The goal of this project is to make it easy for people to understand the impact of their technology choices on their environment, and to enable them to make better choices. Many of the problems in this area are problems of communication, not technology. One of ITP’s strengths is our ability to communicate to people about the possibilities afforded by digital technologies, so this project is well-suited to our abilities. The tools we’ll be working with are known, reliable solutions, but they haven’t been applied in situations where they might be useful. As Clay Shirky likes to say, we’ll be creating a “Center for the Study of the Recently Possible,” applied to sustainable technology development.

This project spans many areas of interest at ITP. Some students are drawn to the challenge of reducing the energy and resources wasted by the computer industry, and want to lessen that waste. Others are concerned about the imbalance of economic power between communities without access to digital technologies and those that are currently in control of this industry, and want to find ways to adjust this. Some are interested in the problems brought about by inconsistent or non-existent communications networks — problems faced by much of the world every day — and want to find affordable and robust methods to deal with those problems.

This program will start at home, looking for ways to reduce the negative environmental impact of our own work, in two ways: first, we’ll continue the experimentation with low-power, inexpensive devices begun in our current Sustainable Technologies class. Second, we’ll begin building a knowledge base of low-environmental impact methods and materials for student and faculty designers to use in their work at ITP and beyond.

Reaching out from there, we will study technology use in environments in which power and data networks are not reliable, or even non-existent. This includes not only disaster-stricken areas, but also much of the developing world, and large parts of the United States. The goal of this study is two-fold: first, to learn how we can change existing technologies to function better in those environments; and second, to learn about successful patterns of technology use in those environments that could be applied in other places.

What we’ll produce:
* A knowledge base of tools, technologies, and practices for sustainable technological development, including:
** tools and guidelines for producing power-efficient devices
** a knowledge base of power sources that are sustainable or have minimal environmental impact
** a database of recycled or recyclable and affordable construction materials, and techniques for using them effectively
* Written reports reporting on our findings, for the ITP community, the donors, and professional groups in which we’re currently involved;
* Demonstrations of tools and practices developed by the research group, along with good documentation of those practices, so that others can use them as well.

Some of this work has already begun. Our physical computing program was founded on the idea of learning technologies on an as-needed basis, in response to whatever the project or setting requires. Over the course of more than a decade, we’ve gathered a knowledge base of practices to build applications in a wide range of fields.. With the recent addition of a Sustainable Technologies class, we’ve begun to investigate environmental effects of this work, and develop methods to address those effects.