Eco-Innovation at the bottom of the pyramid Rotating Header Image

Chilean water purification system

A cost and energy efficient water purifying system brings clean water to the poor… my only doubt… how hard is to fix it in case it fails?

3rd International conference on De-Growth

Next 19th of September I’ll attend the 3rd International conference on De-Growth. I’ll participate in the workshop titled “The role of technology in a degrowth society” presenting a paper on frugal eco-innovation in emerging markets.



Solar water heater from plastic bottle

Here is an nice article appeared on “the Ecologist” a couple of years ago. To me it seems tremendously relevant 😉 Jugaad is not a monopoly of India, Brazil is following actively!

Retired mechanic Jose Alano invented a simple, cheap, energy saving rooftop solar water heater which is benefiting thousands of people. Here’s how it’s done…

José Alano is a model of creativity in tackling environmental problems in Brazil. In 2002, the retired mechanic transformed a pile of plastic bottles and cartons into a solar water heater. Since then, thousands of people in southern Brazil have benefited from Alano’s invention, saving money while reducing waste.

The idea came from the lack of recycling collection services in his small home town of Tubarão. Refusing to throw plastic bottle, carton and other recyclable waste into the landfill, José Alano soon realised he had a problem: a room full of rubbish.

‘Being 59 years old, I have had the opportunity to witness the technological advances of science, which improved food storage. But nowadays, some packaging weighs almost the same than the food itself! Years ago, my wife and I realised that we were not prepared for this new form of consumption.’

Using his basic knowledge on solar water heating systems, he and his wife built an alternative version using 100 plastic bottles and 100 milk cartons. ‘It worked perfectly well, and we got rid of our waste in a responsible way,’ he says.

A winning invention

Alano’s initiative became widely known in Brazil after winning the Superecologia prize, offered by the Superinteressante magazine for renewable projects in the not-for-profit sector. Since then, the retired mechanic has been busy with workshops and lectures in community centres and schools, particularly in the Brazilian southern state of Santa Catarina, where he lives.

Yet, Alano never wanted to profit from it, and explains why: ‘I am a simple person, but I am very aware of my own responsibilities as a consumer. The recycled solar water heater was just my small contribution to the environment, and to improve the lives of people who need to save money. I registered the invention, so nobody else could copy and profit from it. Although the information on how to build it is in the public domain and anybody can access it, there are two restrictions: to its industrial production and to its use by politicians during electoral campaigns.’

The information on how to build the recycled solar heater has reached communities through the support of local governments, media, state-owned and private electricity companies, which also donated pipes and other materials.

Alano says that now it is difficult to keep track of all the projects being developed across Brazil, but he mentions some figures from the southern states: ‘More than 7,000 people are already benefitting from the solar heaters in Santa Catarina state alone. There are two cooperatives, one in Tubarão and other in Florianópolis, the last producing 437 solar heaters to be installed in council houses. In Paraná state, the number of solar heaters had reached 6,000 in 2008, thanks to the DIY leaflets and workshops that the governmental body SEMA organised there.’

Big savings

The alternative water heater can provide power savings of up to 30 per cent, but apart from that, Alano notes that every recycled solar water heater built also means less plastic bottles and cartons finding their way to landfill. Since Alano’s invention, Tubarão has been benefiting from regular collection of recyclable waste, something that unfortunately still doesn’t happen in many Brazilian towns.

Alano has lost count of the number of times he has lectured or been visited by groups of students, eager to learn about the invention. However, this is not his only one. Alano designed a low cost multifunctional bed for disabled people, but he is struggling to find a business partnership. Although there has been much interest to put it into production, Alano says that the problem is always to keep profits lower in order to benefit the consumers.

Eight years after its creation, the solar heater still takes a lot of his time, but he believes that now he will finally be able to focus on the multifunctional bed and other projects: ‘The recycled solar water heater is only the result of persistence over frustration’, he explains. ‘I don’t consider myself an inventor. I am just a citizen trying to find solutions to problems.’

Do it yourself
Despite latitude and climate differences between southern Brazil and Britain, the solar water heater designed by Alano is based on the principle of thermosyphon, used in many commercial heaters sold in the UK for as much as £6,000. In this system, neither pumps nor electricity are used to induce circulation. The different water densities are enough to cause a cyclic movement from the collector panel to the tank: less dense hot water upwards, more dense cold water downwards.

The assembly is straightforward, and can be better understood through the illustrations contained in the DIY leaflet (text only in Portuguese). Obviously, size does mater. Alano reckons that to heat water for a shower of one person, a 1m² panel would be enough.

If you are interested in building up your own, these are the basic materials needed: 2L plastic bottles (60), cartons (50), 100mm PVC pipe (70 cm), 20mm PVC pipe (11.7m), 90-degree 20 mm PVC elbows (4), 20mm PVC T-connectors (20), 20 mm PVC end caps (2), PVC glue, black matt paint and roller, sand paper, self-amalgamating tape, rubber hammer, saw, wood or other material for the support.

With the diagrams in the DIY leaflet as a guide, use the 100mm PVC pipe as a mould and cut off the bottom of the bottles. Cut the 20mm PVC pipes into 10 x 1m and 20 x 8.5 cm pieces, and assemble with the T-connectors. Cut and paint the cartons (pag.10-12), as well as the one-meter long pipes. Assemble according to figure B.

The panels must be placed at least 30 cm below the tank and be sited on a south facing wall or roof. To optimise heat absorption, the panels must be mounted at the angle of your latitude, plus 10°. In London, for instance, the panel’s inclination should be 61°. Alano recommends that the plastic bottles in the panels should be swapped for new ones every 5 years: ‘Over time, the plastic becomes opaque, which reduces the heat caption, while the black cartons can be repainted.’

Giovana Zilli is a freelance journalist

Pursuing the Green Leap

Recently I read about the Green Leap concept introduced by prof Hart. The idea that emerging countries will pioneer the next green revolution is intriguing… Is there any empirical evidence??? I tried to ask directly prof Hart and here you have his not really exciting reply:

Dear Mario:   Thanks for your kind message.  The Green Leap blowback engine is just getting started.—a host of technologies from both India and China are poised to make the move.  It should  be an exciting time over the next decade.

at least enjoy his video 😉

Disruptive frugal innovation

The concept of disruptive frugal innovation refers to technological solutions that are able to do better with less. What is more, disruptive innovations have, at least in theory, the potential to unhinge well establish technological paradigms. Is frugal innovation a powerful tool in times of crisis? we don’t know yet. Certainly, frugal innovation have been around for centuries and it is gaining importance to serve the unpreserved markets in many low income countries.  The following video seems to prove that brilliant people in developed countries can provide smart cheap and valuable solutions…

What is innovation for?

Everybody talks about innovation. How to foster it, how to finance it and how to increase innovation capability. But what is innovation for? I’ve always thought that innovation should improve our life through an increase of efficiency and productivity. In a nutshell, more innovation would be equivalent to more leisure time. However this is contradicted by the reality. In our society an increase of productivity does not imply a decrease of work time. On the contrary, the present crisis is bound to threat even the current work rights. The crisis, we have been told, will require us to work more and for less money. It is pretty clear that innovation is not fulfilling its original purpose….

“Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?”

Bertrand Russel, In praise of idleness

Towards RIO+20

Another provocative perspective on Sustainable development is proposed by Herman Daly in the Viewpoints on Rio+20 published by Natural resources Forum. You can find the other contributions here .

“The conclusion of the 1972 Limits to Growth study by the Club of Rome still stands 40 years later. Even though economies are still growing, and still put growth in first place, it is no longer economic growth, at least in wealthy countries, but has become uneconomic growth. In other words, the environmental and social costs of increased production are growing faster than the benefits, increasing “illth” faster than wealth, thereby making us poorer, not richer. We hide the uneconomic nature of growth from ourselves by faulty national accounting because growth is our panacea, indeed our idol, and we are very afraid of the idea of a steady-state economy. The increasing illth is evident in exploding financial debt, in biodiversity loss, and in destruction of natural services, most notably climate regulation. The major job of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is to help us overcome this denial and shift the path of progress from quantitative growth to qualitative development, from bigger to better. Specifically this will mean working toward a steady-state economy at a sustainable (smaller than present) scale relative to the containing ecosystem that is finite and already overstressed. Since growth now makes us poorer, not richer, poverty reduction will require sharing in the present, not the empty promise of growth in the future.”

Herman Daly is Emeritus Professor University of Maryland, USA

Bikes from the garbage

A bike made with recycled PET bottles and nylon. It is cheap and does not require painting or soldering.  This is the new creation of Juan Muzzi, a Uruguayan-Brazilian artist, who spent   almost 10 years looking for sponsors in Brazil. Banks investors usually replied that the project would success maybe in Germany or Holland but not in Brasil. Finally Muzzi received financial support form his homeland, Uruguay. Muzzicycles can be bought online at

Sustainable development: critique of the standard model


Waiting for the Earth Conference Rio+20, Leonardo Boff provides an interesting and provocative critique to the notion of Sustainable Development

Official documents of the UN and the Earth conference Rio +20 devote much space to the concept of sustainable development: it must be economically viable, socially fair and environmentally friendly. It is the famous so-called Triple Bottom Line (the line of the three pillars), created in 1990 by John Elkington, founder of the NGO “SustainAbility”. But this model does not withstand serious criticism.

Economically viable development: In the political language of business, development is equivalent to the gross domestic product (GDP). Woe to the company and the country that have no positive annual growth rates! They would be in crisis or recession with a resulting decrease in consumption and generation of unemployment; it is all about making money with the minimum possible investment, the highest possible return, the strongest competition in the shortest time.

When we talk about development here, we only refer to the industrialist/capitalist/consumerist growth. This is anthropocentric, contradictory and wrong. Let me explain why.

It is anthropocentric because it focuses only on human beings, as if there were no community of life (flora and fauna and other living organisms 
), which also needs the biosphere and also requires sustainability.

It is contradictory because development and sustainability obey opposed logics. Industrial development is linear, it increases exploitation of nature and promotes private accumulation. It is based exclusively on a capitalist approach of the economy. The sustainability concept, on the contrary, comes from the life sciences and ecology, whose logic is circular and inclusive. It implies the cycle of the dynamic equilibrium of ecosystems, interdependence and cooperation of all to all. Thus, those two concepts are logical antagonistic; one privileges the individual, the other the group. One promotes competition, the other cooperation; one evolution of the fittest, the other the evolution of an interconnected whole.

It is wrong, because it claims that poverty causes environmental degradation. Therefore, the less poverty, the more sustainable the world would be, which is a naïve mistake. Looking, however, critically the real causes of poverty and degradation of nature, we see that they are mainly caused by this kind of development. This model produces environmental degradation, low wages and thus generates poverty.

Sustainable development is a trap of the existing system: it adopts the terms of ecology (sustainability) in a meaningless manner. It assumes the terms of the economy (growth) masking the poverty that itself produces.

Socially fair: if there is one thing that the current industrial/capitalist development cannot say about itself is that it is socially fair. If it were fair, there wouldn’t be 1, 4 billion hungry people and most nations in poverty. Let us consider only the case of Brazil. The Brazilian Social Atlas, 2010 (IPEA), reports that 5000 families control 46% of GDP. The government spends annually 125,000 million reais to pay interests on debt and only 40,000 billion reais for social programs that benefit the poor majority. This condemns the false rhetoric of just development, impossible within the current economic paradigm.

Environmentally friendly: the current type of development is pursuing an unstoppable war against Gaia, exploiting whatever has a monetary value and especially depriving the minorities who control the last natural resources. According to the Living Planet Index of the UN (2010) in less than 40 years global biodiversity suffered a fall of 30%. From 1998 there has been an increase of 35% in emissions of greenhouse gases. Instead of talking about the limits to growth, we had better talk about the limits of the aggression to Earth.

In conclusion, the standard model of sustainable development we want is rhetorical. It will allow progress in the production of low carbon technology, the use of alternative energy and the creation of better waste management techniques. But, be aware: this will be done only if the profits won’t be jeopardized or competition reduced. The use of the term “sustainable development” has major political significance: a change in the present economic paradigm is needed if we want real sustainability. Within the present model of sustainable development, sustainability is either localized or non-existent.

Leonardo Boff is a theologian, philosopher and writer, known for his active support for the rights of the poor and excluded. He currently serves as Professor Emeritus of Ethics, Philosophy of Religion and Ecology at the Rio de Janeiro State University.


Translation: Mario Pansera

India invests in a new Science and technology plan for inclusive innovation

Indian Prime Minister

India will press science and technology into serving a national policy of more inclusive, sustainable and rapid growth for its people.

Addressing the 99th Indian Science Congress, the country’s largest annual gathering of scientists, this week, the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said the occasion demanded looking anew at the role of science in a country “grappling with the challenges of poverty and development”.

Singh emphasised that “the overriding objective of a comprehensive and well-considered policy for science, technology and innovation should be to support the national objective of faster, sustainable and inclusive development”.

read the original article here:

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