Technology | Coming Alongside

The Impacts of Technology on the World Around Us

The Bottom Line

The disposal and recycling of electronic waste is only a part of the overall impact that engineered products have on the environment and on society. As consumers, we purchase, use, and dispose of these products at an ever increasing rate, and the impacts of our consumption extend from the cradle where natural resources are extracted to manufacture products — to the grave where these products reach the end of their useful life. While the most obvious impacts are on the natural environment and on public (human) health, technology and the products that use technology have significant social and economic impact as well.

Education regarding the nature, scope, and mitigation of these impacts is a critical first step in reducing them. This page contains educational materials developed for high school and post-secondary audiences including adult learners who would like to know more about the environmental, social, and economic impacts of technology.

What We Offer:
A series of educational materials that explores the broad range of impacts that technology has on the world around us, including social, economic, and environmental dimensions:
  • Environmental Constraints in Product Design — including laws, codes, and regulations that limit how much a product can contaminate the natural environment as well as operating parameters that influence product performance.
  • Environmental Consequences of Product Design — including natural resource extraction, product manufacturing, transport, product use, and disposal/recycling.
  • Social Constraints in Product Design — including case studies of products that flopped because of failing to anticipate what consumers will not buy and why.
  • Social Consequences of Product Design — including examples of how corporate responsibility extends not only to the supply chain but to employees and other local communities.
  • Economic Constraints in Product Design — focused on identifying a reasonable price point for a product and cost-pricing the design from the very beginning of the engineering design process.
  • Economic Consequences of Product Design — exploring concepts of fair trade, fair wages, and fair value to ensure that both workers in the supply chain as well as end customers are treated fairly.

Each set of materials above contains a minimum of a presentation, audio recording, assignment, and quiz that are designed for use by students to support learning and by educators to assist in teaching about the impacts of technology and suggesting corresponding actions that can be taken to reduce these impacts. Although this series of educational materials was originally designed for teaching engineering students at the undergraduate level, much of the information provided may be useful to anyone interested in understanding more about how technology impacts our global environment and society, as well as how those involved in product design can diminish these impacts to improve the sustainability of technology over the long term.

Know more:
The Impact of Plastics: Manufacture, Use, Disposal, Degradation, and Migration
Fifty Shades of Green: Environmental Impacts of Driving Electric Cars
Environmental Consequences of Electricity Production

The Story of Stuff: an engaging look at the many sides of our consumption behaviors.
The Story of Electronics: a closer look at the dark side of the electronics and high tech industries.
Design for Sustainability: a step-by-step approach published by the United Nations Environment Program for enhancing the sustainability of products and product design.


This work has been conducted in collaboration with the University of Washington and is funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DUE-1245464).