clean tech

The six key areas of cleantech


Photo credit: Global Landscape Forum.

By Cameron Brown

Have you ever found yourself desperately grasping for the right words to explain what cleantech is?

It’s one thing to be an advocate of cleantech or to work in the space, and another to be able to describe it clearly with ease.

Cleantech is a broad industry encompassing many different things. It’s important we’re clear on how we define it to ourselves, and how we talk about it with the people in our lives.

After reading and absorbing this post, you should be able to explain what cleantech is to your grandma in under five minutes in a way she understands.

How is cleantech defined?

Clean technology refers to any process, product, or service that reduces negative environmental impacts through significant energy efficiency improvements, the sustainable use of resources, or environmental protection activities.” — Wiki

In Short

Technology that’s good for the environment.

The 6 Key Areas

In order to achieve sustainability — a world system that meets our needs now without making it harder for future people to meet their own needs — we’ll need a combination of intelligent policy and innovation.

Cleantech seeks to develop technology to address challenges in the following interrelated areas.

1. Water


Photo credit: From Flickr.


We need a clean, abundant water supply.

Primary Challenges:

  • Water overuse
  • Water is abundant in some places, while scarce in others
  • Large parts of the world population lack access to clean water

2. Transportation


Photo credit: Pedego Electric Bikes.


How we get around including individual choices of transport, infrastructure, and public transportation options available to us.

Primary Challenges:

  • Improving carbon-free vehicle options
  • Increasing the amount of carbon-free vehicles on the road

3. Energy Generation and Storage


Photo credit: Jonathan Potts via Flickr.


Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Primary Challenges:

  • Decreasing air and water pollution
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions

4. Waste and Sustainable Materials


Photo credit: Repurpose Compostables.


What we do with products and materials that are no longer useful, and what products and materials are made of.

Primary Challenges:

  • Making better products that last longer or biodegrade
  • Improving manufacturing processes
  • Achieving equal quality with alternative materials

5. Built Environment



Photo credit: Michael via Flickr.




The physical infrastructure of roads, runways, airports, bridges, and rail lines we need to travel. Real estate also falls into this category, as well as things like stormwater capture and waste-related infrastructure.

Primary Challenges:

  • Increasing renewable energy use
  • Decreasing and repurposing waste

6. Agriculture and Food Services


Photo credit: Freight Farms.


How we grow, distribute, and consume our food.

Primary Challenges:

  • Water overuse
  • Limited land
  • Distance between where food is grown and where it’s consumed
  • Decreasing and repurposing agricultural and consumer packaging waste

The source of the information above can be found and explored deeper here: Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation. 

Never fumble your explanation of cleantech again

Learning how to talk about cleantech is a skill that requires practice. Your next move, of course, is to go forth and discuss. Tell your grandma about it. Share it with your classmates. Tell your co-workers about it.

First published on Cleantech Rising.

Cameron Brown is the co-creator of Cleantech Rising.

5 replies »

  1. It is important to know water is our most important resource and keeping it clean and safe should be a top priority. Generations to come will need this precious resource and it is up to us to make sure they get safe, clean water sources like our lakes, rivers and streams. Ignoring this will have devastating effects on the worlds future existence.


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