Appropriate technology

Appropriate technology

Appropriate technology (AT) is technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social and economical aspects of the community it is intended for. With these goals in mind, AT typically requires fewer resources, is easier to maintain, has a lower overall cost and less of an impact on the environment compared to industrialized practices." [ Appropriate Technology Sourcebook: Introduction] " Accessed on 5 July 2008.]

In developing nations, the term is usually used to describe simple technologies suitable for use in developing nations or less developed rural areas of industrialized nations. This form of appropriate technology usually prefers labor-intensive solutions over capital-intensive ones, although labor-saving devices are also used where this does not mean high capital or maintenance cost. In practice, appropriate technology is often something described as using the simplest level of technology that can effectively achieve the intended purpose in a particular location. In industrialized nations, the term "appropriate technology" takes a different meaning, often referring to engineering that takes special consideration of its social and environmental ramifications.Schneider, Keith. [ "Majoring in Renewable Energy."] 26 March 2008.]

Background and definition

The term "appropriate technology" came into some prominence during the 1973 energy crisis and the environmental movement of the 1970s. The term is typically used in two arenas: utilizing the most effective technology to address the needs of developing areas, and using socially and environmentally acceptable technologies in industrialized nations.

Appropriate technology in developing areas

The term has often been applied to the situations of developing nations or underdeveloped rural areas of industrialized nations. The use of appropriate technology in these areas seeks to fill in the gaps left by conventional development which typically focuses on capital-intensive, urban development. [Reyes, W., S. Unakul, M. Acheson. [ Research in the Development of Appropriate Technology for the Improvement of Environmental Health at the Village Level] . World Health Organization. 8 April 1978. p 13.]

Appropriate technologies are not necessarily "low" technology, and can utilize recent research, for example cloth filters which were inspired by research into the way cholera is carried in water. A type of high-efficiency, white LED lights is used by the Light Up the World Foundation in remote areas of Nepal to replace more traditional forms of lighting that do not cause the health problems associated with kerosene lamps or wood fires.

Intermediate technology

Coined by E. F. Schumacher, the term intermediate technology is similar to appropriate technology. It refers specifically to tools and technology that are significantly more effective and expensive than traditional methods, but still an order of magnitude (10 times) cheaper than developed world technology. Proponents argue that such items can be easily purchased and used by poor people, and according to proponents can lead to greater productivity while minimizing social dislocation. Much intermediate technology can also be built and serviced using locally available materials and knowledge. This intermediate technology is conducive to decentralization, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve the human person instead of making him the servant of machines.

Appropriate hard and soft technologies

According to Dr. Maurice Albertson and Faulkner, appropriate hard technology is “engineering techniques, physical structures, and machinery that meet a need defined by a community, and utilize the material at hand or readily available. It can be built, operated and maintained by the local people with very limited outside assistance (e.g., technical, material, or financial). it is usually related to an economic goal.”

Albertson and Faulkner consider Appropriate soft technology as technology that deals with “the social structures, human interactive processes, and motivation techniques. It is the structure and process for social participation and action by individuals and groups in analyzing situations, making choices and engaging in choice-implementing behaviors that bring about change.” [(1985, Maurice Albertson and Faulkner)]

Appropriate technology in developed countries

The term "appropriate technology" is also used in developed nations to describe the use of technology and engineering that results in less negative impacts on the environment and society. E. F. Schumacher asserts that such technology, described in the book "Small is Beautiful" [Schumacher, E. F.; "Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered : 25 Years Later...With Commentaries". Hartley & Marks Publishers ISBN 0-88179-169-5] tends to promote values such as health, beauty and permanence, in that order. Parallel to this theory, British architect interested in human settlements and development, John F. C. Turner (co-author and editor of the book Freedom To Build and author of the book Housing By People), has said that truly appropriate technology is technology that ordinary people can use for their own benefit and the benefit of their community, that doesn't make them dependent on systems over which they have no control. This definition focuses on the idea that technology typically creates dependencies and thus to truly be appropriate, technology should enhance the local or regional capacity to meet local needs, rather than creating or amplifying dependencies on systems beyond local control. {fact|September 2008}

Examples and sustainability

Features such as low cost, low usage of fossil fuels and use of locally available resources can give some advantages in terms of sustainability. For that reason, these technologies are sometimes used and promoted by advocates of sustainability and alternative technology.

City construction

In order to increase the efficiency of a great number of city services (efficient water provisioning, efficient electricity provisioning, easy traffic flow, water drainage, decreased spread of disease with epidemics, ...), the city itself must first be built correctly. Having the city designed using a grid plan brings the benefits all in a single go. As in the developing world, a lot of cities are still hugely expanding and new ones are still being build, looking into the cities design in advance is a must for every developing nation.

Building construction

* Adobe (including the variation called Super Adobe),
* Rammed earth,
* Compressed earth block,
* Dutch brick,
* Cob
* and/or other green building materials could be considered appropriate earth building technology for much of the developing world, as they make use of materials which are widely available locally and are thus relatively inexpensive.

The local context must be considered as, for example, mudbrick may not be durable in a high rainfall area (although a large roof overhang and cement stabilisation can be used to correct for this), and, if the materials are not readily available, the method may be inappropriate. Other forms of natural building may be considered appropriate technology, though in many cases the emphasis is on sustainability/self-sufficiency rather than affordability or suitability. As such, many buildings are also build to be to function as a autonomous building (eg earthships, ...). One example of an organisation that applies appropriate earthbuilding techniques would be Builders Without Borders.

The organization Architecture for Humanity also follows principles consistent with appropriate technology, aiming to serve the needs of poor and disaster-affected people.


The term soft energy technology was coined by Amory LovinsFact|date=February 2007 to describe "appropriate" renewable energy."Appropriate" energy technologies are especially suitable for isolated and/or small scale energy needs. However, high capital cost must be taken into account. Electricity can be provided from:
* PV solar panels (which are expensive initially, but simple),
* thermodynamic solar panels [ [ Thermodynamic panels to generate power] ] [ [ Other thermodynamic panels to generate power] ]
* wind power
* micro hydro, with energy stored in batteries,
* other zero emission generation methods

* Biobutanol,
* biodiesel,
* and straight vegetable oil can be appropriate, direct biofuels in areas where vegetable oil is readily available and cheaper than fossil fuels.
* Biogas is another potential source of energy, particularly where there is an abundant supply of waste organic matter. A generator (running on biofuels) can be run more efficiently if combined with batteries and an inverter; this adds significantly to capital cost but reduces running cost, and can potentially make this a much cheaper option than the solar, wind and micro-hydro options.

Electricity distribution could be improved so to make use of a more structured electricity line arrangement and universal AC power plugs and sockets (eg the CEE 7/7 plug). In addition, a universal system of electricity provisioning (eg universal voltage, frequency, ampère; eg 230V with 50Hz), as well as perhaps a better mains power system (eg through the use of special systems as perfected single wire earth returns; eg Tunesia's MALT-system; which features low costs and easy placement) [ [ SWER-mains electricty system advantages] ] [ [ Description of Tunesia's MALT-system] ]

Water supply

* Foremost, rainwater harvesting systems are a very good (low cost) approach for gathering water. In certain areas, the water collected can also be clean enough to use as is (without water treatment). Sometimes however, water obtained through rainwater harvesting may need a extra purification. Also, rainwater harvesting may require an appropriate method of storage, especially in areas with significant dry seasons.
* fog collection is suitable for areas which experience fog even when there is little rain.

* Deep wells with submersible pumps are a appropriate technology for gathering subterrainean water in areas where the groundwater (aquitards) are located at a large depth (eg 10-150m). The wells may need to be dug mechanically (for depths from 50-150m), or may (in some cases) still be dug manually (depths up to 40m). However, aldough the digging may be done manually for depths up to 40m, the pump still needs to be electrical for these depths.

* Handpumps and treadle pumps are however generally more appropriate to developing world contexts than motor-driven pumps, and may provide better quality water with less travel time than surface water sources. This because handpumps (and the requirement of only needing to dig some 10m; which can be done manually) are far cheaper in price when compared to electrical wells (which are mostly dug deep, requiring specialised equipment). As one may derive from the previous sentence, handpumps and treadle pumps are however only an option in areas where the water (called aquifers) are located at a shallow depth (eg 10m). For a higher depth (up to 150m) however, submersible pumps placed inside a well) need to be used. A disadvantage with handpumps is the requirement of proper maintenance; if left unused, they soon fail. Treadle pumps for household irrigation are now being distributed on a widespread basis in developing countries. The principle of Village Level Operation and Maintenance is important with handpumps, but may be difficult in application.

* Condensation bags and condensation pits can be an appropriate technology to get water,yet yields are low and are (for the amount of water obtained), labour intensive. Still, it may be a good (very cheap) solution for certain desperate communities.

* The hippo water roller allows more water to be carried, with less effort and could thus be a good alternative for ethnic communities who do not wish to give up water gathering from remote locations.

* The roundabout playpump, developed and used in southern Africa, harnesses the energy of children at play to pump water; however at several thousand dollars it cannot be considered a low-cost option. Also, having the children to pump water for "play" isn't inline with any conservation ethic and creates the wrong mindset.

In addition, small-scale (or larger scale) water treatment is another possibility, which simply purifies already available water (eg from surface water as streams/rivers, instead of gathering it from groundsources or precipitation). Small-scale water treatment is reaching increasing fractions of the population in low-income countries, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, in the form of water treatment kiosks (also known as water refill stations or packaged water producers). While quality control and quality assurance in such locations may be variable, sophisticated technology (such as multi-stage particle filtration, UV irradiation, ozonation, and membrane filtration) is applied with increasing frequency. Such microenterprises are able to vend water at extremely low prices, with increasing government regulation. Initial assessments of vended water quality are encouraging.


Human powered-vehicles include the Bicycle, which provides general-purpose, human-powered transportation at a lower cost of ownership than motorized vehicles, with many gains over simply walking. Whirlwind wheelchair, which provides mobility for disabled people who cannot afford the expensive wheelchairs used in developed countries. animal powered vehicles/transport may also be another appropriate technology.Certain zero-emissions vehicles may be considered appropriate transportation technology, including compressed air cars and hydrogen-powered vehicles.


As of 2006, waterborne diseases are estimated to cause 1.8 million deaths each year, marking the importance of proper sanitation systems. It is clear that the developing world is heavily lacking in proper public sanitation and that solutions as sewerages (or alternatively small-scale treatment systems) need to be provided. [ [ "Safe Water System,"] US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Fact Sheet, June 2006.] ]

Ecological sanitation can be viewed as a three-step process dealing with human excreta: (1) Containment, (2) Sanitization, (3) Recycling. The objective is to protect human health and the environment while limiting the use of water in sanitation systems for hand (and anal) washing only and recycling nutrients to help reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers in agriculture.

Small scale systems include:

* Composting toilets are the most environmental form of excrement disposal systems. In addition, the toilets design allows the nutrients to be reused (eg for fertilising food crops). Also, DIY composting toilets can be build at a very low cost.
* BiPu is a portable system suitable for disaster management, while other forms of latrine provide safe means of disposing of human waste at a low cost. The Orangi Pilot Project was designed based on an urban slum's sanitation crisis. Kamal Kar has documented the latrines developed by Bangladeshi villagers once they became aware of the health problems with open defecation.

* Treatment ponds and constructed wetlands can help to purify sewage and greywater. They consist mostly of plants (eg reed, ...) and therefore require only little power, and are hugely self-sufficient.

* Certain other options as Slow sand filters, UV-filters, ... may also be employed


* White LEDs and a source of renewable energy (such as solar cells) are used by the Light Up the World Foundation to provide lighting to poor people in remote areas, and provide significant benefits compared to the kerosene lamps which they replace. Certain other companies as Powerplus also have [ with imbedded solar cells] . [ [ Powerplus Stingray] ]

* Compact fluorescent lamps (as well as regular fluorescent lamps and LED-lightbulbs) can also be used as appropriate technology. Aldough they are less environmentally friendly then LED-lights, they are cheaper and still feature relative high efficiency (compared to incandescent lamps).

* The Safe bottle lamp is a safer kerosene lamp designed in Sri Lanka. Lamps as these allow relative long, mobile, lighting. The safety comes from a secure screw-on metal lid, and two flat sides which prevent it from rolling if knocked over. An alternative to fuel or oil-based lanterns is the Uday lantern, developed by Philips as part of its [ Lighting Africa] project (sponsored by the World Bank Group). [ [ Uday lamp and lighting africa project description] ]

*The Faraday flashlight is a led flashlight which operates on a capacitor. Recharging can be done by manual winching or by shaking, hereby avoiding the need of any supplementary electrical system.

*HID-lamps finally can be used for lighting operations where regular LED-lighting or other lamps will not suffice. Examples are car headlights. Due to their high efficiency, they are quite environmental, yet costly, and they still require polluting materials in their production process.

Food production

Food production has often been included in autonomous building/community projects to provide securityFact|date=July 2008. Skilled, intensive gardening can support an adult from as little as 15 square meters of landFact|date=July 2008. Some proven intensive, low-effort food-production systems include urban gardening (indoors and outdoors). Indoor cultivation may be set-up using hydroponics, while outdoor cultivation may be done using permaculture, forest gardening, no-till farming, Do Nothing Farming, ...

Greenhouses are also sometimes included (see Earthship Biotincture). Sometimes they are also outfitted with a irrigation systems, and/or heat sink-systems which can respectively irrigate the plants or help to store energy from the sun and redistribute it at night (when the greenhouses starts to cool down). [ [ Greenhouse irrigation systems and DIY heat sinks] ]

Food preparation

According to proponents, Appropriate Technologies can greatly reduce the labor required to prepare food, compared to traditional methods, while being much simpler and cheaper than the processing used in Western countries. This reflects E.F. Schumacher's concept of "intermediate technology," i.e. technology which is significantly more effective and expensive than traditional methods, but still an order of magnitude (10 times) cheaper than developed world technology. Key examples are:
* the Malian peanut sheller
* the fonio husking machine
* the screenless hammer mill.
* all other types of electrical or hand-operated kitchen equipment (grinders, cutters, ...)


*Solar cookers are appropriate to some settings, depending on climate and cooking style. They are emissionless and very low-cost (costing sometimes but 7€). Hybrid variants also exist (incorporating a second heating source; eg electrical heating or wood-based as with the solar grill); aldough these are slightly more expensive in purchasing cost.
*Hot plates are 100% electrical and thus emissionless, fairly low cost (around 20€) and are mobile. They do however require a electrical system to be present in the area of operation.
*Smokeless and wood conserving stoves promise greater efficiency and less smoke, resulting in savings in time and labor, reduced deforestation, and significant health benefits. The stoves however still make use of wood. However, briquette makers can now turn organic waste into fuel, saving money and/or collection time, and preserving forests.
*Rocket stoves and certain other woodstoves (eg Philips Woodstove [ [ Philips woodstove] ] ) improve fuel efficiency, and reduce harmful indoor air pollution.


* Solar and thermal mass refrigerators reduce the amount of electricity required. Also, solar refrigerators do not use haloalkanes (which play a key role in ozone depletion), but use mirrors instead. Solar refrigerators have been build for developing nations by Sopology. [ [ Solar refrigerators for developing world] ]
* The pot-in-pot refrigerator is an African invention which keeps things cool without electricity. It provides a way to keep food and produce fresh for much longer than would otherwise be possible. This can be a great benefit to the families who use the device. For example, it is claimed that girls who had to regularly sell fresh produce in the market can now go to school instead, as there is less urgency to sell the produce before it loses freshness. [ [ "Development of a low-cost cooler to preserve perishable foods in countries with arid climates"] , ITDG Food Chain Journal, 29 November 2001.]

Ventilation and air conditioning

* Natural ventilation can be created by providing vents in the upper level of a building to allow warm air to rise by convection and escape to the outside, while cooler air is drawn in through vents at the lower level.

* Electrical powered fans (eg ceiling fans) allow efficient cooling, at a far lower electricity consumption as airconditioning systems.
* A solar chimney often referred to as "thermal chimney" improves this natural ventilation by using convection of air heated by passive solar energy. To further maximize the cooling effect, the incoming air may be led through underground ducts before it is allowed to enter the building.

* A windcatcher ("Badgir"; بادگیر) is a traditional Persian architectural device used for many centuries to create natural ventilation in buildings. It is not known who first invented the windcatcher, but it still can be seen in many countries today. Windcatchers come in various designs, such as the uni-directional, bi-directional, and multi-directional.

* A passive down-draft cooltower may be used in a hot, arid climate to provide a sustainable way to provide air conditioning. Water is allowed to evaporate at the top of a tower, either by using evaporative cooling pads or by spraying water. Evaporation cools the incoming air, causing a downdraft of cool air that will bring down the temperature inside the building.

Health care

*A phase-change incubator, developed in the late 1990s, is a low cost way for health workers to incubate microbial samples.

*Birth control is also seen as a appropriate technology, especially now, because of increasing population numbers (overpopulating certain areas), increasing food prices and poverty. It has been proposed to a certain degree by PATH (program for appropriate technology in health). [ [ PATH proposing birth control as appropriate technology] ] [ [ PATH working on devices for birth control] ]

Note that many Appropriate Technologies benefit public health, in particular by providing sanitation and safe drinking water. Refrigeration may also provide a health benefit. (These are discussed in the following paragraphs.)

*Jaipur leg was developed by Dr. P. K . Sethi and Masterji Ram Chander in 1968 as an inexpensive prosthetic leg for victims of landmine explosions.

Information and communication technology

*The OLPC XO, Simputer, Eee PC, and other low cost computers are computers aimed at developing countries. Besides the low price, other charisteristics include resistance to dust, reliability and use of the target language.

*Eldis OnDisc and The Appropriate Technology Library are projects that use CDs and DVDs to give access to development information in areas without reliable and affordable internet access.

*The Wind-up radio and the computer and communication system planned by the Jhai Foundation are independent from power supply.

*There is also GrameenPhone, which fused mobile telephony with Grameen Bank's microfinance program to gives Bangladeshi villagers access to communication.

*Mobile telephony is appropriate technology for many developing countries, as it greatly reduces the infrastructure required to achieve widespread coverage. However, mobile phone network may not always be available (it depends on the location) and may not always provide both voice and data services.

*Loband, a website developed by Aptivate strips all the photographic and other bandwidth intensive content from webpages and renders them as simple text, while otherwise allowing you to browse them normally. The site greatly increasing the speed of browsing, and is appropriate for use on low bandwidth connections as generally available in much of the developing world.

*An increasing number of activists provide free or very inexpensive web and email services using cooperative computer networks that run wireless ad hoc networks. Network service is provided by a cooperative of neighbors, each operating a router as a household appliance. These minimize wired infrastructure, and its costs and vulnerabilities. Private Internet protocol networks set up in this way can operate without the use of a commercial provider.

*Rural electrical grids can be wired with "optical phase cable", in which one or more of the steel wires are replaced with steel tubes containing fiber optics. [Northern Economics Inc. and Electric Power Systems Inc. April 2001. [ "Screening Report for Alaska Rural Energy Plan."] (Report published on government website). Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, via Retrieved on 2007-09-16.]

*Satellite Internet access can provide high speed connectivity to remote locations, however these are significantly more expensive than wire-based or terrestrial wireless systems. Wimax and forms of packet radio can also be used. Depending on the speed and latency of these networks they may be capable of relaying VoIP traffic, negating the need for separate telephony services. Finally, the Internet Radio Linking Project provides potential for blending older (cheap) local radio broadcasting with the increased range of the internet.

*satellite-based telephone systems can also be used, as either fixed installations or portable handsets and can be integrated into a PABX or local IP-based network.

Money lending and finance

Through financial systems envisioned especially for the poor/developed world, many companies have been able to get started with only limited capital. Often banks lend the money to people wishing to start a business (such as with microfinance). In other systems, people for a Rotating Savings and Credit Association or ROSCA to purchase costly material together (such as Tontines and Susu accounts). Organisations, communities, cities or individuals can provide loans to other communities/cities (such as with the approach followed by [] , MicroPlace and LETS). Finally, in certain communities (usually isolated communities such as small islands or oases) everything of value is shared, in a This is called gift economy.

ee also

*Alternative technology
*Alternative propulsion
*Alternative society
*Community-based economics
*Cradle to Cradle
*Critique of technology
*DIY culture
*Source reduction
*Zero emission
*List of environment topics
*Green syndicalism
*Practical Action (charity based in the UK)
*Technology and society


External links

* - World Wide Wiki of Sustainable Technology.
* [ International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering (IJSLE)] - Peer-reviewed, semi-annual online journal, covering appropriate and sustainable technologies and related areas.

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