can enhance health and even help to alleviate mental illness.

Final word

At its core, sustainable development refers to a method of evolution that seeks to strike a balance between various needs and an understanding of the social, economic, and environmental constraints that societies are subject to.

It is in our hands to change the course of global development to one that is more sustainable. Thus, by taking even very small steps, sustainable development can become not only the best and most practical option but also the obvious one to choose.