GEN Climate Solutions

GEN Climate Solutions best practicies and success stories

Thousands of ecovillage communities around the world are taking action and responding to the challenges confronting us due to global warming and climate change. These actions range from and focus on developing and implementing Green Building Practices, Climate Friendly Agriculture, Restoring the Natural Environment, Sequestering Carbon and Green House Gases through BioChar and Soil Restoration, Protecting and Regenerating Local Water Cycles, Installing and Using Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technologies, and responding to emergencies and crises with resilient and regenerative planning and rebuilding practices. Below we feature many of the best examples of what is being done around the world in ecovillages and by the ecovillage community to do our part in solving the climate crisis - grouped by topic areas.

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Refugees & natural disasters

Natural disasters triggered by climate change are responsible for 150,000 deaths every year and cause millions of people to seek refuge elsewhere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts 50 million “environmental refugees” by 2010, and 150 million by 2050. Millions of people living along the coast in Bangla Desh and elsewhere in SouthEast Asia and the Caribbean or in Small Island Developing States are likely to have to resettle and need to rebuild in a more resilient and sustainable manner unless humanity can make an immediate about face. Ecovillages provide an excellent model for regenerative and restorative community based development. Here are a few examples of what the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is doing in response to this crisis and to deal more effectively with the situation. The September 2015 Issue of the GEN’s Newsletter focused on how many ecovillages around the world are dedicating their work, expertise and experience to disaster relief or prevention - and in the future, we imagine that this will become one of the core areas of engagement of our movement. You will find many examples in this newsletter.

"Blueprint" meeting in Tamera for sustainable aid in areas of crisis

In September 2015, a group of specialists, entrepreneurs and representatives of aid organizations came together at the Tamera Ecovillage to discuss the possibility of creating a "Blueprint" for coordinated aid measures in crisis and disaster areas.

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Emergencies regenerative response to crises!

Natural disasters triggered by climate change are responsible for 150,000 deaths every year and cause millions of people to seek refuge elsewhere. Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm on global record hit the Philippines in 2014 killing more than 7,000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of communities. Researchers have determined that the Syrian conflict worsened due to devastating droughts from 2006 - 2009 resulting in the displacement of up to 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas shortly before uprisings in 2011. Up to 250 million people in Africa are projected to suffer from water and food insecurity in the 21st century leading to increasing conflicts over land and basic resources, threatening of state structures and regional stability, and mass migration of Africans to Europe across the Mediterranean. ! It is in this backdrop of displacement due to conflict, climate change, and economic transitions around the world that EmerGENcies is emerging as a global initiative aiming to model and promote ecovillage, permaculture, and other ecologically sound and integrated approaches in response to crises!

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Project rainbow: a story of hope how can the next generation prepare for the changes taking place in times of crises?

Project Rainbow is an arts based approach to supporting communities transitioning in times of crisis. Through the universal language of art, we help imagine the new story of displacement for internal and external refugees around the world. Project Rainbow is a living and learning experience empowering young people in crises affected communities in designing and implementing regenerative solutions for their community.

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An ecovillage response to natural disasters in Sri Lanka and India

Rob Wheeler, UN Representative for the Global Ecovillage Network, was invited to give a keynote address in China following the devastating earthquake in ChengDu province in 2006 focusing on how ecovillages can and do rebuild following natural disasters. In the process of putting together a slideshow he researched the efforts being made by the Sarvodaya and Auroville Ecovillages in SriLanka and india to rebuild and assist others following the destructive Tsunami which struck South Asian coastal communities throughout the region in 2004. This article details the incredible efforts made to rebuild and restore the natural environment in a much more effective and sustainable manner than had existed before.

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Rewnewable energy & appropriate technology

For the past 40 or 50 years many ecovillage communities around the world have been experimenting with and using renewable energy and appropriate technologies. Many of these communities also offer workshops and training programs in their installation and application. The world community is finally taking notice of and investing in the transition to a truly renewable energy future; but we still have a long ways to go. Based on REN21's 2014 report, renewables contributed 19 percent to our global energy consumption and 22 percent to our electricity generation in 2012 and 2013, respectively. This energy consumption is divided as 9% coming from traditional biomass, 4.2% as heat energy (non-biomass), 3.8% hydro electricity and 2% is electricity from wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Worldwide investments in renewable technologies amounted to more than US$214 billion in 2013, with countries like China and the United States heavily investing in wind, hydro, solar and biofuels.

One of our major challenges is providing access to such technologies in the developing world and in smaller and rural communities. GEN provides examples and information that can be essential in making such a transition, particularly to low cost, distributed, and decentralized systems in such places. Read on for more.

How to build your own portable microgrid and create cleaner charcoal

Community Forests International has been assisting ecovillagers in Tanzania to build and use two new energy innovations to reduce greenhouse emissions and provide the local people with more sustainable sources of energy. In Tanzania only 14% of the people have access to electricity. So, CFI set out to design an electricity system for Kokota in Zanzibar (Tanzania) that would span the entire island and empower every single inhabitant. This meant providing electricity to over 80 homes and three public buildings. The technical limitations associated with a conventional hardwired grid (cost, safety, and efficiency) forced us to come up with an entirely new way of delivering household electricity.

With no previous access to electricity, Kokota’s energy demands were simple; people wanted electric lighting so they wouldn’t have to keep buying and burning kerosene, and they wanted a way to charge their mobile phones. After some head scratching, we calculated that a week’s worth of energy to meet basic demands for a single household could be stored in a small motorcycle battery. The community could generate renewable energy collectively at a central location and then distribute it via a fleet of small carry-home batteries – a ‘portable’ microgrid. Click here for the full story and simple instructions on how to do it.

CFI is also helping villagers in Zanzibar to install low-cost retort kilns to replace the old-school ‘earth mound’ technique for creating charcoal thus doubling production efficiency! That means it takes half as much wood to produce the same amount of charcoal; and in turn half as much forest to supply Tanzania’s demand for charcoal. Additionally, the ICPS cuts production time in half and reduces emissions by up to 75%

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Skala ecovillage biogas digesters

After conducting a week long training program at Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal that Niko from Skala Ecovillage attended, BluePrint Team members and trainers built and installed a biogas digester and storage unit during a Permaculture Design Education course at Skala Ecovillage in Zagkliveri, Greece. “Biogas” is a naturally occurring mixture of 60 to 70% methane and 30 to 40% CO2 with some H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide), that burns similar to so­called “natural gas” but without releasing any green house gases. Biogas is primarily used around the world for cooking and heating at home scale, but it also has many other important applications both domestically and industrially. It can power electric generators at all scales and has a long history of use in gas lamps and absorption refrigeration systems. When purified and compressed we see it used as an effective fuel for cars, trucks and buses (Stockholm – Sweden is a leader in this application). Thus biogas is a flexible substitute for non­renewable energy sources at many levels.

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Biogas digesters installed At Tamera ecovillage

At Tamera Ecovillage in Portugal we first built two biogas digesters that run almost entirely on kitchen and garden scraps from the community. With this we were able to cook on one burner for 10 - 20 hours a day. Click here for the full story.

Then this past summer we built two more biodigesters during the Experimental Week at Tamera Solar Village. The system was inspired by Solar CITIES' 3 IBC tank system in Sao Paulo. The dual gas holder system is modified to avoid the use of a water pump.

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Building your own biogas disgester

What is a biogas digester and how can you build one? It’s all explained here based on one built at Tamera Ecovillage. Includes a module for a decentral autonomous energy supply by TH Culhane.

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Let Solar C³ities help you do it!!

Since 2006 TH Culhane’s Solar C³ITIES team has been assisting communities around the world in the development of their own sustainability solutions.  We activate and engage using the "trainer of trainers" model. Want to bring the Solar C³ITIES Solution to your community?  There are many ways to do it.  You can "do it yourself" (DIY), you can work with people in our extended network, and you are welcome to invite our core trainers in to work with you directly. 

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The solar tunnel-dryer at use at Tamera ecovillage and around the world

Since its development at the University of Hohenheim many years ago, the Solar Tunnel-Dryer has proved itself many times over. It is used in many countries to preserve food through dehydration. It is used by fishermen in Bangladesh to dry fish, by famers in Togo for bananas, for spices in China, etc. Through the training that took place during the Global Campus, Solar Tunnel-Dryers were also introduced into the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, where they are used to dry Cacao. The Tunnel-Dryer is weatherproof; short rainfalls are therefore not a problem.

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Going carbon neutral in Dyssekilde Ecovillage in Denmark

In Økosamfundet Dyssekilde we try to be conscious about our energy consumption, which is why almost all houses have a build on greenhouse on their south facing wall. The passive solar heating is particular efficient in houses with brick walls, or other dense walls that absorb the heat, under good circumstances this can shorten the active heating season with a month both in autumn and spring. When the eco-village first started wood was a popular fuel, as it was relatively cheap, easily obtainable and in effect co2 neutral. Many of the older houses are therefore heated by wood burning mass ovens, which is a big, heavy brick or stone oven in the middle of the house. It is fired once a day to very high degrees, which gives a cleaner combustion and less pollution. The pricks or stone then absorbs the heat and slowly releases it during the day, thus keeping the house warm. Many of our mass ovens also have built in ovens for baking bread or other cooking. Finally, in order to be self-sufficient with energy we build the first windmill in the area in the mid 1990s, producing 2 and a half times what is needed in the houses in the local village.

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Renewable energy systems at Findhorn produce 100% + electricity

Our four community-owned wind turbines, which have a total capacity of 750kW, supply more than 100% of the community's electricity needs; and numerous homes and community buildings incorporate solar panels for hot water heating. Our wind system is unusual in that the community owns its own private electricity grid, the main campus having originally been a private caravan park.

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Nordic folkecenter supports communities in installing renewable energy systems

The Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy, a member of GEN, is a world leader in supporting the development of renewable energy technologies and applications suited for small, rural and developing country communities. It supports the development and implementation of renewable energy systems: small scale wind power innovation and design; advanced generator construction; farm biogas design, and demonstration; CO2 neutral transportation with hydrogen and plant oil; solar architecture and integration of solar cells in buildings; wave energy testing.

Folkecenter has designed and engineered windmills of various sizes and applications, biogas digesters, biofuel and hydrogen for transport, etc. and various components. It welcomes students from all over the world as trainees within renewable energy. 

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Natural building & climate friendly architechture

While transitioning to Natural Building would not be enough on its own to stop global warming, it is an important part of what must be done. Buildings use more fossil fuels and release far more carbon for heating, cooling, embodied energy in building materials, and shipping than does even road transport. For example, 6 - 10% of global greenhouse gases come just from cement making. And in the US something like 50% of the energy is used for buildings vs only 6% for road transport.

Thousands of ecovillages around the world have been experimenting with both new and old ways of building that are exemplary in nature. We are the pioneers striving to build structures that are carbon neutral or even better, that use passive solar and natural heating and cooling, that are as energy efficient and ecologically friendly as possible and that are built using local and natural materials. Most ecovillages welcome visitors, interns, and work exchangers; host community events; and organize workshops, permaculture classes and educational courses. We encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities. Read on for some of the things you could learn about natural building that is being done in ecovillage communities.

Living greener at Ithaca ecovillage

It’s a goal, a practice and an accomplishment. Conserving energy, solar power, planting trees, healthy buildings, growing and eating local, and a culture of sharing help us lower our collective resource use to about 30% of the typical American household. It’s easier to do together than alone. Ithaca Ecovillage is home to about 160 adults and 80 children. About a fifth of our residents are retired, and about a fifth are stay at home parents. We have a wide range of livelihoods, and diverse spiritual backgrounds; but most are middle class. Solar panels generate over half of our electricity needs. Our newest homes make use of Passive House design, thought by many to be the most stringent building code in the world. We’re glad that we can enjoy a high quality of life, while living more lightly on the planet.

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The Eco Village concept climate mitigation requires experimentation

A Case Study: EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) is amongst the oldest and widely respected cohousing projects in the United States. EVI consists of three tightly-clustered residential neighborhoods with direct access to over 100 acres of open space, two community-supported farms, and several independent businesses. A combination of energy-conserving design and cooperative, low-impact lifestyles results in measurably lower ecological footprints without sacrifice to quality of life. Indeed, residences in the project’s newest neighborhood are net-zero energy consumers, meaning they produce as much energy as they consume.

EVI has teamed up with county planners to secure funding from the EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities program. The grant funding (awarded in 2010) is being used to replicate EVI’s successes in a mainstream market setting through innovative government initiatives throughout the United States.

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The low carbon revolutions starts at home Findhorn Ecovillage

The construction of zero carbon buildings and the retrofitting of existing buildings offer some of the most cost-effective and most immediate strategies in response to climate change. The ecovillage at Findhorn in Scotland has erected 61 ecological buildings and there are ongoing plans for the continued construction of an ecologically respectful built environment. The publication of Simply Build Green, the UK's first technical guide to ecological housing, based on our research and experience, has helped the ecovillage become a major resource for environmental education locally, nationally and internationally.

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Compressed, stabilised earth block construction An appropriate technology for building and construction in developing countries

In The Gambia deforestation is a major environmental challenge; sand mining is causing an ecological disaster. Cement manufacture is a highly polluting process and cement importation is the cause of a big loss of national resources.

Sandele Eco-Retreat and Learning Centre in The Gambia was constructed with low embodied energy and a small ecological footprint using an imported compressed, stabilised earth block (CSEB) machine. This incredibly beautiful EcoRetreat, a member of GEN, was built in the most environmentally friendly way possible. They looked world-wide for the best practices in sustainable design using local materials and labour and visited Auroville in India and sent two Gambians to learn the technology and construction methods. The project was so successful that others asked for their expertise, so they created EarthWorks Construction led and managed by their Gambian Construction Manager. Now it has built major construction projects using the compressed earth technology throughout the region.

This type of Earth Block construction is featured in GEN’s Solution Library. Read more

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Auroville Earth Institute Natural building leader known around the world

For 25 years, the Auroville Earth Institute, which holds the UNESCO Chair on Earthen Architecture, has educated and empowered people to build their own dwellings using earthen techniques. They have trained over 10,600 people from 79 countries. This website provides information, images, and videos about the many earthen construction techniques, particularly Compressed Stabilized Earth Block (CSEB). Earth construction uses considerably less than 1/4th as much energy as country fired bricks. Read about all of its ecological and other advantages

Auroville Earth Institute is located at the Auroville Ecovillage in southeastern coastal India - much of which  has been built using this approach and technology. Both are open to visitors and students year round. 

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Permaculture & climate friendly agriculture

Our systems of industrialized agriculture have enabled humanity to feed billions more people but it has had its problems as well and has caused havoc both on ecosystems and in helping to cause global warming around the world. It has been projected that if we don’t change our farming practices we will lose most of our topsoil on the planet in just 60 years. Fortunately humanity is learning that there are better ways to farm that not only limit the release of greenhouse gases and restore soil health but that also can help us sequester hundreds of billions of tons of carbon and reverse global warming - if we make the changes needed in a much more concerted manner.

Fortunately many ecovillages have been using permaculture, agroecology, no till and conservation tillage, cover cropping, organic farming, integrated pest management, and more recently key line farming to protect and build soil health, restore local and natural ecosystems, add to climate resiliency, and increase productivity for small scale and family farmers. Read on to learn more about both the problems and some of the best that is being done in ecovillage communities below.

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