Appropedia: site for self-sustainability

Appropedia: site for self-sustainability

By Al Cloonan

Plastic water bottles, trash, wood and chicken wire: This combination is not a sight from the dump. This is the formula for a school house. Standing in the Dominican Republic, this school house’s walls have a secret. Its walls are not filled with cement. They are filled with plastic water bottles.

Camille Penny, a Humboldt State environmental resource engineering major, traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2012 to help build a one-room plastic water bottle school house.

“We used the bottles as infill to reduce the amount of cement needed for the building,” Penny said. “This also helps keep the bottles out of the waste stream.”

The entire project is available on the website, On the site readers can find the materials used and every step taken from start to finish. However, building a plastic water bottle school room is not the only project documented on Appropedia.

Appropedia is an online resource library for building a healthier, sustainable future. Through this site, people are able to access information regarding sustainable practices to implement in their own community. The site makes it easy to share knowledge and collaborate on solutions for sustainability.  Appropedia helps replace high environmental impact projects with sustainable, low environmental impact projects.

Created by HSU professor Lonny Grafman, Appropedia supports individuals and organizations in building rich, sustainable lives.

After many failed attempts at creating similar websites, a former HSU student introduced Grafman to the open-source community idea of a wiki site.

A wiki allows users to collaborate together to freely create and edit web pages on the server — like a free web-based encyclopedia .

“The first websites I started were pretty much miserable failures,” Grafman said. “I didn’t follow my own advice or the idea behind sustainability: you need to build on the shoulders of the geniuses before you. You don’t want to recreate the wheel.”

A wiki site allows Appropedia community members to see what projects have been done. Members can see what did and did not work in previous projects and can build off each other’s mistakes and successes for future projects. New failures and improvements can be added to project pages to create a more knowledgeable global platform.

Since Appropedia launched in 2006, the website has grown to be the largest site of its kind. Visited 40 million times and edited more than 234,000 times, Appropedia gets around 10,000 hits a day. Appropedia is the Wikipedia for sustainable living.

“One of our best editors walks to an internet café to add to the site,” Grafman said. “He has to walk about 10 kilometers in Tanzania to get there.”

HSU environmental resource engineering major Camille Penny has edited multiple pages. She has also participated in several projects listed on Appropedia.

Cheyenne Celada, an environmental resource engineering major, used the site to help build a rain water catchment system in the Dominican Republic.

Celada and fellow students worked with the community to create a sustainable method for catching and harvesting rainwater. By purifying this rainwater, the community reduced its need to purchase water.

“We had six weeks to accomplish a super difficult, but effective project,” Celada said. “Appropedia allowed us to record our trials and tribulations for others to learn from.”

Professors, students and community members world-wide frequently use this site. Users share ideas that will help find solutions to sustainability. The site provides an outlet for unbiased information. Members frequently edit project pages and are able to draw their own interpretations from project pages. Anyone can access this information by using the website.

Grafman has worked on thousands of projects, many with his environmental resource engineering students.

“I love projects,” Grafman said. “It’s my fun. It’s my work.”

Grafman said he loves teaching because he can work with students to come up with solutions.

“Appropedia gives students a context for their work,” Grafman said. “They’re not just spinning their wheels, their wheels are working for them.”

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