Generally, the idea of "sustainability" implies there is a moral responsibility for technological development to be accountable for their effects related to the natural environment and future generations. However, most of the widely accepted technological developments are not sustainable. The main, contentious issue is that most of them are mislabeled as "sustainable" due to improper sustainability assessment criteria. With a recently developed scientific sustainability criterion (see Chapter 4), most of the technologies that belong to the "chemical approach" can be proven unsustainable (Khan et al. 2005).

Modern technological advancement has created many different products for daily uses in human life. Most of them are not environmentally friendly and cause numerous problems. However, these products have been so widely accepted that no one questions their sustainability. Nowadays, most popular household items are plastics, which are completely unsustainable, environmentally unacceptable, and incontrovertibly harmful to the ecosystem.

In the last two decades, especially after the UN Conference of Economic Development, sustainability and sustainable development have become commonly and loosely used terms. However, it is hardly achieved in present technological and other resource development (Khan 2006). Many guidelines or frameworks have been developed, based mainly on socio-economic and narrowly environmental objectives, to achieve sustainability (GRI 2002; UNCSD 2001; IChemE 2002). Khan (2006) proposed a new protocol for technological and other developments.

Khan (2006) developed a method that evaluates sustainability considering economic, environmental, and social impacts. In this chapter, a detailed pathway study is performed including the origins, degradation, oxidation, and decomposition in order to demonstrate how a natural product is sustainable and how a synthetic product is unsustainable. In this chapter, two homologous products, polyurethane fiber and wool fiber, are selected for the sustainability assessment. They both appear to be the same in terms of durability. However, one is of natural origin and the other is made synthetically, even though its source is natural (extracted from crude oil). The pathways of these products (chemical for polyurethane and biochemical for wool) were studied, and the results show how they diverge. Their degradation behaviors, both oxidation and photo degradation, were also studied. The study suggests that the wool is sustainable and that the synthetic fiber is not sustainable. Finally, a direct laboratory degradation experiment, the application of the microwave on these products, was also undertaken. Further examination indicates that the similarity between wool and polyurethane fibers stops at t = "right now." Table 8.1 shows detailed differences between these two seemingly similar fibers. This experimental result further confirmed the sustainability statuses of non-synthetic wool fiber and polyurethane.

Natural fibers exhibit many advantageous properties having such low-density materials and yielding such lightweight composites with highly specific properties (O'Donnell 2004). These natural fibers are cost effective, easy to process, and renewable resources, in turn reducing the dependency on foreign and domestic petroleum oil.

Table 8.1 Basic differences between polyurethane and wool fiber.




Artificial fiber; alien products to the nature

Natural Fiber that grows in most of the organism


Urethane -monomer, a completely humongous compound and same pattern

Made of alpha-karyotin, which is a valuable protein. However, wool is a heterogeneous compound that varies from species to species. Even protein itself is different and complex in a single species.


There is no diversity, urethane

Highly diverse; complex process of synthesis of which very little is known so far. The different segments like different monomers.


Single-fu nctional just as plastic

Multifunctional such as for the protection of organisms and supplies of nutrients


It is non-adjustable, non-adoptable, and cannot change itself like natural products can.

It can adapt with changes in different conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and light intensity. It protects itself and protects the organism on which it grows.

Time factor

Non-progressive; does change with time

It is regressive and changes according to time; for example, it degrades with time.


It creates all kinds of problems, from carcinogenic products to unknown products.

It is perfect and does not create problems. It solves problems, instead.

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