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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

What is Appropriate Technology?

Rafael Geurrero

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) defines the engineering of appropriate technology as the development of “small-scale, local, and sustainable solutions that reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources”[2]. Similarly, the Pachamama Alliance states that the development of these solutions emphasizes “energy efficient, environmentally sound, people-centered, and locally controlled projects”[3]. Keep in mind, however, that the practice of developing “appropriate technology” is about creating design solutions that may be seen as creative, effective, and efficient for a specific target community in one area of the world, but may not necessarily be as appropriate for another. While a water-powered generator may be an effective solution for a village located by a river or waterfall, for example, it may not be appropriate for villages that are far from bodies of water.

The NCAT and Pachamama Alliance outline the following aspects of appropriate technologies:

  • Simple to deploy/implement/test/apply in the target community.
  • People-centered and locally controlled projects.
  • Sensitive to sociocultural and political dynamics and norms.
  • Desired by locals to meet a “self-identified need”.
  • Not exhaustive of community money, labor, resources, commodities (capital).
  • Not energy intensive (requires little nonrenewable energy to build, operate, or maintain).
  • Reliant only on locally accessible resources and labor (requires little to no imported components or exported work, i.e. machining, welding).
  • Nurturing to the environment and human health.

Aspects of design that are not considered appropriate are:

  • Exhaustive to community’s resources and ecosystem.
  • Dependent on outsourced labor, or decreases availability of local jobs.
  • Dependent on nonrenewable energy to build, operate, and maintain.
  • Dependent on imported materials, tools, and labor that hurts local economy.
  • Environmentally harmful by contributing to pollution of waste, noise, smell, water resources, soils, and other detrimental effects on the local ecosystem and human population (e.g. deforestation, introduction of invasive species, overfishing).



[2] “About NCAT: An Introduction to NCAT.” The National Center for Appropriate Technology, The National Center for Appropriate Technology,

[3] “Appropriate Technology: What Is Appropriate Technology?” Pachamama Alliance, Pachamama Alliance,

Jun 29, 2018