What is low-tech: definition, example and practice

What is low-tech? How does it fit into a global philosophy of sustainable development? Some examples of low-tech.

Definition of low-tech
Low-tech (literally “low technology”) explicitly opposes high-tech. It is characterized by the implementation of simple technologies, inexpensive, accessible to all and easily repairable, using common and locally available means (including the reuse or recycling of objects and / or common materials).

Low-tech is therefore an integral part of the concept of frugal innovation, which consists of responding to needs determined by the least sophisticated and least expensive technological solutions, without compromising on the level of service provided.

By nature, low-tech favors the option of “do it yourself” (“do it yourself”). It actively involves individuals and communities, invited to tackle their local problems to deal with the means on board. It is a form of innovation that respects the principles of resilience, ecology or the circular economy.

Low-tech and sustainable development
The concept of low-tech goes back to the 1970s, when it appears under the pen of Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, pioneer of the introduction of ecological ideas in the field of economics and development policy. It is then a question of considering human activity from an innovative angle:

taking nature into account as capital to be preserved, and no longer as a mere source of income;
concern for a sustainable economy, based on a reasoned exploitation of limited natural resources;
integration of worker welfare and environmental preservation into economic decisions.
All these criteria are today inseparable from the principles implemented in terms of sustainable development and CSR.

As a major component of this sustainable philosophy, low-tech embodies a radically antinomic path with that of the leap forward of high technologies, considered to be dependent on profit alone and harmful to the environment (disproportionate exploitation of rare materials, obsolescence programmed, overconsumption of energy, excessive generation of waste …).

Some low-tech examples and iconic achievements
Low-tech is involved in a wide variety of fields, as can be seen from the following two examples:

A solar oven to simmer small dishes in his garden: some planks and nails, a glass for the greenhouse effect, aluminum foil as mirrors and … sun. The oven heats up to 170 °. This type of rudimentary equipment also makes it possible to generate drinking water by pasteurization.
Incubators based on car parts: designed by a West African engineer for local maternities, they are made with Toyota parts. The brand is very established in the region, no problem of supply to repair.
Ironically, high-tech itself does not escape the phenomenon: lighter versions of the Linux free and collaborative operating system, intended to extend the effective use of computers with obsolete performance, are a blatant illustration of this. .

Low-Tech: a book to understand
In France, some figures began in the early 2010s to publicize the concept of low-tech. Among them, Philippe Bihouix, author of a reference book on the issue of low-tech: The Age of Low Tech. Towards a technically sustainable civilization, published by Éditions du Seuil, in the Anthropocene collection in 2014.

This book helps to better understand the challenges of low-tech: its origins, its reasons for being, its validity as a concept or its applications.


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