How is the term “ecotechnology” used in the research literature?

How is the term “ecotechnology” used in the research literature?

How is the term “ecotechnology” used in the research literature? A systematic review with thematic synthesis


  • ‘Ecotechnology’ is a term used to describe interventions relating to the environment, but there is little consensus over what it means.
  • We performed a systematic review of the literature to better understand the definition.
  • There are very few rich, explicit definitions and no single definition that is fit-for-purpose.
  • We built a conceptual model to identify main themes across definitions.
  • We propose a definition built on all key aspects of the conceptual model.


The term ‘ecotechnology’ has been used since the early 1970s to describe combinations of practices relating to the environment and technological intervention. Despite its common usage, there seems to be little consensus on its practical meaning. In order to better define the term, we conducted a systematic review with a thematic synthesis of all definitions of the term. We searched a suite of bibliographic databases to collate literature referring to the term ‘ecotechnology’ in various ways.

All explicit definitions were extracted from articles and were critically appraised to identify ‘rich’ and ‘broad’ definitions. Using thematic synthesis, we generate a conceptual framework for definitions of the term ‘ecotechnology’ based on themes that emerge across all explicit definitions. We test this conceptual model using examples of ecotechnology identified from the articles relating to carbon and nutrients. We identified 1221 articles referring to the term ‘ecotechnology’ across 9 bibliographic databases, of which 657 were unique articles. Of the 77 carbon and nutrients articles providing definitions, almost half used the term ‘ecotechnology’ as a buzzword.

Some 38 themes were identified across the 49 explicit definitions and these were clustered into 9 groups: combining processes/integrating nature and society; good for society; good for nature; profitability/efficiency; making nature work for society; making society work for nature; improving processes/learning from the environment; components, equipment, machinery (hard technology); and, processes and behaviours (soft technology). As a result, we developed a conceptual framework for the term ecotechnology which can serve as a useful concept unifying and gathering efforts around a common vision. We also developed a working definition for the purpose of a project we were involved in, based on the framework proposed.


Environmental engineering
Circular economy
Green economy