Science Wednesday: Smart Investments: Technology for the Planet and the Economy

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: April Richards is an environmental engineer with EPA’s Office of Research and Development, where she helps manage EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. She recently organized the SBIR kick-off meeting for the new early-stage technology developers that received funding from EPA.

We recently held our kick-off meeting for new small businesses awarded EPA funding to develop innovative technologies for solving environmental problems. It was so exciting to have a room full of entrepreneurial engineers and scientists putting their collective brainpower toward solving such important issues as climate change, air pollution, renewable energy, infrastructure, and water quality monitoring.

“It’s great to know EPA wants us to succeed,” was one company’s way of summing up the meeting. We sure do!

The original idea of the SBIR Program was to tap into the wealth of engineering and scientific expertise of small businesses to address federal government’s pressing research and development needs. Given that small business (particularly in technology) is often referred to as the “engine of U.S. economic growth”—providing the majority of the country’s new jobs—this idea makes more sense now than ever before.

There’s never been a better time to match the need for economic growth with environmental protection through the creation of “green jobs.”

There is so much potential for developing technology that both benefits the environment and keeps the U.S. competitive in the global market. As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a recent e-mail to Agency staff, we shouldn’t have a “false choice of a strong economy or a clean environment.” The concepts are mutually beneficial.

New, “green” technologies that use less raw and toxic materials, generate smaller streams of waste, and emit fewer emissions are good for the environment and the bottom line. For example, several of the SBIR companies represented at the meeting are exploring ways to harvest what is now considered waste to create building materials, cleaner energy, or other valuable commodities.

Companies face many hurdles getting their technologies into the marketplace, where they can ultimately have a positive impact on the environment. But the potential is tremendous, and it’s reassuring to know that so many smart people are working on this common goal, and with some help from EPA, can develop technologies which help the planet and the economy.

For more information about EPA’s efforts to match technology innovation with environmental needs, visit: