Since 2013, the French nonprofit Low-tech Lab has been sharing local and sustainable innovations through an open source platform, to help address the environmental challenges of the 21st century — an approach that experiences a growing success.
Everyone knows natural resources are finite, and yet their exploitation continues to increase year after year. And if their extraction and use causes nearly 50% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations’ International Resource Panel’s 2019 report, roughly 92 billion tonnes were extracted in 2017 — three times more than in the 1970s.
To tackle the paradox, the French nonprofit Low-tech Lab has set on a mission of identifying, experimenting and sharing tutorials about eco-friendly technological solutions through a collaborative, open resource online platform. Since its creation in 2013, one of the nonprofit’s co-founders, Corentin de Chatelperron, has been sailing the world on a low-tech boat equipped with solar panels to identify innovations capable of saving energy and raw materials. His ambition is to create a global network of local antennas in order to facilitate the integration of these solutions into people’s daily lives.
“We’ve found that, all around the world, a number of people were innovating locally to find concrete solutions to environmental challenges,” says De Chatelperron, who launched the Low-tech Lab together with the engineers Pierre-Alain Levêque and Clément Chabot. “Since these solutions are often replicable and adaptable to the specificities of any given territory, they can represent a global response to today's social and environmental challenges.”
These innovations, or low-techs, are intended to meet basic human needs through a renewed approach of technological progress — their efficiency is measured by their ability to reduce their environmental footprint. And if they can be applied to fields such as agriculture, IT and architecture, the Low-tech Lab believes the housing sector is the best way forward. Indeed, in France, the housing tertiary sector was the most energy-intensive, accounting in 2011 for 43% of the total energy consumption according to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency.
That is why Pierre-Alain Levêque and Clément Chabot lived on-and-off between Mars and December 2019 in an ecological and nomadic ‘tiny house’ equipped with 12 low-techs, including solar water heaters and recycling showers. Their goal, they say, was not to promote the tiny house itself but to study the quality of life in a low-tech habitat while analyzing its ecological and economic impact. The results were conclusive — while a French home emits an average of 1,700 kilogrammes of CO2-equivalent per person per year, the low-tech experiment brought it down to only 37 kilogrammes.
© Low-tech Lab - Clément Chabot
However, Levêque and Chabot believe low-tech solutions cannot be the only answer to environmental issues, namely because there are no low-techs able to produce electricity. Although renewable energies are more sustainable than fossil fuels, extracting raw materials to manufacture the necessary equipment has an important environmental impact, which begs to think of more energy-efficient lifestyles.
That is why the Low-tech Lab goes beyond simply sharing low-tech tutorials online. Above all, it aims to promote a low-tech state of mind. "Innovation only makes sense if it addresses real needs, if it’s sustainable and accessible to the greatest number of people," explains De Chatelperron. Only the innovations that meet these three criteria are shared on the collaborative platform, leaving online users the possibility to improve them through their feedback.
And the approach is gaining track. Since October 2019, the Low-tech Lab website has recorded more than 135,000 visits from nearly 175 countries around the world and more than five million views on social media. By bringing the public to question their real needs, the nonprofit hopes to make the sustainable relationship between people and resources the basis of the future’s human behavior.
This article has been written as part as a series of stories produced for open_resource by Sparknews, a French social enterprise that aims to foster new narratives that can help accelerate a social and environmental transition to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.
 Study "Observation of energy consumption in the residential tertiary sector at regional level", June 2011 (in french)