The past, present, and future of green technology. As told by the electric car.

What the history of electric cars can tell us about the future of green technology

It’s not too hard to come up with a mental picture of “advanced technology.” If you’re a nerd (guilty as charged), maybe you think of a world like that of Blade Runner (maybe the new Blade Runner 2049). Fancy computers, flying cars, robots or androids, and probably at some point the end of the world.

That’s the advancement of technology.

When you imagine “green” (aside from the color), maybe it’s a little more difficult to think of a picture. Still, you might consider concepts like recycling, or energy efficiency. Ok, good enough.

But, what images come to mind when you hear Green Technology? If someone were to tell you about the progression of green tech, what would you expect them to talk about? Would you have any ideas at all?

Green technology

If you were to define this term — Green Technology — you could say it is:

Practical equipment designed to reduce (or reverse) negative human impact on the environment.

So. What does that include? A lot of things, as it turns out. Concrete created with recycled products. Underwater kites that convert tidal energy. Laptops made of bamboo. Vertical farming.

The concept of “green tech” hasn’t been around for very long. The practices behind it — like using natural resources — have certainly been around much longer. But the idea of creating things with the purpose of positively affecting the environment is a pretty new notion.

Let’s talk through it, then. To help us through this history, we’ll use a “modern day” example: the electric car. We’ll address the relative age of green technology, how it’s evolving, why, and what the foreseeable future looks like.

How old is green tech?

When was the first electric car created? 2004? 1996? 1900?

Scottish inventor Robert Anderson created one of the first examples of an electric vehicle in the 1830s. That’s right, Tesla, you’re nearly 200 years late. Or, was Anderson almost 200 years too early? After all, the first practical electric cars didn’t arise until the 1850s. And, it’s taken until the turn of the 21st century for them to reach their full potential (you tried, General Motors).

How long has green technology been around, then? We’ve been using windmills to convert energy and playing with the idea of utilizing solar power since the earliest days of man. But, what makes green tech really “green”? I’d argue that it’s the mindset. Are you creating tech that happens to be clean, or creating it with the intention of being cleaner?

Using that framework, it wasn’t until the 1990s that we really took our impact on the world seriously. So, again, it took until the modern age for this idea to be fully realized and capitalized on. Nowadays, electric cars and green technology are common knowledge, if not just yet common practice.

How is it evolving?

Years ago, electric cars were easily worse for the environment than normal cars. And, green technology meant little more than just using renewable resources. Now, new categories seem to be added daily to the troves of green tech, and electric cars are becoming cleaner and more mainstream.

It used to be that electric cars were created the same way as gas-powered cars, used dirty coal to power their electricity, and had batteries that were incredibly hard to dispose of. Nowadays, they are often on par with gas cars from cradle to grave, and even at times can prove to be better for the environment. More is being done to ensure that their lithium-ion batteries can be recycled or reused once they lose the charge needed to power a car. And, the likelihood that the electricity they’re using when charging is green is increasing, too. They are arguably still at a deficit impact-wise. But, they are certainly improving.

Green tech overall is evolving as well. We’re turning more and more to greener sources of energy. And, we’re developing better ways of utilizing natural resources, like recent innovations to solar power. The technology is becoming cheaper, more efficient, and slowly more mainstream. Tesla created the Model 3, its most affordable model yet. Solar panels are becoming more homeowner friendly in price range. Government tax incentives make purchasing green tech more realistic.

We’re living in an age that supports mainstream consumption of this beneficial technology.

Why is it evolving?

Maybe you’ve seen the Kia Super Bowl commercial, with the tagline, “It’s hard to be an eco warrior, but it’s easy to drive like one.” That phrase captures why electric cars continue to evolve. They’ve gone from just a symbol of one’s economic status, to a (comparably) simple and visible way of dedicating your life to sustainable living. They have become synonymous with “green.”

In a similar way, the market of green technology continues to develop because it’s what consumers want. More and more, the mainstream client is buying into green living, and making purchases that support that lifestyle. Of course, as discussed earlier, another reasons for growth is due to the general recognition that our actions severely impact the world around us. The need for ways to reduce our negative impact can no longer be ignored.

Is this to say that actual consumption of green technology is skyrocketing? Not necessarily. But, as the corporate world continues to make strides, the rest of the world is expected to follow. So -

What does the future look like?

The current aim of electric car manufacturers is to make this technology more affordable for the common person. And, for these cars to become truly “zero emission” from cradle to grave. In the future, we can expect further research, more efficient production, and a broader market share for electric cars.

When considering green technology as a whole, we need only look at global agendas. Around the world political leaders and businesses are investing in sustainability. Business leaders especially are responsible for enacting a lot of the recent change seen in the sustainability field. In the coming days, we need to see a continued push for use of renewable resources, deepening research into new technologies, and persistence globally for greener living.

So. What does the future of green technology look like according to the current trajectory of the electric car?

More access. More affordable. More effective.

Now, we’re not naïve. We realize there’s a ways to go before this tech (and even just the electric car) are really items of mass consumption. All that convincing, research and perseverance is very much necessary.

But the good news is that we’ve already made it over the edge of making any forward progress at all. As a species, we already experienced the push from “talking” to “doing” at the beginning of this century. We’ve recognized the need for change. We must alter the ways we’re living.

Now is the time for action.