Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 1165–1179 | Cite as

Material Scarcity: A Reason for Responsibility in Technology Development and Product Design

Original Paper


There are warning signs for impending scarcity of certain technology metals that play a critical role in high-tech products. The scarce elements are indispensable for the design of modern technologies with superior performance. Material scarcity can restrain future innovations and presents therefore a serious risk that must be counteracted. However, the risk is often underrated in the pursuit of technological progress. Many innovators seem to be inattentive to the limitations in availability of critical resources and the possible implications thereof. The present shortages in industrial supply with technology metals may be interpreted as a wake-up call for technology developers to tackle the issue with due consideration. The article reviews the materials scarcity phenomenon from the viewpoint of sustainable development ethics. The following questions are discussed: ‘Should preventative actions be taken today in order to mitigate resource scarcity in future?’ and ‘Should technology developers feel responsible to do this?’ The discussion presents arguments for industrial designers and engineers to create a sense of responsibility for the proactive mitigation of material scarcity. Being protagonists of the innovation system, they have the opportunity to lead change towards resource-aware technology development. The paper concludes by outlining ideas on how they can pioneer sustainable management of critical materials.


Eco-design Eco-innovation PGM REE Resource depletion Precautionary principle Sustainability ethics Sustainable resource management 

Supplementary material

11948_2012_9401_MOESM1_ESM.doc (124 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 125 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section Design for Sustainability, Faculty of Industrial Design EngineeringDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

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