Finding Community

A look into intentional communities and ecovillages, Diana Leafe Christian highlights appealing living alternatives for like-minded people who seek to create a family-oriented and ecologically sustainable lifestyle.

| April 2013

  • Finding Community
    How to Join An Ecovillage or Intentional Community
    Cover Courtesy New Society Publishers

  • Finding Community

Finding community is as critical as obtaining food and shelter, since the need to belong is what makes us human. The isolation and loneliness of modern life have led many people to search for deeper connection, which has resulted in a renewed interest in intentional communities. In Finding Community (New Society Publishers, 2007) Diana Leafe Christian takes a look at these intentional communities or ecovillages; an appealing choice for like-minded people who seek to create a family-oriented and ecologically sustainable lifestyle -- a lifestyle they are unlikely to find anywhere else.  

 1.You’ll live on the planet with a smaller ecological footprint.  

Clearly sharing resources not only saves money but reduces environmental impact. If we cluster housing, we’re using less land for buildings and have more land to grow food (or leave as wilderness). If we use common-wall housing units with shared foundations and roofs we’re saving building materials such as wood and reducing the impacts on air, water, and soil of manufacturing concrete, sheetrock, plywood, paint, rebar, and metal lath and fasteners. If we share common utility systems, and, as many communities do, build passive solar buildings, and/or use gravity-fed spring water or roof-water catchment, we’re saving on energy use and conserving water. If, as many communities do, we recycle gray water or compost or otherwise use our kitchen, human, or packaging waste, we’re reducing the need for sewage services and reducing landfill space. If, as some communities do, we grow our own food, particularly with compost we make ourselves, we reduce the use of fossil fuel-created commercial fertilizer, petroleum-based plastic, and paper for packaging, and the impacts on air, water, and soil of transporting food long distances and storing and refrigerating it at distribution points and retail stores. And if, as some communities do, we organize a carpool or community vehicle co-op, and/or use biodiesel fuel, we are obviously benefiting the environment. 

Most intentional communities and certainly ecovillages do many of these practices. Chances are that if you lived in community, you’d be impacting the Earth more beneficially, or at least less harmfully. 

Several European ecovillages have found ways to measure their ecological impact. For example, Munkesoegaard, a 100-household ecovillage near Copenhagen in Denmark, learned that they used 38 percent less water than the average Danish household, and 25 percent less electricity. Carbon dioxide emissions from their wood-pellet heating system and from their electricity consumption are both 60 percent lower than the average Danish household, and Munkesoegaard residents who carpool drove only 5 percent of the Danish average. 

Similarly, researchers at the University of Kassel in Germany compared carbon dioxide emissions from the daily lifestyles of the average German household, three local “ecological households,” and two German ecovillages: Kommune Niederkaufungen and Ökodorf Sieben Linden. The researchers measured CO2 emissions along the chain of events to create, use, and/or transport electricity, heating, water, and food (including the transport of food grown elsewhere to the local markets).They also measured the CO2 emissions of each member’s work and vacation travel. Given the current number of people on the planet, they determined a baseline for an acceptable level of CO2 emissions.(Not surprisingly, they found that the average German household emitted six times the minimum acceptable level of CO2 emissions.) The researchers found that the CO2 emissions of the two ecovillages were still higher than the minimum acceptable baseline, although the CO2 emissions of Ökodorf Sieben Linden, for example, were only around 28 percent of the average German household. When it came to heating their buildings, Sieben Linden’s emissions were only ten percent of the national average, and they achieved a level of six percent of the national average in all the processes involved in constructing their buildings, the materials used, etc. They also found that the two ecovillages used far less water, electricity, heating fuel, and fossil-fuel for heating and food (including transporting food), than either the ecological households or the average German household. This was because the ecovillagers lived in shared, clustered, passive-solar housing with high insulation and efficient heating systems; ate mostly vegetarian diets; grew much of their own food; and earned a living on their homesites rather than traveling to other locations very much. 

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