What determines the successful adoption of environmental technologies?

Introduction

There is a growing body of evidence available in the published literature that suggests that anthropogenic activities are the primary cause of global warming and the subsequent climate change that has occurred and will occur due to global warming (Solomon et al., 2009). The increasing international agreement has resulted in a general consensus that there is a global need to coordinate the responses to the global threat that anthropogenic activities pose regarding negative environmental impacts (Ostrom, 2010). In order to adequately address the negative environmental impacts of anthropogenic activities it is necessary to understand how the aforesaid activities interact with the environment to enable the development of appropriate solutions. However, the acknowledgement of the current global environmental issues and the need for comprehensive action does not necessarily translate to strategic responses worldwide. There are many different aspects to the global response to environmental issues, one of which is the subject of this essay. The particular aspect of the global response that is considered in this essay is the adoption of environmental technologies: in particular, what determines the successful adoption of environmental technologies?

The adoption of environmental technologies is a pivotal aspect of mitigating the impact of anthropogenic activities on the environment. This is due to the fact that it is unlikely that societies will regress to the point where the continuation of day-to-day existence will cease to impact negatively upon the environment. Features of modern living such as electricity consumption and the use of automobiles are unlikely to cease in the near future. Therefore in order to reduce the negative impact of the global society on the environment it is necessary to reduce the impact of everyday activities by substituting technologies that are harmful to the environment with technologies that at the very least reduce the environmental degradation if not cease it completely (Bergman and Eyre, 2011).

It is a given that there is a global comprehension regarding how anthropogenic activities are degrading the environment, yet there has not been a cessation of the use of environmentally damaging technologies. Therefore the question that is asked within this essay is what determines the successful adoption of environmental technologies? If an answer to this question can be determined then it may be possible to use the findings to promote the adoption of environmental technologies on an increasingly widespread basis and thereby reduce the potential environmental degradation that is associated with the current level of technology use.

The following paragraphs will discuss aspects of the successful adoption of environmental technology.

The factor of scale

The level at which technologies are adopted is likely to have a substantial influence on the successful adoption of environmental technology. The scale of the levels at which technology is adopted run from the household level, the community level and the national level up to the international level. At each level there will be different dominant influencing factors that determine whether the adoption of environmental technology will be successful. However, it is also important to differentiate between which of these levels is likely to have the most influence over the other levels. For example, it is unlikely that the household level will have a significant influence over whether an environmental technology will be successfully adopted or not. This is because of the influence that will be had by those in control at the levels above the household level (i.e. all other levels). There will be a limited influence at the household level, for example in government responses to the desire of populations; however this influence is unlikely to be substantial overall.

The National Scale

It is much more likely that the national government will have a greater controlling influence over the successful adoption of environmental technologies than those individuals at the household level. This is due to the fact that the national governments set the policies and regulations for the country as a whole: an ideal method for expressing support or a lack of support for particular technologies (Jacobsson and Lauber, 2006). For example, the use of solar thermal technology as a means of producing hot water at the household level only became popular in the United Kingdom when the United Kingdom government introduced policy that was supportive of the use of solar thermal energy at the household level with the introduction of grants and supportive policies. A specific example is when the United Kingdom introduced the low carbon buildings programme which resulted in 3,000 solar thermal installations in the first two years; however the government subsequently reduced the grant funding that was available for this programme and there was a corresponding drop in the number of solar thermal installations that were implemented (Bergman and Jardine, 2009). Overall, the adoption of renewable energy systems at the household level in the United Kingdom is low (Caird et al., 2008). The previous example demonstrates the extent of control that the national government possess in regards to the uptake and the successful adoption of environmental technology, although it should be noted that to some extent the policies of the government are likely to reflect the desires of the population, particularly in democratic nations. The increasing popularity and support among the general population for environmentally friendly technologies will go some way towards encouraging the governments to be supportive of environmental technologies. For example, there are numerous environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, that campaign for governments to introduce more extensive legislation to protect the environment from degradation, one aspect of which is the use of environmental technologies (Gough and Shackley, 2001).

Thus it can be seen that the national government policies and legislation can be a key factor that can be highly influential in terms of the successful adoption of environmental technologies. It is not just the current government policies that can potentially be highly influential for the successful adoption of environmental technologies. The historical policies and technology use patterns can also have a substantial influence over the success of environmental technologies. For example, in Denmark the use of environmental technology to harness the wind for electricity generation has been occurring since the early 1900s, and in 1918 3% of the electricity needs of Denmark were generated by windmills (Beise and Rennings, 2005). This early adoption of harnessing wind for energy generation is most likely the primary reason for the extensive use of wind turbines in Denmark in comparison to other countries (see figure 1). It should also be noted that Denmark had a more prolific use of wind turbines significantly earlier than many other countries (see figure 1).

In comparison to Denmark, the United Kingdom utilises relatively little of the potential energy that they could generate from their wind resources (see figure 1). This is not because the environmental technology is not developed - it can be seen from the successful implementation of wind turbines in other countries that the technology is fit for purpose, and the United Kingdom government is known to be supportive to the use of renewable energy technologies. Therefore there must be some other reason why there is relatively low exploitation of wind resources in the United Kingdom. One potential reason is the dislike of the wind turbine infrastructure that has been expressed by many organisations and individuals that inhabit areas near to proposed turbine sites (Jones and Eiser, 2010). Another reason may also be the difference in policies to encourage the use of wind technologies between the United Kingdom and Denmark. Denmark has operated a policy based on the principle of renewable energy feed tariffs, whereas the United Kingdom has operated a policy termed bidding systems (Beise and Rennings, 2005). When examined in closer detail, studies have found that the renewable energy feed tariffs, such as that used by Denmark, are far superior to that of the bidding system in terms of promoting the proliferation and thus successful adoption of environmental technologies that are used for energy generation (Beise and Rennings, 2005).

A graph showing wind energy usage

Figure 1. The extent of exploitation of wind for energy generation as a percentage of the total potential energy generation from wind (Beise and Rennings, 2005 p. 10).

Thus it can be concluded that whilst the policy of the governing body is a key factor in the uptake of environmental technology at the national level, not all government policies are created equal. As is the case with wind energy in Denmark and the United Kingdom, both governments have policies in place that are meant to support the adoption of technology that allows the generation of energy from wind; however it is apparent that the Danish policy has enabled a greater adoption of the technology than the United Kingdom policy.

The International Scale

International policy is also likely to have an influence on the potential success of environmental technology adoption. There is a growing body of international treaties that are signed by numerous nations that detail the need for global action to reduce the impacts of anthropogenic activities on the environment. An example of these treaties is the Kyoto protocol. The Kyoto protocol is an international agreement regarding the issues of global warming and climate change, within which the signatory nations agree to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly those that are carbon-based, with the aim of achieving eventually atmospheric levels that are equal to a 1990 base level (Manne and Richels, 2000).

Several methods have been introduced by the signatory countries to achieve this, including the introduction of regulations that require the limiting of emissions. In order to limit emissions from processes that previously would have emitted greenhouse gases, new environmental technologies have to be introduced that either do not emit these gases or capture the gases before emission. However, it is not just the signatory countries which have agreed to limit their emissions that have introduced new environmental technology adoption (again through the medium of government policy and regulation), but also some countries which are not required to actively reduce their emissions (due to their development status) that have introduced environmental technologies to achieve this aim - for example China (Fang et al., 2001).

China has made significant gains in reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases by introducing the successful adoption of environmental technologies through policies and regulations. Indeed, the emissions reductions of China could potentially exceed those of the countries required under the Kyoto protocol to reduce their emissions (Zhang, 2010). It is possible that the driving factors for the adoption of the new environmental technologies in China are due to a combination of the relatively extreme impact on the environment that anthropogenic activities have precipitated in China, a desire to increase their economic growth, and an additional desire to operate in the global market (Liu and Feng, 2011). The adoption of environmental technology in China is a relatively new occurrence. Previously the focus in China was on economic growth, with little concern for the environmental impact: therefore there was little to no environmental regulations in place with few incentives for the adoption of environmental technologies (Zhang, 2010). This is an issue that was noted in a study that was conducted by Popp (2010), who suggested that the proliferation of environmental technology is intrinsically linked to the proliferation of environmental regulations. Therefore a country that has poor environmental regulations is highly likely to not have seen the successful adoption of environmental technology.

In a similar vein, a study conducted by Costantini and Crespi (2008) concluded that when environmental regulations are more extensive and stringent, there is an increase in the investments that are made in environmental technologies, thereby likely increasing the successful adoption of environmental technologies as the technologies mature and become more generally regarded as reliable.

Conclusions

In conclusion, it was found that there is an intrinsic link between policy and regulations, be it on an international or a national level, and the successful adoption of environmental technologies. Whilst it was found that there were also other factors that could potentially influence the successful adoption of environmental technologies, these factors were considered to be incidental when compared to the influence of policy and regulations. The influence of policy and regulations on the successful adoption of environmental technology is suggested to occur because the regulations and legislation of governing bodies are not something that can easily be ignored without repercussions; thus it could be said that this method of introduction to the option of environmental technology is not a choice, but rather forces individuals, communities and businesses to implement environmental technologies in their homes and workplaces.

The link between policy and the successful adoption of environmental technologies was further highlighted when considering developing countries such as China. Prior to the introduction of environmental policies there was little to no proliferation of environmental technology within China - it was only subsequent to policy changes that environmental technologies began to be adopted. Therefore in order to support the adoption of environmental technologies it is of extreme importance that the national policies of the governing bodies are supportive of environmental technologies in order to reduce the environmental degradation caused by anthropogenic activities.

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