Alternative technology

From CEOpedia | Management online

Alternative technologies serve to replace existing, environmentally harmful and capital - and energy-intensive technologies with sustainable technologies that behave non-violently toward people and nature. In particular, the focus is on reducing the use of limited resources such as capital, energy and materials and on designing the technology in an environmentally friendly way[1].

Historical background of the alternative technology

The term "alternative technology" became established particularly within the 1970s in the context of the Alternative Technology Movement and the founding of the Centre for Alternative Technology. The Alternative Technology Movement pursued the goal of promoting technologies that corresponded to its vision of an environmentally harmonious, socially sociable and economically stable society. Two distinct forms of activism emerged. One part of the Alternative Technology Movement encapsulated itself from society and built autonomous houses, practiced organic farming, and used renewable energy, while the other part formed intentional communities and promoted projects to create alternative technologies in politics, joined labor unions, and participated in political lobbying to make society more sustainable[2].

The Centre for Alternative Technology, or CAT, was founded in 1973 in Machynlleth, United Kingdom, by Gerard Morgan-Grenville[3]. Several volunteers built a place inside a slate quarry, through which it is possible to demonstrate to the outside world that it is possible to live ecologically, using renewable energy and following a sustainable lifestyle. In the beginning, about 20 employees lived there and were supplied with electricity from renewable energy sources [4]. Over time, the center for alternative technology has evolved from a visitor center to a charity that provides sustainable education and conducts research on alternative technologies such as photovoltaics, solar thermal, air-source heat pumps, wind turbines and biomass combined heat and power[5].

Types of alternative technologies

The above-mentioned alternative technologies used by the Centre for Alternative Technology as renewable energy for the operation of the residential community are discussed in more detail below. In particular, the technologies offer alternatives to fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil, and coal, which are the dominant energy resources used worldwide to generate energy[6].

Solar energy is energy generated by the sun. Sunlight is a free energy source that is freely available and can be used worldwide to generate energy. It is not a scarce resource, as the energy from sunlight can meet the world's energy needs 10,000 times more than is needed. Sunlight can be converted into heat or electricity in different ways[7]. In the following, two methods of generating energy with the help of the sun will be discussed in more detail[8]:

  1. Solar thermal is a process that focuses on sunlight. Here the thermal energy of the sun is used and the sunlight is converted into heat. This makes it possible to heat water economically and efficiently. This process is used especially for residential buildings, swimming pools and in the food and chemical industries.
  2. Photovoltaics is a process that converts sunlight directly into electricity. This means, for example, that a pocket calculator with built-in PV technology can be powered by electricity generated by sunlight. In addition, larger solar stations can supply several million homes with electricity.

Air-source heat pumps use the ambient air to generate heat. Air is a freely available resource and can therefore be ideally used to generate heat. The air-source heat pump extracts heat from the outside air and converts it into heating energy, for example[9]. The installation of the air-source heat pump is simple and inexpensive, and therefore represents an alternative technology for heat generation[10].

Wind turbines also represent a sustainable alternative technology for energy generation. Here, energy is generated with the help of wind turbines and the natural resource of wind. The wind is also a freely available resource that offers a cost-free and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. The use of wind turbines reduces atmospheric emissions caused by greenhouse gases and particulate matter[11].

Biomass combined heat and power is a process in which organic waste or specially grown plants are burned instead of fossil fuels. The combustion process generates heat and electricity. Since this process burns organic waste that has already been produced or uses plants that subsequently grow back, thereby absorbing carbon dioxide, it is a sustainable alternative to conventional fossil fuels[12].

Due to climate change and the harmful effects of fossil fuel combustion on the environment, alternative technologies will continue to play an important role in sustainable energy production in the future[13].

Examples of Alternative technology

  • Renewable energy sources: Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric power are increasingly being used to reduce dependence on non-renewable sources of energy, such as fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources are clean, efficient, and can often be obtained at low or no cost.
  • Energy-efficient appliances: Energy-efficient appliances, such as high-efficiency lightbulbs, refrigerators, and clothes washers, use less energy than traditional appliances, resulting in lower electricity bills and reduced carbon emissions.
  • Greywater Treatment: Greywater treatment systems are designed to capture and filter wastewater from sinks, showers, and other sources in order to reuse it for non-potable purposes such as gardening, flushing toilets, and washing machines.
  • Green Building: Green building is an approach to construction which emphasizes the use of recycled and renewable materials, energy-efficient design, and sustainable construction practices.
  • Waste-to-Energy: Waste-to-energy technologies convert waste into energy, such as electricity or fuel, in an effort to reduce the amount of waste that is sent to landfills or incinerators.
  • Hydroponic Gardening: Hydroponic gardening is a form of gardening that uses nutrient-rich water instead of soil to grow plants. This technology is a great way to reduce water consumption and create healthy, sustainable food sources.

Advantages of Alternative technology

Alternative technologies have many advantages over traditional technologies, including:

  • Reduced energy consumption: Alternative technologies are often more energy efficient than traditional technologies, meaning they require less energy to perform the same tasks. This can help reduce energy costs and consumption, which in turn can reduce carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.
  • Reduced pollution: Alternative technologies often use cleaner, more efficient sources of energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal, helping to reduce pollution from burning fossil fuels.
  • Increased resource efficiency: Alternative technologies are designed to be more resource-efficient than traditional technologies, meaning they use fewer resources to perform the same tasks. This can help reduce waste and conserve resources.
  • Improved health and safety: Alternative technologies often use safer materials and methods, which can reduce risks to human health and safety, as well as the environment.
  • Increased affordability: Alternative technologies often cost less to produce, meaning they can be more accessible to people with limited financial resources.

Limitations of Alternative technology

Alternative technology can provide a great deal of potential for reducing environmental impact and increasing sustainability, however, it does have its limitations. These include:

  • Expense: Alternative technology can be expensive, meaning it is not always accessible to those who need it most.
  • Accessibility: Alternative technology may not always be available in the places where it is most needed, such as remote or rural areas.
  • Maintenance: Alternative technology often requires regular maintenance, which can be time consuming and costly.
  • Education: If users are not properly educated on how to use alternative technology, it can be difficult to implement and benefit from it.
  • Disposal: Alternative technology can also generate a large amount of waste when it is disposed of, which can be difficult to manage.

Other approaches related to Alternative technology

  • An approach to alternative technology is the concept of appropriate technology, which focuses on using resources efficiently and responsibly. Appropriate technology emphasizes the use of local materials and renewable sources of energy, and often involves the development of low-cost or no-cost solutions that are tailored to local contexts.
  • Another approach is the use of smart technology, which uses digital and communication technology to improve efficiency and reduce waste. Smart technology can be used to monitor energy usage and systems performance, predict maintenance needs, automate processes, and optimize operations.
  • A third approach is green technology, which strives to minimize environmental impact by utilizing renewable energy sources, conserving resources, and reducing emissions. This can include technologies such as solar and wind energy, energy efficiency, green building materials, and green transportation options.
  • A fourth approach is sustainable technology, which integrates economic, environmental, and social considerations into the design of a technology. Sustainable technology emphasizes the need to produce products that are both energy - and resource-efficient, and which reduce the environmental impact of their production, use, and disposal.

In summary, alternative technologies include appropriate technology, smart technology, green technology, and sustainable technology. These approaches emphasize the use of local resources, renewable energy sources, and efficient production and use of products, with the goal of reducing environmental impact.


  1. McRobie, G., Williams, R. A. (1982), pg. 1-7
  2. Smith, A. (2004), pg. 1-2
  3. Anderson, J. (2012), pg. 215
  4. Smith, A. (2004), pg. 11
  5. Anderson, J. (2012), pg. 215
  6. Jieb, Y. A., Hossain, E. (2022), pg. 1
  7. Jieb, Y. A., Hossain, E. (2022), pg. 1
  8. Jieb, Y. A., Hossain, E. (2022), pg. 1-4
  9. Wu, R. (2009), pg. 16
  10. Bertsch, S. S., Groll, E. A. (2008), pg. 1283
  11. National Research Council (2007), pg. 1-4
  12. Prag, P. (2012), pg. 52-53
  13. Jieb, Y. A., Hossain, E. (2022), pg. 1

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Author: Andrea Adkins