- 1 Definition
- 2 Introduction
- 3 History
- 4 Causes
- 5 Proponents
- 6 Technological Factors
- 7 Environmental Impact
- 8 Conclusions
- 9 Further Research
- 10 References
An ecovillage is an intentional community designed to be sustainable for the foreseeable future, with seamless integration into the natural world. They usually require as little outside involvement as possible, and are as self-sufficient as is practical. A common goal of ecovillage community members is to encourage societal change and to combat the norm regarding ecological and environmental impact of humans. 
The defining attributes of an ecovillage leave significant room for variation in implementation; these vary from traditional, low-technology methods to very high-technology concept designs that have not yet been completed. The Earthaven Ecovillage, located in North Carolina, USA, focuses on ecological living through intentional permaculture design. They define permaculture as "a set of techniques and principles for designing sustainable human settlements with plants, animals, buildings, and organizations—and especially the relationships between them." ReGen Villages is focused on designs for "desirable off-grid capable neighborhoods comprised of power positive homes, renewable energy, water management, and waste-to-resource systems that are based upon on-going resiliency research – for thriving families and reduced burdens on local and national governments." Both seek to increase sustainability through changes of lifestyle and culture, though the latter uses significant technological advances in addition; the former seems to approach with a 'returning to the fundamentals' leaning technique.
The first concept of an ecovillage may be attributed to the Celtic Christian monasteries, dating from the sixth and seventh centuries. Though these communities likely did not concern themselves with sustainability in the same context of modern ecovillages, they were often primarily self-sustaining. These communities were often dedicated to caring for the land and were built around agriculture; physical labor through working the land was a primary component of daily life in these communities. Like current ecovillages, they attempted to set themselves apart from the culture of the outside world, and were built around shared values. Both modern and historical 'ecovillages' were designed with a holistic approach to community and sustainability.
One of the first, and most well established, modern ecovillages began in Findhorn, Scotland in 1962 when a few people settled down in a caravan park with a shared interest in spirituality and agriculture. The community drew the interest of others, and eventually the Findhorn Foundation was created (1972). By the 1980s there were 300 members of the community. This community still thrives, and currently a significant focus is on reducing their carbon emissions footprint. Membership has continued to increase in the 2000s.
More ecovillages took shape during the 1970s. The Farm, in Tennessee, was founded by 'hippie idealists' in 1971. The Miccosukee Land Co-op, a cohousing community with ecovillage-like values was started in 1972 in Florida. The Välsviken Project was conceptualized and started in Sweden 1976. Though it did not last, it spurred interest and resulted in the creation of other Swedish Ecovillages. The Svanholm ecovillage began in Denmark in 1977 and is one of Denmark's oldest longstanding ecovillages.
The 1980s saw significant growth in the ecovillage, and related cohousing, movements. By the following decade the term 'ecovillage' had come to be commonly used. Before this, words like permaculture or simply descriptions of the ecological, low environmental impact communities were employed to refer to these villages. The greatest growth was seen in Europe, where cohousing become popular in some countries due to high population density and a growing desire for communities that where made up of more than just isolated living spaces. Denmark is probably the best example of this; many ecovillages were born out of the cohousing movement, started in Denmark to be intentional communities with shared spaces and facilities. This overlaps significantly with ecovillage agenda, just without some of the environmental focus. Another early ecovillage, demonstrating the global reach of this movement, is the Crystal Waters community located in Australia. This community was founded in 1989 with a design based around the ideas of permaculture. "Residents of Crystal Waters continue to work with Permaculture and related principles of harmony with the land and wildlife, ecologically built housing and organic food production."
1990s and the Global Ecovillage Network
The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) was formed in 1995, with Findhorn as a founding member, to unite ecovillages across the globe; this network was founded to increase the sharing of methodologies, communication between ecovillages, and sharing of goals and values. Since its founding, it has to grown to connect a reported "approximately 10,000 communities." This number is somewhat inflated, however, as some reported communities are merely aspiring ecovillages at times comprised of one member.
In 1998, Ted Trainer outlined key attributes that define an ecovillage. On the low end of technological spectrum, he proposed that an ecovillage would have:
- a more self-sufficient layout that depended on gardens, compost heaps, recycling, and repairing/making their own tools
- energy conservation (ex. using bicycles for transportation)
More technological aspects of an ecovillage would contain:
- passive solar architecture
- alternative technologies: renewable energy sources, building using earth, alternative water collection and sewage treatment systems, water recycling, sustainable agriculture, and Permaculture
He also argued that self-sufficiency was a key property for the long-term health of an ecovillage. As such, the ecovillage must have a healthy economy supported by a local town bank, small firms, farms, dams, and woodlots. He identified unemployment and deteriorating communities as a consequence of the ‘globalization’ of the world economy. Ecovillages have offered a potential solution to these social crises. By the final decade of the 20th century the ecovillage movement had grown to include thousands of members.
21st Century and ReGen Villages
The movement appears to be picking up momentum again in the 2010's as technology has made sustainability goals seem even more achievable. "ReGen Villages is a new visionary model for the development of off-grid, integrated and resilient eco-villages that can power and feed self-reliant families around the world." It started in 2016 and unlike most ecovillages, is "all about applied technology," not necessarily social change and the cultural aspects of sustainable living. This is still simply a model and there are no communities functioning using this very high technology method of sustainable living. Regardless, the concept may provide a glimpse into the future of the movement.
The ecovillage movement was spurred on by many events and other movements, some of which are addressed here.
Silent Spring (1962)
The 1962 book Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, started an environmental movement against many modern technologies because of their harmful affect on the environment; the focus of the book was on pesticide use and its adverse impact on the environment, but its reach spread far beyond this. The likelihood of this book's movement pushing some towards sustainable, ecovillage living is high.
Hippie Movement (1960-1970)
Members of the hippie movement of the 1960s and 70s frequently had values and ideas that were then seen in ecovillages; still today, many ecovillages have a culture that somewhat mirrors that of the hippie movement. The back-to-the-land ideals are a common thread between the two movements, that likely had overlap in proponents. Though the title 'hippie' was predominantly used in the U.S., similar communities of people inhabited Europe and likely were the founders of many early ecovillages.
U.S. Oil Embargo (1973)
In 1973 U.S. and UK newspaper articles were published indicating the imminent threat of gasoline rationing, calling citizens to dim lights to conserve energy, and demonstrating the growth of nuclear power with limitations on fossil fuel use. This brought the reality of limited energy sources close to home for many, and most likely spurred interest in sustainable, low-impact living that would not rely on significant outside resources.
The Cold War (1970-1990)
At the time, concerns about the world's end were prevalent in many parts of U.S. culture. Movies, books, and media reflect this. The release of Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back, a blockbuster hit, contained clear references to the world wars and the still prevalent concern about a 3rd World War. A 1985 TIME Magazine cover showed nuclear warheads in a bleak desert expanse, demonstrating the concerns of apocalypse or nuclear holocaust. Nuclear distrust increase beyond just weaponry when the Chernobyl reactor meltdown occurred in 1986, planting distrust and fear in much of the public about nuclear energy and safety concerns.
Ozone Layer Depletion (1985)
The ozone hole was discovered above Antarctica in 1985, and it was determined to be growing due to, most likely, human causes. This has continued to be a significant concern to the present. All of these events likely compounded and induced this push towards sustainability, self-sufficiency, non-fossil fuel and non-nuclear energy sources, and back-to-the-earth food production.
Technological Advancement (21st Century)
Improvements to the efficiency of green technologies make the concept of an ecovillage more feasible. The compounding effect of causes previously discussed motivated more individuals to consider inhabiting or founding a ecovillage. Threats of environmental catastrophe still exist, and sustainability has become a primary goal of the 21st century. Participants in the ecovillage movement are expected to increase along with a focus on green technology and sustainability.
Ecovillage proponents are organizations and individuals that view ecovillages as leading a sustainable solution to the current environmental dilemma, and also the currently prevalent social isolation. They also include many who see the movement not as a complete solution but a move in the correct direction. Though most have not made the significant leap to living in an ecovillage, the movement exemplifies many of the ecological and environmentally-friendly values that are common today.
The Global Ecovillage Network has been described as the "primary organization uniting globally, promoting the ecovillage movement, and providing educational opportunities to formed and forming communities." GEN contains multiple assembly bodies within, such as the advisory board, general board, and the Council of Elders, which is a group of veteran ecovillage proponents. The organization also has consultative status with the UN-Economic and Social Council commission.
Proponents are also individuals such as Dr. Karen Litfin, a professor of Political Science at the University of Washington who published the book Ecovillages in 2014. In her book, Dr. Litfin expressed that "ecovillages may not be the answer to humanity’s problems, but they are one of the answers, and we need all the answers we can get." Furthermore, she stated that she saw ecovillages as "seeds of hope sparsely sown across the global landscape."
The extent of technological implementation may depend on the views of members of each individual ecovillage. Some ecovillages are focused on the social aspects of sustainability while others focus chiefly on technology.
Christine Connelly, author of Sustainable Communities: Lessons from Aspiring Eco-Villages, thinks that "the most important key to success of any community or eco-village is not the 'green' technologies adopted but the beliefs and values on which it is based, and the relationships which bind members and enable them to work together and resolve their differences."
James Ehrlich, president of ReGen Villages, stated that "If you look at any long lasting eco-village, it has usually been about religion, polyamory or drugs ... Those things are all great in their own way … but we want to express innovation and excitement. Traditional eco-village people wait for 50 years for that one tree to fall so they can build their community centre. I don’t think the planet has the time to wait. We have to build off-grid neighborhoods around the world as quickly as we can, and as many as we can."
A 2012 study took two communities, one the ecovillage at Currumbin and another a control community from an estate in the same region and climate zone, and compared the energy consumption of both communities. It was found that the ecovillage at Currumbin consumed only 10kWh/ph/pd while the control consumed 23kWh/ph/pd. The study failed to conclude if the pro-sustainability attitude of the occupants of the ecovillage resulted in the low energy consumption and instead concluded that the sustainable housing environment was the cause.
In a 2017 study, ecovillage households in Ireland were found to have less occupants, be smaller, and be more efficient than average households. The measured ecological footprint of these villages in regards to transportation, waste, food, and energy were found to be much less than the average Irish household. However, the average hectare for an ecovillage resident was estimated to be ten percent greater than that of the average human. This is due to the ecovillage’s dependence on agriculture.
Ecovillages originated from concerns about man-made technology's potentially adverse effect on the environment. Supporters sought to decrease their carbon footprint by optimizing energy consumption in their day to day lives through formation of communities of individuals sharing the same goal. They seek to accomplish their vision by using the cohousing model to share resources, implementing green technology that make the town energy self-reliant, and creating a local, healthy economy comprised of local businesses. Supporters of the ecovillage movement hope to change current society's implementation of a community that focuses on the individual to that of a communal, sharing model that focuses on sustainability and permaculture. At the current scale of the ecovillage movement, global environmental impact is insignificant; many more supporters would be required to change the current course of society, which seems unlikely.
An opposition to Jevon's Paradox may be understood from ecovillages. Jevon's Paradox states simply that as more efficient technology is released, there will be an increase in energy and food production. This production leads to a higher demand, therefore a paradoxical solution. Ecovillages may be centered more towards the social aspect of the sociotechnical spectrum, suggesting that ecovillages bring about social change to decrease the strain on the environment and increase sustainable practices. Therefore, ecovillages may not be a paradoxical solution considering that these practices decrease overall demand.
For further work, this chapter could be expanded to look more at how ecovillages have potentially sought to avoid Jevon's Paradox. The solution they propose could be analyzed using the socio-technical spectrum. Residents of ecovillages appear to seek a method of preserving the environment that falls primarily on the social end of the socio-technical spectrum, while taking advantage of a few high-tech advancements such as wind turbines and solar panels. They hope that in changing the definition and values of current communities to the ecovillage model, they will succeed in preserving the environment.
In addition, the voices of ecovillage members, through direct quotes, could be gathered to gain even more insight into the goals and values of ecovillages. Due to time constraints this has not been fully explored and incorporated into this study, but would be very beneficial to increasing understanding of the subject, especially as it pertains to the social interface of technology.
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