Series No. 7
Approach in Environmental Management
environmental management means making the best use of natural resources to
meet basic human needs without destroying their sustaining environmental
base. This requires a comprehensive understanding of the intersecting elements
within the larger frame of development and implies the adoption and use of
alternative, environmentally sound development strategies and associated
The term phytotechnology describes
the application of science and engineering to examine problems and provide
solutions involving plants
. The term itself is helpful in promoting a broader understanding of the
importance of plants and their beneficial role within both societal and
natural systems. A central component of this is the use of plants as living
that provide services in addressing environmental issues.
Phytotechnology applications employ ecological engineering principles and
hence are considered to be ecotechnologies. Ecotechnologies are
based on the science of ecology and the consideration of the ecosystem as an
of any proposed human or societal interventions involving the natural environment.
Ecotechnologies are dependent on the self designing capabilities of ecosystems
and nature. The focus on, and use of, biological species, communities, and
ecosystems distinguishes ecotechnologies from the more conventional engineering
technology approaches which seldom consider integrative ecosystem-based approaches.
Combined with an understanding of hydrological and biogeochemical processes,
phytotechnologies can be used to increase plant biomass and diversity and
to regulate nutrients and water dynamics, thereby enhancing ecosystem carrying
capacity and the resilience and functionality of ecosystems. This can lead
to significant improvements in water quality, enhanced biodiversity, improved
agricultural production and potential bioenergy generation, as well as remediation and restoration of degraded ecosystems.
Environmentally beneficial applications of phytotechnologies involve the
use of plants to augment the capacity of ecosystems to absorb impacts; and
to manipulate the ecosystem to prevent, reduce or remediate pollution. Plants
can be used to break down or sequester pollutants (sometimes making useful
products as an added benefit), or replace certain products or processes that
pollute with ones that do not. Applications can include the use of plants for
the restoration of ecosystems and the hydrological cycle. Plants can also be
used as indicators for monitoring and assessing ecosystems health.
The application of phytotechnologies in watershed management is complementary
to Ecohydrology as both approaches involve the enhancement of the capacity
of natural ecosystems to protect water resources and shoreline ecosystems.
Phytotechnologies also play an important role with respect to climate change
mitigation and adaptation, as plants are natural sinks for carbon dioxide.
Furthermore, some phytotechnology applications involving the use of plants
for housing, food, forage and sources of medicine can create employment. This
is particularly important in developing countries.
Although the concept is not entirely new, the area of Phytotechnology is
rapidly evolving and novel applications are continuing to emerge. Some examples
of phytotechnology applications are:
||The use of plants to reduce or solve pollution problems
that otherwise would be more harmful to other ecosystems. An example
is the use of wetlands for wastewater treatment.
||The replication of ecosystems and plant communities to
reduce or solve a pollution problem. Examples are constructed ecosystems
such as ponds and wetlands for treatment of wastewater or diffuse pollution
||The use of plants to facilitate the recovery of ecosystems
after significant disturbances. Examples are coal mine reclamation and
the restoration of lakes and rivers.
||The use of plants for societal benefits within the context of a managed
ecosystem. Examples a re integrated agriculture and the management of renewable
||The increased use of plants as sinks for carbon dioxide to mitigate
the impacts of climate change. Examples of this are reforestation and
||The use of plants to augment the natural capacity of urban areas to
mitigate pollution impacts and moderate energy extremes. An example is
the use of rooftop vegetation, or “greenroofs”.
An understanding of the potential and limitations of phytotechnologies is
necessary for their successful application. Limitations include insufficient
knowledge and expertise regarding plant selection and the factors that influence
plant growth, as well as public and regulatory acceptance. Each application
of phytotechnology involves site-specific considerations and should be evaluated
on a case-by-case basis. The developers and proponents of phytotechnology systems
must be able to demonstrate how phytotechnologies will meet environmental performance
objectives while minimizing potential risks to human health.
The application of phytotechnology involves more than going to a site and
planting seedlings, grass or some other type of plant. Phytotechnology is an
in situ approach, whether used in the creation of artificial wetlands for water
treatment, riparian recuperation and river/shore bank management, or site remediation,
that requires careful consideration of site-specific characteristics and ecosystem
interactions. Native plants are generally preferred for phytotechnology applications.
In most applications, plants that are adapted to local conditions will have
better chances of success than non-adapted plants. The use of mixed species
of vegetation can also lead to greater chances of success than the use of monocultures,
which may be highly prone to pests and reduce the natural genetic pool. Care
should be taken not to introduce species of plants that are invasive or a nuisance
that may cause greater damage than the expected benefits from their use.
The effectiveness of phytotechnology applications depends on having both
broad-based and expert input into their development, adoption and ongoing monitoring.
Governments, the private sector and citizens must all be involved, and systems
for collecting, synthesizing and feeding back information and knowledge on
phytotechnologies must be established and maintained. Issues and concerns must
be addressed in a transparent, credible manner, and proactive strategies are
required to ensure the responsible development and application of phytotechnologies.