Humboldt State University

What We're Up To: The Most Eco-Friendly Encyclopedia on the Web

The Most Eco-Friendly Encyclopedia on the Web

The word appropedia brings together three words: appropriate; apropos; and encyclopedia. The brainchild of Lonny Grafman, an instructor in HSU's Environmental Resources Engineering department, the website appropedia.org is quickly becoming the go-to site for solutions on sustainability.

Grafman, and his colleagues from around the world, designed the website to be a network where people can find answers to questions related to sustainability. With thousands of visitors a day and over 17 million page views since its inception, appropedia.org is one of the largest web-based collaboration of information related to sustainability and energy efficiency.

"The site has gone through a lot of incarnations and it's an idea that people have had for many years," says Grafman. "It's just that technology is finally catching up to some of the capabilities."

The website is a wiki, which allows users to create new pages and contribute content to already existing pages. Since its launch in April 2006, the website has attracted users from almost every country and has over 18,000 pages created by contributors.

"People have always had the knowledge kiosk," says Grafman. "A long time ago communities were probably so small that of course they shared information about how they did stuff. Appropedia just allows us to do that around the globe."

Energy, construction and community, and health and safety are three of the most popular topics for readers. For example, if a reader wanted to learn about building a compost pile, she could find information on different compost methods, materials needed to build the compost pile and see tips for how to use the finished compost.

About the contributors who regularly fill in missing bits of knowledge, Grafman says, "It's such an open community it's hard to enumerate. There are thousands of people who work on Appropedia daily. There are about 20 people behind the scenes working on it, but we have readers in the tens of thousands and hundreds of edits a day."

Currently, Appropedia is managed by a five-member board of directors, one intern and thousands of advisors all over the world. The site may be a resource for people looking for information, but it is also a tool for faculty to involve students in assignments.

Professor Dustin Poppendieck, of HSU's Environmental Resources Engineering department, uses Appropedia for his Engineering 115 course, which gives students the ability to document local engineering feats in a technical way.

"It can be a model for a lot of freshman-level university classes where students provide the time and energy to do follow up and communities provide students an opportunity to see how real projects were completed," says Poppendieck.

During her Engineering 305 class, HSU student Phoebe Sager and her group members created a clay-straw slip wall for the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology's tool shed. Part of the project was to record the process on Appropedia. "We put a lot of effort into documenting what we did so that others can get use out of it," Sager says. "I think it would be a great resource for someone wanting to do what we did."

Now, users from around the globe can look up Sager's page for detailed information on the sustainable building practice she used and, ideally, share their own information.

Grafman hopes the site will be even more widely used ten years from now. "I hope that everyone can find a use for Appropedia in their every day lives," he says. "I want people to ask new questions and solve new problems instead of asking the same questions and making the same mistakes."