Appropriate Technology

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From wikipedia -

“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.[1]

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 industrialized nations, the term appropriate technology often refers to engineering that takes special consideration of its social and environmental ramifications.“

The type of appropriate technology most closely tied to the P2P movement is Open Source Appropriate Technology.

The following table outlines the different schools of appropriate tech it was originally compiled by Mitra Ardron.

School People Notes, Challenges & Critiques
Collapse Peak Oil (usually Western) Marcin Post Carbon Institute Some transitioners
  • Based on idea that oil will run out, and civilisation collapse and we need to be able to survive in a post-industrial world.
  • Graceful collapse is unlikely unless all your neighbour are also thriving
  • Makes things more difficult than need be, because won't rely on external oil, or other resources
  • Might be good for developing world, except may not be designed for price
Customise and Adapt (Developing World & Hobbyist) Steven Lee (x AIDG) Catapult Most hobbyists Mouhsine Serrar & most Stove
  • Based on the idea that technology has to be customized and adapted to cultural and individual needs
  • Tends to rely on a high level of (western) expertise - often voluntary.
  • Doesn't scale to large populations because of shortage of above
  • Doesn't get cost benefits of large volumes because each customised
  • Most effective when focuses on training & enterprise development in developing countries
Base of the Pyramid Paul Polak IDE Martin Fisher - Kickstart
  • Work with the absolute poorest (<$3/day)
  • Solutions optimised for low cost of labor, higher cost of capital
  • Very hard to find solutions that the market can afford, so often rely on subsidies of each unit.
  • Very hard to source investment as hard to make a profit
Scale Mitra - Natural Innovation
  • Focus on innovations that can scale
  • May be open-source or proprietary but must scale without per-unit subsidy.
  • Focus on developing world (low capital cost, higher labor)
  • Look to balance local input with mass production to get costs down
  • Difficult to justify customising each installation
  • May not work in a post-collapse economy.
Western cleantech Cleantech Forum
  • Use VC for large scale solutions for developed world
  • Western technology often doesn't translate well to low capital / high-labor
  • Relies of large government subsidies to balance those given to fossil fuels and nuclear
  • Tends to support large centralised rather than decentralised
  • Decentralised tend to have a high cost of ownership and be based on personal commitment to environment rather than economics.

Within these schools there are also two approaches to licensing which I find are also important. I'm working on a third option (Humanitarian Licenses) which I will write up on another occasion

Open Source Marcin,

Chris Watkins (Appropedia)

  • Makes it easier for people to build for themselves
  • Allows for people to build on each other's design
  • Almost impossible to raise investment, as hard to generate a return.
  • Improvement is incremental because of above
  • Often designs aren't finished to the point where others less technical can use them.
Proprietrary UES


  • Raise investment to develop large improvements to technology
  • Don't allow others to build and adapt on the technology.
Humanitarian Natural Innovation's Humanitarian License
  • Proprietrary in the west, but free license in developing countries.

More Information

Appropedia (homepage) is an appropriate technology wiki with lots of useful documentation on low-tech and sustainable solutions. See the [ Appropriate Technology Portal.

See Also