Copyright GreenIt! 2011
“Small is beautiful” is an expression of Minimalism.
Minimalism is efficient - those of us who write software know that very well.
We ‘normalise’ databases in order to reduce any duplication of data, and we code software so that functionalities become useable in many various instances; the same code recycled over and over again ... and far easier debugged.
It is both efficient … and effective.
However, one can be effective … but not efficient.
And therein lies the challenge.
Sustainability requires both efficiency and effectiveness, simultaneously.
Processes in whatever operation, public or private, for profit or non-profit, need to be effective because they must deliver the result if they are to be of use.
But if they are not efficient as well then they probably will not be as sustainable as they could be.
The difference can be subtle … but still obvious with the right frame of mind.
For example, water can be delivered to households.
And yes, perhaps all in a given community are now receiving water and we can say that the service is effective.
Water is however increasingly a precious commodity.
When bath or shower water is flushed down the drain there is a loss of efficiency in that an opportunity, for say, diverting grey water into a family vegetable patch for food sustainability is lost.
Grey water can indeed be used for irrigating a vegetable patch.
Not only is the grey water effective, but recycling it makes the option more efficient than merely running out fresh water from the tap to do the trick.
Black water, from washing dishes, cannot be used for irrigation and it would have to be processed first before it can be recycled.
But grey water is far greater in volume than black water from dish washing.
Another dilemma is sanitation.
Water being flushed down the toilet is effective as a medium, but highly inefficient.
There are a number of emerging waterless alternatives such as solar toilets, or solar powered incinerating toilets.
Like cellular technology they are plug and playable, not requiring the burying of a sanitation network into the ground for new settlements.
The by product is compost - again efficiency.
And the ability to provide sanitation without an extensive sanitation network is elegantly minimalistic.
But if the idea of incinerating toilets is too much for the unaccustomed mind, pit latrines made of improved materials such as water proof polystyrene are an efficient derivative of a past technology.
The pit latrines can be sucked dry for use as night soil after a year or so of incubation.
Or as one supplier said "One can just plant a tree in it".
Moving on to less unpleasant subjects, organic waste from the kitchen can be turned into magnificent nutrients for the vegetable patch via vermiculture – worms!
Solar illumination to minimise the use of candles, a source of many fires amongst the impoverished is yet another efficiency that is overlooked.
It can also instantly supply where the electrical grid has not yet reached.
Hot Boxes to cook with and thereby save on heat source costs be they electricity, gas, paraffin or fire is yet another example of efficiency overlooked.
But it is not all about physical gadgets ...
For example, less obvious but as crucial is the provision of affordable micro-credit ... yet another efficiency that we should promote.
We allow impoverished households vulnerable to the Circumstances of Life (e.g. sickness and deaths in families) to be thrown into the Lion's Den of Loan Sharks as they scramble for money to deal with these challenges.
Stuck as we are in wasteful forms of service delivery we are, metaphorically, mostly flushing Sustainability down the Proverbial Toilet!