Santa Clara University

STS Nexus

Technology Benefiting the Environment

Dorothy Glancy

Introduction

The interface between humanity and the environment has proved to be very hard on the environment. Sometimes technology seems to make environmental problems worse. That is why looking at how technology can benefit humanity by solving environmental problems is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Some of the ways in which technology can benefit the environment are reflected in the remarkable people and organizations represented in the finalists for the Technology Benefiting Humanity award in the environmental category.

The five finalists are quite different from each other.  Starting with the finalist at the farthest distance from Santa Clara, they are:

1.             The PRIME Project in the Philippines that engages small and medium-size businesses in environmental management practices and waste-stream control technologies.

2.             The Green Map System that applies digital mapping technologies and the Internet to foster ecological understanding and responsibility in local areas throughout the world.

3.             The Stevens Institute of Technology that has developed and distributed a technology for removing arsenic from well water in Bangladesh.

4.             Betsy L. Dresser, a veterinarian at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species who uses advanced biotechnologies to preserve and to repopulate endangered species all over the world.

5.             Capstone Turbine Corporation, a California-based public company specializing in micro turbines for distributed electric power generation which can be applied to reduce harmful air pollutants in flare stacks at oil refineries by transforming them into electricity.

 

The works of all of these finalists exemplify inspired applications of technology to meet environmental challenges.

Applications for the Awards for Technology Benefiting the Environment

In the environment category, the selection panel evaluated more than three dozen applications. Nominated groups and organizations represented a broad range of innovative technological responses to a variety of environmental challenges all over the world.

A number of organizations were nominated for their work in building, and acting on, community environmental consciousness. There were also interesting applications of computer database technologies to map the dwindling habitat of orangutans, to digitize records of the sights and sounds of endangered species, and to process sustainable agricultural and natural resource testing. Other computer technologies were designed to image and sort anadromous fish for physical marking, and to use the Internet to encourage environmentally conscious purchasing. A number of nominated individuals and organizations share concerns about preserving endangered species, for example use of World Wide Web postings to stop trafficking in wild animals in Brazil.

Other applications described technologies designed to enhance fossil fuel efficiency and to provide alternative sources of energy.  For example, there were several applications of solar power technology used in cooking and in drying food in Gambia. Wind power technology for distributed electric power generation in Alaska was also prominent among the renewable resource technologies nominated for the award. Some of the applications targeted air pollution and toxic waste problems from mines. Another applicant applies technology to reduce solid waste by reusing food waste that its technology transforms into animal food.

Protection of water resources was the focus of several of the applicants’ technologies. For example, an effort in the Colca Valley in Peru helps to preserve and to reconstruct agricultural terraces and irrigation structures. Other applicants’ technologies included those designed to ameliorate non-point sources of water pollution from sidewalk washing and as well as to decontaminate groundwater, and one which uses natural filters made from fallen leaves to remove pollutants from runoff water from roadways and parking lots. Technologies were nominated for their innovations in treating organic waste streams from food, beverage, dairy farming and cosmetic industries. Applications also included technologies for reducing the environmental effects of toxic processes, such as preparation of metal surfaces for painting.

Selecting the Finalists

Evaluating these outstanding technologies that have creatively responded to environmental challenges was a formidable task for the panel of judges. In judging the best of the outstanding individuals and organizations nominated for applying technology to benefit humanity by solving environmental problems, the judges considered a number of factors. These factors included identification of the environmental problem, the nature of the technology, contributions made by the technology, and measurable results from the technology. The technology proponent’s consciousness of potential unintended consequences and the potential for replicating the environmental benefits of the technology were also important considerations. In addition to applying their own expertise, the judges consulted on-line research and interviewed technical specialists to add depth to the panel’s understanding of the technologies and operations of the nominated individuals and organizations.

The Five Finalists

Out of these exceptional applications of technology to benefit humanity by dealing with environmental problems, five emerged as finalists. Each of these finalists has a unique story of how technology can help solve environmental problems. These five finalists represent splendid applications of technology to provide the world with a cleaner, greener and ultimately more humane environment.

The PRIME Project

The PRIME (Private Sector Participation in Managing the Environment) project is an environmental organization formed by the United Nations’ Development Program and the Philippines’ Board of Investments - Department of Trade and Industry. The PRIME Project applies advanced, ISO 14001, environmental management systems to prevent environmental degradation. The PRIME Project works with small and medium-size enterprises, industrial parks, and industry associations to foster better environmental management practices, including environmentally beneficial strategies for reuse of waste and by-products. The small and medium-size enterprises that participate in the PRIME Project manufacture a wide range of products from fruit juice and ice cream ingredients to industrial maintenance chemicals. They include jewelry and ceramics manufacturers as well as businesses making synthetic rubber. The PRIME Project uses computer technologies to compile a Webbased database of industrial waste products designed to facilitate by-product exchange programs. Training in environmental management and use of waste and wastewater processing facilities also is a key part of the PRIME Project’s work to prevent, rather than just re-mediate, pollution in industrial areas of the Philippines. Demonstrating that “being green and being profitable” are compatible principles, the work of the PRIME Project is reflected on its Web site.

The Green Map System

The Green Map System is a non-profit organization headquartered in New York City that applies mapping technologies and the Internet to foster ecological understanding and responsibility in local areas all over the world. The Green Map System is a networked technology that empowers local groups to set aside wildlife corridors, to restore and preserve watersheds, to promote cultural heritage and historic preservation, as well as to encourage tourism. There are over 140 locally-led projects in 35 countries on 6 continents that share in the Green Map System’s initiatives to preserve the quality of local environments, including green space, water and energy resources, as well as habitats and the history of urban places. The Green Map System Web site (http:// www.greenmap.org/) offers a multifaceted software application with universal icons to map environmental features. Green Map System’s mapping technology has been applied to such places as Boston, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Beijing and Barcelona. The technologies available from the Green Map System vary from physical stickers to GIF-formatted data sets for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Both Mac and PC versions of icons in True Type Font are integral to the Green Map System computer interface available to environmentally conscious mapmakers the world over. The philosophy of the Green Map System embraces many different approaches to encourage ecological mapmaking of urban areas and even national parks. The Web site gathers these maps and approaches to map making and makes them available worldwide over the Internet.

The Stevens Institute of Technology

The Center for Environmental Engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology developed a small-scale technology that removes arsenic from well water, and gave that technology to the people of Bangladesh. The Stevens Technology for Arsenic Removal (STAR) was designed for use in developing countries and areas without centralized water treatment plants. In response to the health dangers posed by naturally occurring arsenic in well water that threatens to poison more than 57 million Bangladeshis, engineers at the Stevens Institute of Technology Center for Environmental Engineering provided an inexpensive and easily used technology that has already reached more than 6500 people with clean, clear water that is both good-tasting and safe from poisonous levels of arsenic. According to Nadine R. Karim, director general of the Earth Identity Project, the STAR technology “is being [used] with great enthusiasm by people of Matlab, Kachua, Hajiganj in Chandpur, and Sylhet. This inexpensive option has the capacity to save hundreds and thousands of lives.” Further details about how the STAR arsenic removal technology works are available at the Web site for the Center for Environmental Engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Dr. Betsy L. Dresser, Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species

Dr. Betsy L. Dresser applies genetic technology to the preservation and propagation of endangered species all over the world. As Senior Vice President for Research at the Audubon Center, she also directs the Freeport-McMoran Audubon Species Survival Center outside New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Dresser uses advanced biotechnology to help assure the survival of endangered animal populations, such as smaller felines like the African wildcat, serval, caracal, fishing cat, and clouded leopard. This advanced biotechnology takes the form of Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) that has been key to Dr. Dresser’s successful efforts to preserve a wide variety of endangered animals including Mississippi sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, Indonesian storks, Mexican gray wolves, California sea otters, African bongo antelope, and Asian tigers. Dr. Dresser applies both intraspecies and interspecies embryo transfer using in vitro fertilization and maturation, as well as cryopreservation of genetic material from endangered animals, nuclear transfer and many other cutting-edge genetic technologies in her work producing babies to repopulate endangered wildlife, both at the Audubon Center and internationally. Dr. Dresser’s Genome Resource Bank of frozen genetic material from endangered species is used to preserve biodiversity by repopulating endangered animals in their native habitat, using both implanting embryos in surrogates and exchanging genetic material between captive and wild populations throughout the world. Some of Dr. Dresser’s experience with cryopreservation of ovarian tissue from primates may help in efforts to assist human females undergoing chemotherapy to restore fertility, through removal of ovarian tissue before chemotherapy and then re-implantation of a woman’s own ovarian tissue after chemotherapy. Some of Dr. Dresser’s important work is reflected on the Audubon Center’s Web site (http:// www.auduboninstitute.org/).

Capstone Turbine Corporation

The Capstone Turbine Corporation, a Cali-fornia-based publicly held corporation produces low-emission micro turbines that burn air pollutants to generate clean electric power. As applied to reduce air pollution from the very sour (high in hydrogen sulfide) solution gasses otherwise flared into the atmosphere by oil refineries in Alberta, Canada, Capstone’s micro turbines have virtually eliminated the release of 250 potentially dangerous chemical compounds, including hydrogen sulfide, toluene and benzene, as well as greenhouse gasses, such as nitrous oxide (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO). Using a single moving part, the micro turbines burn these toxic flare gasses to generate electric power that can be used either at the refinery or on the electric power grid. Capstone’s micro turbines are fitted with a Digital Power Controller that assures that generated electricity meets qualitative requirements of electric power utilities. In addition to the treatment of solution gas from petroleum refineries, Capstone micro turbines’elegant technology contributes to low-emission and relatively quiet distributed generation of electric power in other settings, such as landfills where odoriferous methane is used to generate electric power. Capstone also applies its micro-turbine technology in powering hybrid electric vehicles, such as busses. A fascinating look at how Capstone’s micro turbines work is available at the company’s Web site: http:// www.capstoneturbine.com.

The Panel

Dorothy Glancy, Chair, Professor of Law, Santa Clara University

Theodore Garrett, Partner, Covington & Burling, Co-Chair of Environmental Practice Group

Ken Manaster, Professor of Law, Santa Clara University

Chad Raphael, Assistant Professor of Communication, Santa Clara University

Richard M. Sadai, Senior Vice President, Global Business Development, Lynx Photonic Networks

Amy Shachter, Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Director, Environmental Studies Institute, and Associate Professor of Chemistry, Santa Clara University

Carlos Sluzki, U.N. Special Commission on Human Rights, and Director, Center for Psychiatry & Behavioral Healthcare, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital

Michael A. Taylor, Chief Technology Officer, Safeharbor Technology Corporation

The panel’s work was aided by the excellent support from Sherrill Dale and Catherine Valerga of the Center’s staff, as well as by the able technical assistance from Andrew Gurthet, director of Law Technology and Academic Computing for Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Gurthet managed the Herculean task of wrestling hundreds of pages of application files into an Adobe Acrobat .pdf format for use by the panel of judges.

About the Author

  dorothy glancy

Dorothy J. Glancy is Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law. Professor Glancy is a graduate of Wellesley College and the Harvard Law School. She teaches courses in land use, natural re­sources, intellectual property, property, and administrative law. Before entering academia, Professor Glancy practiced law in Washington, D.C. and was counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommit­tee on Constitutional Rights. She has also served in the Office of General Counsel of the United States Department of Agricul­ture. Professor Glancy is a member of the American Law Institute and has served as chair of Section on Environmental Law as well as the Section on Property of the As­sociation of American Law Schools. She was a member of the Executive Commit­tee and Adviser to the Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of California and served on the Council of the American Bar Association Section of Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Law. A special­ist regarding intelligent transportation sys­tems, Professor Glancy directed a study of the impact of these intelligent transporta­tion systems on privacy, under a grant from the Federal Highway Administration. Her publications and presentations cover a wide range of topics from partitioning oil and gas rights in Texas, to preserving Rockefeller Center, to ethics issues for environmental litigators.

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