Synthesizing Sustainable Communities Through Appropriate Technology –

Synthesizing Sustainable Communities Through Appropriate Technology

What if technology could be built for the very purpose of serving people and planet, as opposed to profit and the image of modernity? These days we’ve become accustomed to non-stop technological innovation and what seems to be progress. Yet, our technology hasn’t been created with people and planet in mind. In permaculture, all technology must be grounded in ethics of care for the earth, care for people, and sharing the surplus. This is also known as “appropriate technology.”

Gandhi is often cited as the “father” of the appropriate technology, as he disagreed with the idea of technology that benefited a minority of people at the expense of the majority. Technological progress in industry often means big machines that put people out of work. Cell phones, computers, and laptops often use rare minerals and minimum wage labor from poor countries. When they are discarded, they often end up in these poor countries, where peasants scavenge them for sellable parts, sacrificing their personal health and creating an environmental catastrophe in the process.

On the other hand, appropriate technologies are designed to be sustainable and give power back to the people. They can be characterized as follows:

  1. SustainableCast iron wood stove burning logs
  2. Small – Small is important because it often means local, affordable, and adaptable, putting more control into the hands of the user, thereby supporting resilience. Small is typically defined by:
    1. Few moving parts (meaning less can go wrong)
    2. Can be built locally (increasing public access)
    3. Easily repaired by local people with locally available equipment
    4. Affordable
    5. Made with locally available materials
  3. Appropriate to the context, including the environmental ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical context. Due to varying needs from each location to the next, what is appropriate in one situation may not be so in another.

Appropriate technologies include portable, wood-burning stoves, animal-drawn carts, bicycle trailers and ambulances, solar ovens, as well as low-cost, low-tech renewable energy projects. They are usually found in poor regions, but these technologies also assimilate well within an off-grid community.

In the next part, let’s take a closer look at some different types of renewable energy.