The Technology and Sustainability Entanglement

By Carol Baroudi
Aug 2, 2016 5:00 PM ET

Technology has momentum. It is disruptive and unstoppable. You can’t build a wall around it. To say that technology is more than the sum of its parts is a vast understatement, since technology in its connected aggregate is akin to an atmosphere that envelops us. Its data runs governments, economies and communities – both real and virtual ones that it created. It is embedded in healthcare, education, transportation, banking, commerce – you name it. It is so ubiquitous and yet so invisible that we can’t help but take it for granted.

Yet what makes technology is also invisible to us – the miners who extract the metals in its components, the energy used to refine the materials and the factories full of workers and, yes, robots that manufacture the devices. These devices just appear to us. We use them until they break or become obsolete. And then we give little attention to how we ought to handle them at the end of life and how we can make this relentless force more sustainable.

Ironically, technology is creating transparency around the very supply chain that creates new technologies – collecting and analyzing the energy consumption, the metals extraction, the manufacturing the greenhouse gases generated and the water consumed in these operations as well as the working conditions, the wages and the ages of the workers engaged in mines, smelters, warehouses, factories, transportation and stores.

And these are just the concerns of technology development. The world is rife with crises – from poverty and hunger to the lack of access to clean water and sanitation to the lack of access to affordable and clean energy. Take a look at the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by more than 190 world leaders. A huge number of the solutions being developed and deployed are technologysolutions.

And technology – always on – cannot function without electricity. As we scramble to transition to renewable energy, as we deploy sensors to improve agricultural yield, as we disseminate healthcare and education, we mine, we smelt and we drill to produce the very technologies we need in order to make these transformations possible.

Sustainability and technology are codependent. Lest we make the wrong assumption that technology will always be there when we need it, it’s important to remember that technology is made exclusively of nonrenewable materials, that the demand for technology continues to rise, and that technology poorly handled can cause serious harm to people and the environment. But even with its challenges, we need technology to solve even larger problems.

Here at Arrow’s Value Recovery business, we put reuse first, reclaiming everything reclaimable and doing our best to protect our workers, the environment and the materials that are critical to technology of the future. We’re working to make technology sustainable so that technology can sustain us.

I’d love to hear about how you’re using technology to address sustainability. Drop me a line at

Carol Baroudi works for Arrow’s Value Recovery business promoting sustainability awareness and action. She is the lead author of Green IT For Dummies. Her particular focus is on electronics in the Circular Economy, with an emphasis on the IT asset disposition stage, e-waste and everything connected. Follow her on Twitter @carol_baroudi and connect with her on LinkedIn at