Conclusion and need for action

In the course of a three-stage approach, technology-characterization has made possible the identification of substantial hazards associated with some nanotechnologies - particularly in the case of nanoparticles and the possibility of a shift from self-organization toward self-replication - (hazard characterization), life cycle analysis has demonstrated potential opportunities for efficiency increases through selected applications of nanotech-nology, and finally, basic approaches to sustainability-oriented design have been drafted. Among the significant conclusions that can be drawn from the study is, first of all, that potential risks from nanoparticles in non-contained applications already exist today and should not be ignored. Secondly, the results of the life cycle assessment demonstrate that the potential for significant environmental relief can be exploited, but that this does not fully apply to all areas of application and may entail calculated efforts. The technology characterization and the prospective (extrapolative) or concurrent life cycle assessment have also proven themselves as practical evaluation approaches, even for technologies, products, and processes still in development. Finally, it must be noted that Leitbild-oriented design -not in the least because of the findings in the first two approaches - will play an important role in further development of the technology toward sustainability.

At the operative level, in addition to the working with Leitbilder, the assessment, information, and communication instruments already mentioned here seem to be fundamentally well-suited for generating guidelines for action, particularly for small and mid-sized businesses (guidelines, development directives, management systems, etc.).

• Here, as a rule, the early phases of scientific and technological development offer the greatest opportunities for working toward sustainabil-ity; however they must be exploited. The development of formative Leitbilder offers itself as a valid approach.

• This should be augmented by concurrent and design-oriented processes, such as constructive technology assessment (CTA) or real-time technology assessment. Open communication processes throughout the entire value chain and product life cycle should be incorporated into scientific, business, and social organizations. Roadmaps for nanotechnological development represent another suitable instrument for integration and direction. Extrapolative life-cycle assessments - as presented here -should also be utilized and their results should be reflected back into the processes.

• As players in these processes, businesses have a substantial responsibility, which - particularly in newer EU environmental policy approaches such as REACh or in Integrated Product Policy (IPP) - have been repeatedly emphasized. The approaches mentioned assume at least a shared responsibility and in that respect take industry up on its promise. The development of integrated management concepts extending across the entire value chain, in which the aspects of health, safety, and environment (HSE) are recognized as quality assurance elements, would be a help. For the support specifically of small and medium-sized businesses, guidelines for nanotechnology-based sustainability-oriented design of products and processes would be tremendously useful in this context.

In addition to further development of such instruments, there is above all the ongoing need for further research. With respect to the assessment of nanotechnology hazards and risks, the need for research is particularly great with regard to:

• toxicological and ecotoxicological analyses within the framework of integrated research programs

• the systematization and classification of nanoparticles

• the behavior of nanoparticles and nanostructured surfaces in environment

Above and beyond the case studies investigated, which were very much focused on inorganic application contexts, there is a need for further research, particularly:

• with respect to still-to-be-completed or much further-reaching eco-efficiency potentials through the use of the principles of self-organization in the nanoscale dimension - in the inorganic as well as organic fields.

• with respect to a possible initial mid-to-long-term insidious transition from self-organization to self-reproduction in the areas of "active nanosystems" as well as particularly in the course of a possible coalescence of nano- with bio- or gene technologies.

It should furthermore be noted that future environmental assessment considerations of nanotechnological applications would be made significantly easier if material and energy flows (i.e., essential assessment data) for the relevant manufacturing methods were more easily accessible (or made accessible at all) and, if necessary, centrally collected.

If widely held expectations for nanotechnologies (and the innovations to be derived from them) are to be realized with respect to making significant contributions toward a sustainable economy, the approaches to a commensurate shaping of the processes, as described here and elsewhere, must be seriously considered. The potential benefits of nanotechnologies will not simply fall into our laps, but must be pursued with deliberation and effort. With this in mind, it is essential that technology, process, and product development be further accompanied by ongoing, concurrent assessment, with a view to precautionary risk management as well as to the effective utilization of the potential for sustainability benefits that are unquestionably associated with this line of technology.

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