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Appropriate Technology

Sustainability. Achieving a sustainable way of life through appropriate technology

Recycling, along with reducing and reusing are permanent activities which every person or society should engage in order to reach a green lifestyle. However, these are only tools which are used to achieve environmental sustainability while maintaining our lifestyle; these “tools” might be tuned up to work with higher efficiency1).

Appropriate technology products may be adapted to fit specific conditions and work with higher efficiency for the region we live in. Using this mechanism, we could dramatically enhance the benefits of recycling to achieve a procedure which is tailored to our needs and restrictions, both personally and at the community level2). Appropriate technology is not low-level technology used by the Flintstones in Bedrock; actually high tech is just not useful when you need it the most, for instance what do you do when there is no power service available.

“Appropriate” technology has several denominations which refer to the same concept. Was initially called “Intermediate” technology3); while adequate this name is just too focused on description only. Due to this, I prefer the term “appropriate” technology. This term, at least in Spanish, has the added advantage of stating what the concept behind is truly about:

In this language, appropriate technology (tecnología apropiada) has two meanings:

  • 1. Technology owned by one's self. This refers to the characteristic of the community being able to understand, reproduce and modify the technological product so it fits perfectly to the budget, social, ecological and even cultural constrains. Therefore, this technology is truly owned by the users.
  • 2. Technology which fits right. As was said before, the product could be changed in any way its user find useful, necessary, more efficient, even aesthetic.

Appropriate technology is more an ideological movement or a philosophy4) rather than a “kind” of product. There are groups of scholars and researchers studying its basic concepts and engineers working to develop new products5)6)7)8), and placing the comic strip side of this behind. There are some concepts which drive the research in the appropriate tech movement; these concepts are critical since most of them are the reason to make these developments and products sustainable. They actually incorporate the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle into the processes, therefore, incorporating sustainability to the ideological core of the “new” way of achieving the goal of keeping our lifestyle “green”. The fundamental concepts for appropriate tech are:

  • It must be simple. Appropriate technology products come from engineering and research studies and development, but their design must keep simplicity in mind; by doing this, fast and easy reproduction is guaranteed and would be spread to wider areas.
  • It must be small. Whenever possible, the products must give service to individual users to motivate the ownership and compromise feeling among the community.
  • It must be beautiful and elegant. It must fit community standards, including ethical, cultural, social, political and economical. It should be aesthetically appealing but with no useless pieces.
  • It must be gentile with the environment, requiring fewer natural resources, making a more efficient use of them and reducing any type of pollution associated to its function.

Examples

upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_thumb_a_ae_bamboo_roof.jpg_788px-bamboo_roof.jpg

Since appropriate technology is a way of designing new products, the applications it generates range widely from building and construction to information and communication technologies.

Specifically, an application for food preparation is the rocket stove. This product improves combustion, with an inner chamber insulated to avoid heat loss; the cooking pot sits at a distance from the fire which takes the most advantage of the heat generated by the combustion, optimizing the whole cooking with wood process. In Mexico, the Patsari®9) stove designers took this design and adapted it to the local culture, achieving a prize winning product which has changed countless lives.

Cooking with wood, poor ventilation and in an extremely awkward position; it is usual among people in rural areas, both in Mexico and Latin America. A number of chronic and progressive ailments associated to this lifestyle include: respiratory diseases; skin growth in the eye, leading to blindness; poor self-image since people confined to preparing meals, usually females, report they catch smoke smell, which last the whole day long.

1) Barrett Hazeltine and Christopher Bull. Appropriate technology: Tools, choices and implications. Academic press. 1st edition October 5, 1998.
2) David Douglas, Greg Papadopoulos and John Boutelle. Citizen Engineer: A Handbook for Socially Responsible Engineering. Online version reviewed July 24, 2012.
3) Schumacher, E. F.; Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered: 25 Years Later…With Commentaries. Hartley & Marks Publishers.

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