Is small still beautiful? We look at the legacy of E.F. Schumacher 100 years after his birth

It’s over thirty five years since a group of young idealists adopted a derelict slate quarry  to create the Centre for Alternative Technology. They were inspired by the notion of building a living community to test sustainable technologies. At that time “being green” was less defined, and a lot less tested. Society had just emerged from the swinging sixties, and few people were watching the problems, let alone looking for the solutions. This original community set out to develop and prove, by a positive living example, new technologies which would provide practical solutions to the problems that are now worrying both the world’s ecologists and energy analysts.

Much of their vision was drawn from the life and vision of E.F. Schumacher; author of Small is Beautiful and A Guide for the Perplexed and pioneer of green economics. Today CAT remains an active member of the Schumacher Circle – a collective family of organisations in the UK that have all been inspired, one way or another, by Schumacher’s vision or involvement and who cooperate informally to support each other’s work. Schumacher was always encouraging people to see the connections between things, so the Schumacher Circle is a practical expression of this approach. It helps to provide the “joined up thinking” which gives the environmental movement its coherence and helps the individual organisations get a wider perspective on their work. The Schumacher Circle members are the Schumacher SocietySoil AssociationPractical ActionGreen Books and the New Economics Foundation.

2011 is a celebration, marking the centenary of Schumacher’s birth so this year’s annual conference will be special. The annual Schumacher Lectures have been held in Bristol since 1978, and last year featured CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain work . Not only will they be presenting a selection of speakers, the event will be capped with a world music concert, with an incredible line-up from Africa, India and the UK.

CAT is pleased to be contributing to this important celebration. On the Saturday in Colston Hall as one of a range of presentations from the range of Schumacher Circle organisations, I will be presenting an overview of the origins of CAT, some of the experiments we have tried out and what we have learned over the past 35 years plus some indications of where CAT is heading next.

On the Sunday, CAT’s Head of Innovation Peter Harper is part of a team presenting a workshop “How can householders join the energy revolution?”. Renewable energy is developing fast at all scales. The workshop will explore the prospects for householders to generate their own energy, or become involved in large-scale developments.

We are pleased to contribute to such an important event which celebrates the wisdom and insight of E.F. Schumacher, so it may to inspire a new generation who are seeking relevant and practical solutions to heal a world in crisis and build a sane, humane and ecological society – we hope to see you there.