Series No. 7
Approach in Environmental Management
I. INTRODUCTION – AN ECOSYSTEMS
Our global interdependence and vulnerability has never been more pronounced.
What happens on one part of the planet will have some kind of effect, at
some time, on all other parts. Global change is a dynamic process that can
only be understood from a holistic and ecological perspective. In describing
the interactions of parts within the global ecosystem, the Brundtland Report
refers to “a complex and interlinked ecosystem”, and the need
to take into account “the system-wide effects of exploitation”.
Emerging from this is the rationale for sustainable development and the importance
of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs.
Ecological processes are at the centre of these interactive natural, social
and technological forces. On the one hand, through science and technology,
humans are in the unique position of being responsible for their own environment.
On the other hand, unexpected threats have arisen from the by-products of scientific
and technological developments and in some cases ecosystems resilience and
species diversity have diminished. Loss of plant and animal species can greatly
limit the options of future generations; it is therefore important to ensure
the conservation of species and the maintenance of biodiversity. It can be
argued that the highest survival value for society is to maintain the integrity
of the ecosystem and biotic community as a whole and that our human capacity
to understand these processes confers upon us the responsibility to do this.
A. Environmentally Sound Technologies
Technologies reflect our cultural values and historically have altered the
nature of human consciousness. Technologies, by their very presence, often
force us into searching for solutions to problems that become defined as
technological, even though many of these problems may not have been technological
to begin with. Some believe that the problems created by one technology
can be solved by a technological fix from another. They often ignore the
that humans are both part of and dependent on nature. This is because the
human and environmental consequences of technological choices and the extent
to which we are shaped by technology are often obscured.
As shown in Table 1, all technologies undergo a similar development cycle,
regardless of their origin or application. The first stage is the identification
of a need, a problem or an opportunity. Second, there is a choice of alternatives.
Next comes a series of operational steps, including - selection of sites and
technologies; design; acquisition of appropriate rights and permissions; const
ruction; operation and maintenance; and follow-up. Over time, there must be
monitoring and evaluation and, if required, upgrading and repair. The final
stage involves replacement or reuse, abandonment and disposal.
Rational environmental management means making the best use of resources
to meet basic human needs without destroying the sustaining and regenerative
capacity of natural systems. This requires a good understanding of the intersecting
elements within the larger frame of development and implies the adoption and
use of alternative, environmentally sound development strategies and related
Table 1: Technology Development Cycle
Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs) are technologies that
have the potential for significantly improved environmental performance relative
to other technologies.
ESTs protect the environment, are less polluting, use resources in a sustainable
manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle all residual
wastes in a more environmentally acceptable way than the technologies for
which they are substitutes. ESTs are not just individual technologies. They
can also be defined as total systems that include know-how, procedures, goods
and services, and equipment, as well as organizational and managerial procedures
for promoting environmental sustainability.
Defining environmentally sound technologies in an absolute sense is difficult
since the environmental performance of a technology depends upon its impacts
on specific human populations, biota and ecosystems, and the availability of
supporting infrastructure and human resources for the management, monitoring
and maintenance of the technology, as well as the sustainability of natural
systems. The soundness of environmental technology is also influenced by temporal
and geographical factors, to the extent that some technologies may be environmentally
sound now but may be replaced in the future by even cleaner technologies.
Likewise, what is environmentally sound in one country or region may not
be in another, unless it is redesigned or adapted to make it appropriate for
addressing local needs. Thus the term environmentally sound technology can
be applied to all technologies and their transition to becoming more environmentally
sound; this ranges from basic technologies to fully integrated technologies.
This definition captures the full life cycle flow of the material, energy and
water in the production and consumption system. It also implies the development
and application of environmentally sound technologies underpinned by more holistic
environmental management strategies based on the characteristics of natural
systems, which include: species diversity; resilience; adaptiveness; regenerative
capacity; interconnectedness; spatial and temporal fluctuation; etc. Examples
of ESTs that emulate natural processes are Ecological Engineering and Ecotechnologies.