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Envisioning a Sustainable Future

Sustainability requires an ability to visualize and plan for a future where natural resources are available for future generations.  It is not yet clear what our sustainable future will look like, but we can learn from the technological advances that have shaped today, and consider how current innovations may transform the future.

Planning for the Future by Learning from the Past
Since visualizing a few generations into the future is challenging, perhaps a look into our past will help.  Much has changed over the past 100 years.  In part, this comes from what was started during the last wave of the Industrial Era.  Below is a look at some of the inventions and milestones in the last century; it’s amazing to see how far we have come.

Today’s Technology Shaping our Future
Where will our vision for a sustainable New Jersey take us in 2118 or longer to 2218?  Where will the inventions of today take us in the future?  Here are a few examples of inventions listed in Time Magazine’s list of the 25 Best Inventions of the Year 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.  These inventions are putting sustainability into action, and shaping possible visions of tomorrow.



Michelin Adaptable Airless Tires

Michelin unveiled the Vision Concept this year to demonstrate the potential of tire technology.  The Vision Concept tire is airless, eliminating the need to worry about pounds per square inch.  It is made from recycled materials in an effort to reduce waste, and had 3D-printed treads, which can be swapped in and out to accommodate various road conditions without changing the tire itself. 

GreenWave Sustainable Crops

GreenWave, a Connecticut nonprofit, is growing oysters, mussels, clams and seaweed on ropes anchored to the ocean floor. As land farming becomes increasingly problematic—it accounts for a growing portion of the planet’s greenhouse­-gas emissions—and oceans get overfished, humans will need to develop alternative food sources. GreenWave’s crops offer compelling advantages: they’re protein-­rich, self­-sufficient (no fertilizer needed), and they even help combat climate change by sequestering carbon as they grow.


The Chevrolet Bolt

The Chevrolet Bolt is an all-electric car that touts crowd-­pleasing features, like more than 200 miles of driving on a single charge, at a relatively low cost. It won the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year Award and is considered the first mass-market electric car. 

Tesla’s Solar Roof

Telsa, in partnership with SolarCity, developed the Solar Roof as an alternative for homeowners who were not open to installing bulky solar panels on their homes.  The Solar Roof is a series of tiles designed to blend together while also harnessing the power of the sun. The solar tiles are meant to be more aesthetically pleasing than typical photovoltaic panels, and are also more efficient. 

Tesla’s Model X

The Model X was unveiled in September of 2015 and marks a leap toward a reality in which electric cars aren’t simply exotic, but just as useful as their competition. The world’s first luxury electric super utility vehicle can go 250 miles on a single charge, and haul seven passengers. It can hit 60 m.p.h. from a standstill in 3.2 seconds, and its battery pack gives it a low center of gravity, enabling sports-car-like handling. That’s rare for any SUV, let alone one that runs on clean power.

The Personal Pollution Detector - TZOA Environmental Tracker

To avoid potentially harmful pollutants and allergens, it helps to know about the air you’re breathing. The Tzoa, uses sensors to evaluate the atmosphere in any given area, measuring factors like temperature, particulate matter (dust, pollen, mold, car exhaust) and UV exposure then uploads that data to the cloud, so that institutions like Johns Hopkins can conduct air quality research. The company plans to launch wearable versions in 2016.


Wireless Electricity

WiTricity, based in Watertown, Massachusetts, developed a plug-in coil that creates a magnetic field which can power objects as far away at 8 ft.  Within 10 years, rooms could be wired so that all appliances – lamps, TVs, stereos – pull power from a central charging base.

A Reactor that Could Realize Nuclear Fusion

Nuclear fusion, the production of energy from the fusion of hydrogen nuclei, has always been the holy grail of energy.  It’s endlessly productive and largely clean but so far, it’s remained elusive.  However, in October 2014, Lockheed Martin said it had achieved a technological breakthrough that will enable it to make compact fusion reactors small enough to fit on the back of a truck within a decade.


The Wheel that Gives Bikers a Boost

We know that biking is good for us, and good for the environment.  But getting around on a bicycle can seem daunting, especially in a large city with hilly terrain.  To lessen that burden, Massachusetts-based Superpedestrian has developed the Copenhagen Wheel, a standard-size wheel that can be attached to the back of most bicycles that boasts a rechargeable, battery-powered motor.

The Plus Pool is an Olympic-size pool

Designed to float in the less-than-crystal-clear East River, the Plus Pool kills two birds with one stone: it cleans the river water, and gives New Yorkers a place to swim. Its unique filtration system scrubs the water as it floats through it, while its distinctive plus-sign shape isolates different wings for different activities. 

Volvo’s Solar Pavilion

When Volvo challenged designers to create a showcase for its new V60 hybrid, the winning entry, by the firm Synthesis Design & Architecture, was a spectacular, flexible solar panel that can charge a car and fold up to fit in the trunk. It’s not for sale yet, but testing is on-going.


A glimpse of where New Jersey was in the early 20th century?


NJ Forest Park Reserve Sign, Bass River State Forest, 1907

We are just beginning to realize the importance of our forests and the necessity for their preservation.  They not only furnish timber and provide an important industry, but they beautify the country, temper the climate, hold the rainfall, fertilize the soil, furnish game preserves and conserve our water supply, an indispensable feature of our rapidly growing and congested civilization.- Governor Edward C. Stokes, Inaugural Address, January 17, 1905
During the 19th century the forests in New Jersey were cut down for farming and lumber. Stokes State Forest was created in 1907 to counter this trend.  Governor Edward Stokes donated 500 acres (2.0 km2) of land in the Kittatinny Mountains, and the State of New Jersey purchased 5,432 acres (21.98 km2) to create Stokes State Forest. Through the years, additional purchases increased that forest to over 16,000 acres (65 km2). Formal trails were created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and white pine trees were planted.  Click here to learn more about NJ’s Open Space.

“The future depends on what we do in the present.”   - Mahatma Gandhi

On January 1, 2016, the United Nations launched its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The 17 Goals and associated 169 Targets serve as a roadmap for the future of sustainable development across the globe, linking environmental, social and economic concerns to make a positive change for both people and the planet. Governments, businesses and civil society, together with the United Nations, are mobilizing efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030.  Learn More.



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Last Updated: January 25, 2018