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Innovating Environmental Protection for the Future

Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Kasantha Moodley

Kasantha Moodley

Manager, ELI Innovation Lab

On the first Earth Day in 1970, Sen. Edmund Muskie called for “A total strategy to protect the total environment.” At that time – and for several decades – the overarching approach was one of regulatory compliance, largely directed by government. But the next 50 years of environmental protection will not look like the first 50—they will be driven by technology as much as by regulation.

Technology has enabled companies to improve their environmental performance and citizens to track it, while a connected global network has catalyzed knowledge-based economies. Companies are looking at environmental performance in more holistic ways than the regulatory structure demands. And citizens can access, collect, and broadcast data on environmental quality, whether or not this data is accepted for compliance purposes. But science and technology are moving forward at such a fast pace that there is a gap between these technological advances and society’s ability to process and manage the information, never mind establish meaningful controls.

GreenTech logo

In A New Environmentalism: The Need for a Total Strategy for Environmental Protection, ELI President Scott Fulton and Dave Rejeski, Director of ELI’s Technology, Innovation, and Environment Program, discuss how environmental protection could be organized and implemented in the future. As they explain, “The total strategy of the future needs to create a much more robust option space for organizations and hedge against uncertainties. . . . What constituted a strategy 15, or even 10 years ago—analyze, plan, execute—no longer works in operating environments that are increasingly unpredictable, fragmented, and characterized by high rates of technological change, big data, crowd communication, young industries, and an incessant drive for competitive advantage.”

To create meaningful and effective environmental protection, the combined power of private environmental governance, law, technologies, and communities needs to be harnessed to hedge against uncertainties, build resilience and organizational flexibility, and reduce surprises. But how should we institutionalize this new paradigm? How do we make better use of citizen-generated data? How can the voluntary commitments by companies be further internalized into algorithms that drive energy and environmental decisions in facilities and supply chains? How can law-based systems anticipate and prevent software tampering and manipulation? And, how do we embed environmental considerations into software design going forward?

Next month, ELI will be in Seattle, Washington, to delve into these issues and more at GreenTech 2019: Environmental Protection for the Future. Policymakers, lawmakers, technologists, NGOs, and anyone interested in shaping the intersection between technology and our environment are strongly encouraged to attend. Some of the questions we’ll be discussing include:

  • How will emergent technologies change the way goods are made and moved, and how might advanced sensing/monitoring systems and predictive analytics contribute to how we measure the impact of making and moving those goods?
  • How can public policy encourage greater integration and system-level optimization of our energy systems?
  • What impacts do “e-services” such as cloud computing and blockchain have on our environment, and how can we reduce their energy and environmental footprints?
  • How can drones, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and other emerging technologies be used in the agricultural sector to protect and grow our global food supply, enhance the livelihood of farmers, and reduce harmful environmental impacts?
  • What are innovative businesses doing to close the circle in the circular economy, and what role do national and international legal frameworks play in enabling or constraining progress in this regard?

Instead of utilizing old business models, let us step back, identify, and embrace new ones. This will require transformational leadership, an experimental mindset, an agile and adaptive development approach, partnerships spanning the public and private sectors, and above all, an openness to embracing a new strategy for protecting our environment.

The GreenTech Conference will be held in Seattle, Washington, on October 1 – 3, 2019. For more information, visit https://www.greentechconference.org

All blog posts are the opinion of its author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ELI the organization or its members.