Nanotechnology for sustainability: What does nanotechnology offer to address complex sustainability problems?

Arnim Wiek, Rider W. Foley, David Guston

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Nanotechnology is widely associated with the promise of positively contributing to sustainability. However, this view often focuses on end-of-pipe applications, for instance, for water purification or energy efficiency, and relies on a narrow concept of sustainability. Approaching sustainability problems and solution options from a comprehensive and systemic perspective instead may yield quite different conclusions about the contribution of nanotechnology to sustainability. This study conceptualizes sustainability problems as complex constellations with several potential intervention points and amenable to different solution options. The study presents results from interdisciplinary workshops and literature reviews that appraise the contribution of the selected nanotechnologies to mitigate such problems. The study focuses exemplarily on the urban context to make the appraisals tangible and relevant. The solution potential of nanotechnology is explored not only for well-known urban sustainability problems such as water contamination and energy use but also for less obvious ones such as childhood obesity. Results indicate not only potentials but also limitations of nanotechnology’s contribution to sustainability and can inform anticipatory governance of nanotechnology in general, and in the urban context in particular.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNanotechnology for Sustainable Development, First Edition
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783319050416
ISBN (Print)9783319050409
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Anticipatory governance
  • Complex problems
  • Intervention research
  • Nanotechnology
  • Problem solving
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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