Ecovillages as Models for Sustainable Development: A Case Study Approach

Ecovillages as Models for Sustainable Development: A Case Study Approach

I invite you take a look at this Case Study written in the form of a thesis by Bhawna Gesota.  The study focuses on the benefits posed by the wide-scale use of ecovillages and why it should be in our best interest to implement ecovillage programs everywhere.  Gesota’s research is focused around the socio-economic trends of our present day being capitalist, and furthermore how said capitalism is not sustainable.  With a seemingly imminent ecological disaster based on the society we have built today, it is in our best interest to change the way we are living.  It is acknowledged that such large-scale consumerism requires resources that are not renewable.  We need people to be on board with a large scale social change and it needs to happen before we use up all the resources we so desperately depend on.  

Gesota lays out a section in his piece titled Mapping the Motivation and he mentions some of the key areas of importance regarding what needs to be done to avoid an ecological crisis, as outlined by an IPCC report:

  1. Reduction in usage of fossil fuel and increase in usage of renewable energy (E.g. hydropower, solar, wind, tidal and wave energy) 
  2. Shifting to public transport systems (rail, buses) and non-motorize transport (cycling, walking), usage of bio-fuels, advanced hybrid or electric vehicles
  3. Usage of energy efficient appliances, improved insulation, active and passive solar designs, usage of natural building materials
  4. Cultivation of degraded lands, efficient use of fertilizers and irrigation
  5. Composting of organic waste and waste minimization
  6. Expanded rain water harvesting, water storage and conservation techniques, water re-use and re-cycling techniques

Gesota says that the models best suitable for responding to these key guidelines are those of ecovillages.  This means supporting local economies with a focus on sustainability through locally grown food, sharing land, and community government.  One of the hinderances ecovillages have is certain speculation around whether each ecovillage is doing as much as they can or as much as the next ecovillage from a sustainability standpoint.  At which point do we give an ecovillage its name?  What classifications make up the specificities of an ecovillage? Gesota figured the best way to figure out similarities between ecovillage infrastructure would be by use of interviews of a convenience random sample.  He would randomly select ecovillage citizens who were close by to get a feel for the general consensus on how a certain ecovillage was run.  This led him to find the concept of sustainability to be somewhat ambiguous.  He came to some general conclusions that sustainability isn’t about the different parts of a system, but rather it is about one system as a whole, and it requires the reworking of our current system.  I think the idea is the sustainability should be everyone’s priority, perhaps as the economy is everybody’s priority right now.  Perhaps economoy should be but a sub-branch in the world focused around sustainability.  

One part of this study I found really interesting was the idea of complexity theory as a way of thinking about sustainability. “Complexity theory suggests that everything is interrelated and is continuously changing that is to say that a complex system is in a sense a system out of control and cannot be predictably managed by any single mind or even by a complicated set of rules. There is too much going on at once, too many linked components, and too much feedback and adaptation. Complex systems can adapt and self-organize in response to cues from the environment particularly when that environment is at the edge of chaos.” (Williams 2000)  So perhaps this concept of sustainability is going to be hard to define and harness to use confidently without being at all worried about the curveballs that could be thrown at us.  The best we can do now is use what we know about our current situation and do what we can to sustain resources for our future generations.  All we can do is try to make the situation easier for our family that will come after us which means implementing sustainability as a complex system ready for the unpredictability of our changing environment.

Gesota talks about the Findhorn Foundation and Community; an ecosystem founded in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy. In order to keep food on the table during unemployment, the couple started planting vegetable gardens that attracted people from all around, eager to hear Peter and Eileen’s story and learn the principles by which they live.  Today the land owned by Peter and Eileen is home to around 450 residents.  They struggled in their beginnings but were able to eventually reach a good level of cooperation between neighboring villages which helped each village grow and learn.  Findhorn has been a leader in ecological building using innovative materials such as stone, straw, and natural materials to create breathable walls and north facing windows.  They have harnessed the capabilities of solar and wind energy to power hot water and heating and to generate electricity.  They have great recycling and composting programs that are run by the citizens of the community.  Findhorn is an all around model in the world of ecovillages and is definitely worth looking into.  They have created a sustainable community that coexists and works as an effective and ever-changing system.  

Gesota goes on to talk about the Ökodorf Sieben Linden; another ecovillage located in Eastern Germany.  He reflects on how the success of the ecovillage seems to be in large part due to the self-governed community and food co-op system which has been feeding the residents for over 15 years.  I do suggest you read further into this case study as the information on working ecovillage systems is rich and informative.  This is all the time I have but thank you everybody for reading and tell your friends about this blog!