Shedding a Light on Appropriate Technology

Appropriate technology is, according to Wikipedia“technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical aspects of the community it is intended for.”

For me, appropriate technology is about using the materials and human resources that are to hand to provide a technological solution.  Basically, don’t over-engineer technological solutions.

My sister sent me this link to a Youtube video last week and it is a great example of appropriate technology.  It features a slum community in the Philippines where they are using something as simple as a plastic bottle, water and a little bleach (to prevent algal growth) to bring light into the homes of people who cannot afford to use electrical lighting.  The Youtube clip is approaching a million hits and the BBC have also been out there to see this in action.

What gets me excited about this sort of thing is not just the immediate consequences, in this case lighting someone’s home, but the greater potential that it has.  Light in the home can lead to a better quality of life but also brings opportunities for increased productivity and education that can lift people out of poverty.  Quite simply, the ability to read at home for me is the greatest value that this can bring.

If you are interested in finding out more about appropriate technology, there are some great charities out there, such as Practical Action, that work to promote development through promotion of appropriate technology.

my current home – sustainability

the flat i live in was built in 2006.  it has a number of features that mean it’s pretty energy efficient by nature of its design.  it has flats above and below and to either side, meaning there are only two surfaces of the ‘cuboid’ through which to lose significant amounts of heat.  it has big windows, but good double glazing.  the windows may well still be responsible for the biggest heat loss, but we get loads of natural light pouring in reducing the need for artificial lighting.  i’ve already mentioned the fantastic waterloo sunsets we get every evening.

http://photozou.jp/photo/show/262775/27916981

a real life waterloo sunset

the one thing i am surprised at is that the block of flats i live in has no natural gas supply for heating, hot water and cooking.  unfortunately this means everything is electric and therefore more carbon intensive.  to mitigate this i have chosen ecotricity as my electricity supplier.  the electricity i get is still just normal ‘grid’ electricity, the same as anyone else, but at least i know that the money i spend gets invested in clean forms of power like wind energy.
so with heating and lighting largely covered, there’s not a huge amount i can do in terms of big ticket energy savings.  our flat came with all white goods supplied, so we had no part in selecting energy and water efficient models.  in fairness, they were all A rated, so without going to great expense, there is no sense in replacing those.

as i’ve mentioned in a previous post, our location, in waterloo, central london, provides great access to public transport, with two tube stations and a multitude of bus routes on our doorstep.  for the five years we’ve lived here we haven’t had a car, nor have we had need of one.  and although we have great access to public transport, most of my journeys are on foot.  i can walk to work in 35 minutes, and the south bank, covent garden and the west end are all within easy walking distance for all my leisure and shopping needs.

looking across the thames to waterloo

looking across the thames to waterloo

my biggest sustainability failing, i have to admit, is recycling.  but i do have to apportion at least some of the blame to my waste collection authority, lambeth council.  when we first moved to this area, i was full of enthusiasm to recycle and even bought a special bin that hid nicely in a cupboard and yet helped us segregate materials.  the trouble was that we filled our council-provided recycling bags within a couple of days.  what then were we supposed to do with them?  according to the council, they were supposed to be put out on the street only every sunday evening, ahead of the collection early on monday morning.  but where is anyone living in a compact flat (as a good proportion of lambeth residents do) supposed to store bags of (recyclable) rubbish for days on end?  with non-recyclables, you just chuck each full bag in the wheelie bin outside as it becomes full but there was no such provision for recyclables.  this was the question i put to lambeth council and over four years later i have yet to get a response.

in perhaps another peculiar design move, my block of flats has a single water meter for all occupants, so we just pay for water prorated on the proportion of floor area wach flat occupies.  therefore there is little incentive to save on water becuase you have such little influence on the bill.  my household with three occupants having daily showers/baths will pay the same as a theoretical single man with an adversity to personal hygiene in the same size flat.  and regardless of financial incentive, apart from the basics such as turning taps off while toothbrushing and not spending overly long in the shower, we are restricted in other potential savings.  we have no direct access to our cistern as it integrated in to the bathroom behind some tiles.  when replacing heating elements in our hot water boiler, the plumber noted that it is possibly oversized for even the three of us.  with limited resources and a potential house move on the horizon that is not something i would consider replacing, even with something more efficient.

in terms of sustainability, i believe that the aspects discussed above are all that i have within my direct control for my current home.  there are others down the supply chain, particularly in areas such as food, clothing and technology, where i might be able to exert some choice or even influence, and that is undoubtedly an area i will be exploring in more detail in future posts, but my influence there is limted as an individual consumer.  other aspects are completely outside my scope.  biodiversity, for example, because i neither own nor have any sort of stake in any outdoor space.  but outdoor space is a requirement for my future home, so this, and other aspects will form part of the agenda!