What are Social Technologies?

by | Sep 14, 2021 | Ecocentro Ipec, Ethics, Natural Building, Permaculture, Sustainable Living | 0 comments

In the late 1960s, Dr E. F. Shumacher, author of Small Is Beautiful, introduced the concept of appropriate technology. The famous introduction of this concept has had a significant impact on current thinking in development. Appropriate technology became better known in 1973, during the global oil crisis and the strengthening of ecological movements in the 1970s. Schumacher stipulated that solutions to world problems would need to incorporate four qualities: small size, simplicity, economics, costs and peace.

Precisely what constitutes appropriate technology in specific cases is a matter of debate. Still, theorists generally use the term to question high technology and excessive mechanisation, human displacement, resource depletion, or increased pollution associated with unmodified industrialisation. On the other hand, many environmentalists believe that appropriate technologies can help protect the environment, are less polluting, use resources sustainably, recycle their waste and products more and deal with waste more acceptably than the technologies they replace.

What is a social technology?

Social technology was coined to refer to technologies appropriate to the environment and the culture it intends to support. Social technology comprises applicable products, techniques or methodologies developed in interaction with the community that represent effective solutions for social transformation. Social technologies are particularly suited to Developing Nations and underdeveloped rural areas of developed countries. There is a lack of resources and skilled labour to operate and maintain high technology. In practice, it is often described as the way to effectively use the most straightforward and practical level of technology in all areas of a sustainability culture to achieve the desired purpose at a specific location.

Social technologies at Ecocentre IPEC

The Ecocentro IPEC has the mission of experimenting, modifying and disseminating social technologies for the Brazilian reality. Here are some of the social technologies that have been tried and tested and can today be found in many Brazilian states.

Composting toilet

What becomes the biggest headache in major urban centres at Ecocentro IPEC is transformed into an indispensable resource: human waste.

Through the composting process, human waste is transformed into an excellent quality fertiliser. Composted manure or fertiliser is then used on food forests. In this way, the natural food cycle is maintained, and the organic matter returns to the soil humus. 

Composting toilets

Composting toilet at Ecocentro IPEC – Awarded Social Technology 2005 – Banco do Brasil Foundation

Andre Soares from Ecocentro IPEC has taken toilets to festivals such as Boom Festival Portugal, Strawberry Fields Festival in Australia, Burning Man Festival and Global Eclipse Festival in the USA. And the public loves them!


At Ecocentro IPEC, you’ll find one of the most significant superadobe buildings in the southern hemisphere. Our industrial kitchen was made from this social technology. Nowadays, this technology is being used throughout Brazil, from community kitchens to green homes, schools and parks.


Superadobe at Ecocentro IPEC – Awarded Social Technology 2005 – Banco do Brasil Foundation

Water Tanks

With so many people without access to safe drinking water in Brazil, making water tanks makes social and economic sense.
Ferrocement tanks can contain from 5,000 to 100,000 litres of water. The ferrocement technique is an efficient and inexpensive way to build reservoirs, ponds or ponds, with applications ranging from storage to treatment through aquaculture.

Water tank ferrocement

Water tank – Awarded Social Technology 2005 – Banco do Brasil Foundation

Low cost solar heater

The low-cost solar heater was developed by the NGO “Society of the Sun”. It is quick and straightforward to assemble and cost low enough for families.

The collectors are made of PVC lining boards in the simple model, easily found and commonly used in office partitions. Each collector can heat 80 to 100 litres of water per day at a temperature of around 60ºC.
The hot water reservoir must be heat-insulated with some insulating material, such as straw, sawdust, mattresses, cardboard, bubble wrap. It can be made from any of the types of reservoirs found on the market.

Ethics of social technology

Many challenges in today’s world seek to discourage people from their idealism and hope for the future. However, by developing a sense of unity between people and systems, people can reflect and act to shape the local and global community.
As citizens in a globalised nation, we can encourage problem-solving to encourage people to recognise solutions for a sustainable future.

If you would like to introduce the topic of Social Technologies and Global Justice into your curriculum, see pages 223 to 251 of Planet Schooling – How to create a permaculture living laboratory in your backyard.


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