Materials influence every aspect of the energy system; therefore, as well as developing new materials for energy generation, materials scientists should engage in public debate about the limitations of future innovations and the conservation of existing materials.
The term ‘sustainable development’ is used to reflect the concern that we should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. However, the word ‘sustainable’ is difficult to define precisely and can indicate many different aspirations about economic well-being, social equity and environmental harm. This rightly reflects a broad human agenda, but the actions required to address these three targets are in some cases unrelated, and in others incompatible. A particular problem created by the conflation of economic and environmental intentions of sustainable development occurs when actions to reduce environmental harm are reported per unit of economic or physical output. If output grows faster than the reduction in harm per unit of output, the total environmental harm grows, and it is the absolute physical effects that will challenge future generations. In this context, this Comment article discusses the environmental concerns of sustainable materials and addresses two questions. First, can new materials be developed that support a more sustainable future? Second, what is the role of existing materials within a more sustainable future?
Read the comment from Nature Reviews - Materials