According to the Lisbon strategy, the European Union should become “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, and respect for the environment”. This statement implies a consistent assessment of the environmental, social and economic impacts of technological development, which is not currently the case. Managing these three sustainable dimensions within a standardised and comprehensive approach that combines both technology forecasting methods and life cycle approach represents a great challenge.
To achieve this, the project will (i) establish a set of relevant integrated indicators of sustainability, (ii) deliver an assessment for four emerging technologies and (iii) design an easy-to-use freeware suite for end-users in administration and in industry (both large and small).
Firstly, rather than giving three parallel assessment tools that are difficult to combine, a set of concrete tools will deliver an aggregate result on economic, environmental and social impacts. The assessment of economic impacts includes indirect and secondary effects such as changes in the market due to a newly-introduced technology. The assessment of environmental impacts will particularly focus on today’s most complex areas. For example, the project will help users take into account how technologies can affect land use or the use of water, both locally (i.e. where the manufacturing of this technology takes place) and globally (e.g. knock-on effects where raw materials are extracted). The assessment of the social impact of technologies is based upon a stakeholder-approved set of indicators drawn from a comprehensive review of existing indicators .
Secondly, case studies will be used to test and demonstrate the assessment. Four technology area’s have been selected because of their potential for large scale implementation: (i) biorefineries with biomaterials (e.g. bio-based material as primary products), (ii) nanotechnologies, in particular antimicrobial nanoparticles and polymer nano composites, (iii) multifunctional mobile devices with a particular focus on their end of life recycling and (iv) carbon capture and storage technologies for power plants and large-scale industrial sources as greenhouse gas emission damage-reducing techniques.
Thirdly, this holistic and standardised approach will be integrated into a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) software platform, freely accessible and available on the Internet. This user-friendly tool will allow every end-user to perform the methodology which was developed within this project and flexibly adapt it to their needs.
The project, which is co-funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), a grant funding programme,, gathers 26 academic, SME and industrial partners coordinated by Utrecht University (The Netherlands). It runs through October 2013. The technology readiness level (TRL) is estimated to be 3, according to the scope of the seventh framework programme, which provides public grant partial funding for R&D.