“We have the technology; we can rebuild him” was the strapline of the 1970s TV series ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. The implication being that science and technology is ever advancing and a force for good. This belief system is known as Scientism and it involves an unfailing and unflinching belief in the power and goodness of science and technology to be of benefit to humankind. Scientism is a powerful and influential belief system, prevalent, particularly, across Westernised societies. It is clearly nonsense.
On the other hand, I participate in a lot of webinars, especially those focused on ESG or the SDGs and I hear the oft repeated statement that all the technologies needed to tackle climate change are already developed: we do not need any further technological developments to tackle climate change or to address the wider ESG agenda. This, too, is clearly nonsense.
This is the notion that modern humankind is on a journey of ever more progress – that we are getting better and better, at whatever it is we do, all the time and that science and technology are making this possible. Again, this is patent nonsense.
Yet the modern era (in which we currently live) is defined by science and technology (the industrial revolution followed by the technological revolution followed by the information revolution).
The answer to this question, as far as I see it, is that science and technology solves (or attempts to solve) questions – eschewing notions of progress and linearity. We (someone) comes across a problem, poses a question then deploys the techniques of science and technology to find a potential solution. To close the loop, the impact of the ‘solution’ is then measured and assessed, then the process goes back to the beginning and runs again.
Many of the SMEs with which Sustainable Capital (https://www.sustainablecapitalplc.com/) work actually operate to solve problems. SmartKasTM (https://smartkas.com/), for example, is an innovative vertical farming food producer: as they say on their website:
The mission of SMARTKAS is to create a fully sustainable and absolutely green agricultural process relying solely on renewable resources for energy and water, while producing food without chemicals in a smart and efficient way. SMARTKAS’s innovation lies not only in the advanced technology or the science, but also the innovative process itself; not to mention our philosophy that access to food and water should be a basic human right.
Another partner of Sustainable Capital, Altech Chemicals Ltd (https://www.altechchemicals.com/) has, through partnerships with universities, developed a process for producing High Purity Alumina which, when used in the production of car batteries, increases performance by up to 20%.
As the company states on its website:
“Altech Chemicals produces HPA for the sole purpose of manufacturing LEDs and Lithiumion batteries for electric vehicles, supporting the development of the green economy. Altech has furthermore developed a unique HPA production route and plant design enabling resource efficient sourcing, reduction of chemical waste and solid residues, and energy efficient production processes, reducing its carbon footprint significantly compared with its peers.” (https://www.altechchemicals.com/sites/altechchemicals.com/files/related_document/Altech%20Green%20Bond%20Framework%20Final%201%20Apr%2020%20CLEAN1.pdf)
The multiple impacts of Altech’s approach are clear from the above.
Companies outwith the ambit of Sustainable Capital are also following this pattern. For example, Inter Group Mining (https://igmining.com/), under the strapline: ‘Focused on Minerals for a Net Zero Emissions World’, identified the problem: concrete is environmentally harmful and a significant producer of CO2, came up with a potential solution: replace cement with calcinated clay (metakaolin) and the impact: reduce CO2 emissions by 40-50%.
Another example, from a totally different sector, is CarbonKapture (https://www.carbonkapture.org/) a new business which, as they say on their website: “We remove CO2 by growing seaweed to create carbon negative products and services.” Growing Kelp (the seaweed of choice) is not, however, as simple as it seems. CarbonKapture have, therefore, partnered with PhD students who bring cutting edge research to the endeavour, demonstrating, for example, that Kelp grown in sheltered waters sequesters more nitrogen than carbon dioxide. Insights such as these allow CarbonKapture to increase the opportunity costs of their business and enhance their environmental impacts.
All these companies briefly described above use science and technology to solve a problem. They are all solution focused and impact driven. All have a number of key characteristics in common:
Science and technology, innovation in general can, of course, be, broadly speaking, for the benefit of humankind. Science and technology can also be actively harmful, frequently to large numbers of people. Often, science and technology is both, simultaneously, beneficial and harmful at the same time. It is, therefore, critical to realise and remember that human beings are in charge of science and technology. The examples provided above are of companies driven to use research, science and technology to enhance their businesses whilst advancing their impacts across the ESG spectrum. They provide role models for others to follow.
The uses to which we put science and technology are within the control of people – you!