Nanotechnology Poverty Alleviation R&D in USA Companies

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Thomas S. Woodson, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY
Background: After 15 years of heavy investment in nanotechnology R&D, we can assess the progress of nanotechnology companies and products to determine who benefits from the technology. This study analyzes the goals, nanotechnology experience, corporate social responsibility and products from the websites of 50 USA based nanotechnology companies to see if they are developing products that help low income populations in both the USA and around the world.  Methods: We collect data from the websites of the top 50 USA based nanotechnology companies in the water, energy, and agri-food sectors who were active from 2000-2009. We identified the companies based on the number of patents and publications they produced. On the websites, we looked for information about nanotechnology, corporate social responsibility, products, company size, market share and customer base. Finally, we coded the data using standard content analysis techniques.  Results: Out of the top 50 companies that publish and patent nanotechnology research in agri-food, energy and water sectors, 32 of them mention nanotechnology on their websites. However, only two of the companies relate their nanotechnology R&D to poverty alleviation. The other firms make no reference to how their nanotechnology research will help the poor. Even though few companies relate nanotechnology R&D to poverty alleviation, 30 of the companies have some type of corporate social responsibility (CSR) program or mention poverty alleviation on their website. In general, the multi-national corporations have CSR programs while small nano-specific firms do not mention poverty alleviation. Conclusions: Despite predictions that nanotechnology in the water, energy, and agri-food sectors could be pro-poor, we find little evidence that the top USA companies working in these sectors are developing products that are helping the poor. Only two of the fifty companies directly associate their nanotechnology efforts with poverty alleviation and we could not find an example of a nanotechnology product that was helping poor individuals.