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Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, 14:1093 | Cite as

Nanotechnology for sustainability: what does nanotechnology offer to address complex sustainability problems?

  • Arnim Wiek
  • Rider W. Foley
  • David H. Guston
Perspectives

Abstract

Nanotechnology is widely associated with the promise of positively contributing to sustainability. However, this view often focuses on end-of-pipe applications, for instance, for water purification or energy efficiency, and relies on a narrow concept of sustainability. Approaching sustainability problems and solution options from a comprehensive and systemic perspective instead may yield quite different conclusions about the contribution of nanotechnology to sustainability. This study conceptualizes sustainability problems as complex constellations with several potential intervention points and amenable to different solution options. The study presents results from interdisciplinary workshops and literature reviews that appraise the contribution of the selected nanotechnologies to mitigate such problems. The study focuses exemplarily on the urban context to make the appraisals tangible and relevant. The solution potential of nanotechnology is explored not only for well-known urban sustainability problems such as water contamination and energy use but also for less obvious ones such as childhood obesity. Results indicate not only potentials but also limitations of nanotechnology’s contribution to sustainability and can inform anticipatory governance of nanotechnology in general, and in the urban context in particular.

Keywords

Nanotechnology Sustainability Complex problems Problem solving Intervention research Anticipatory governance 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank their colleagues at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU) and Lauren Withycombe Keeler (School of Sustainability, ASU) for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, as well as Richard Rushford (School of Sustainability), Evan Taylor (CNS-ASU), and Braden Kay (School of Sustainability) for research assistance. This research was undertaken with support by CNS-ASU, funded by the National Science Foundation (cooperative agreement #0531194 and #0937591). The findings and observations contained in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arnim Wiek
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rider W. Foley
    • 1
    • 2
  • David H. Guston
    • 2
  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Center for Nanotechnology in Society, Consortium for Science, Policy & OutcomesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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