Sustainable design and sustainable technology are similar in concept to appropriate technology but broader, including both high technology and very low technology. Sustainable technology may be more expensive up front, but offers savings through efficient operation; or it may be cheaper up-front through simpler design.
It also involves a large network of people inventing very creative soft technology and methods and ideas for "green living".
Sustainable technology can be considered a subset of sustainable design.
The main differences in today's version of sustainable design, compared to appropriate technology, are:
- Sustainable technology is primarily concerned with minimizing environmental impact, whereas appropriate technology is concerned with the needs of those living on limited material resources (whether by choice or not).
- Its systematic use in architecture and planning in the commercial world, i.e. green building.
- This is symbolized by the enormous success of the LEED program of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Green Globes industry association, and the US Federal Whole Building Design Guide, and the Athena life-cycle project impact assessment tool. There are now also numerous profit and non-profit product rating and selection web sites and large professional association design standards, such as the ASRAE engineering standard SPC 189. Many of these subjects are referenced on Wikipedia too, under either 'sustainability]' or 'sustainable design'.
- Natural building is a more "appropriate technology" approach, in practice it is most appropriate to low-density building environments. Elements of natural building may be appropriate to areas of medium and high building density.
There are a variety of methods and organizations aimed at the systematic application of deeper green design principles. Methods include:
There are also major gaps in the 'appropriateness' of the technology being implemented, however. Though some long range models of environmental impacts show a reduction in the future, it can easily be argued that the main achievement of all this effort is just to increase our impacts on the earth more efficiently. Nothing people are organizing to do is actually producing any total decrease in impacts, and the plans to change that are vague. The basic reason appears to be that money is our measure of value and it takes the economy's physical energy and resources to produce make the choices we use it for, in direct proportion. Because that's confusing to most people, and leading organizations and public discussions are not good at exploring complex questions, the subject is little discussed.