Too often development projects fail. An estimated 30% of water projects in sub- Saharan Africa have failed prematurely in the last 20 years, and a mere 10% of cooking stove programs started in the 1980s were operational two years after startup. With similar anecdotal evidence suggesting a mixed record of success for energy, infrastructure, health, and sanitation projects, the question we must ask ourselves is "How can we make development projects more sustainable?" In considering this question we often limit the available answers by framing the problem in terms of environmental impact or technical issues associated to durability and maintenance. And while these are vital considerations, the product-centric viewpoint often blinds us to other pertinent long-term questions that deal with financing, cultural preferences and societal change, management, and logistics for delivering replacement parts. The complex interactions between these facets of sustainability must be considered when designing products and services for long-term viability. Evidence will show that a durable product can fail prematurely due to lack of tools to conduct regular maintenance, a rural health program can stagnate from logistical barriers, unexpected uses of product waste can cause disease or environmental degradation, and projects that ease daily hardships can be forcibly destroyed or removed if they conflict with cultural preferences. This panel brings together a variety of viewpoints and experiences to discuss the complex interrelationships between several facets of sustainability, including technical, environmental, economic, social and cultural, managerial, and supply chain and channel considerations. Examples and lessons learned will be given along with recommendations to improve the sustainability of the products and services we design for humanity.
Christopher Freitas, Project Engineer, Sun Energy Power International, gives his presentation at the Designing for Sustainability track at the 2012 GHTC