Building the New Normal is really a matter of day-to-day actions of people living together differently. This emerges naturally wherever there is the persistent will (or coercion) to do so. It sounds simple and it is, but it is at the same time a complex undertaking. Dr. Rebeca Roysen has studied these transitional dynamics for years and has written an insightful academic article1 on ecovillages building new normalities, which she is happy to render here in a less scholarly fashion. She explains:
“Individuals’ daily practices – the way people cook, clean, buy, move around, heat or cool their homes and offices – are habitual behaviours reproduced by millions of people. They have a significant environmental impact, but because they are routines and habits tied to the available technologies and social conventions, people don’t pay much attention to those activities, and so their impact remains quite “invisible”. [till here in the Newsletter, then link to website feature] It doesn’t come as a surprise then, that many studies have shown that changes in cultural meanings and social practices can have a much deeper impact on reducing resource-use than the adoption of eco-efficient technologies. Ecovillages are an excellent place where we can find these new meanings and practices emerging, acting as incubators for the gestation of new normalities.
“Two great examples from a Brazilian ecovillage where I did my PhD fieldwork: First – one of the new practices they had developed there is called “community care”. It consists of the creation of groups of three or four people who are responsible on each day for preparing the meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for the thirty residents; cleaning the kitchen and the community centre; taking the recyclables to the shed; taking the organic waste to the composting areas; among others. In this way, a member cares for the community one day of the week and is cared for on the other days. According to the residents, this practice presents many economic, environmental, and social advantages. Since everyone cooks in the same collective kitchen, they end up using less gas and cleaning products. Since meals are prepared and consumed collectively, shopping is also done collectively. A consequence of collective shopping is the opportunity to choose suppliers that sell in larger quantities, reducing the price and the need for packages and trips to the grocery store. They also collectively discuss the types of food that will be included in the shopping list, exerting collective pressure on the market for organic and less processed food, and in support of suppliers causing less impact on the environment and on human health.
“Second – the practice of car sharing, nowadays becoming an increasingly popular prospect for the future: The Brazilian ecovillage has 30 residents and only five cars, three of them shared. According to the residents, this practice allows people with physical disabilities, people that can’t drive, or people who do not have the means to own a car, to benefit from this means of transportation. The cost of the car is shared among more people, bringing economic advantages. Plus, since people are encouraged to share trips, it generates a reduction in the community’s ecological footprint, reducing pollution emission, fossil fuel use, and the buying of car parts that use natural resources for their production. Lastly, this practice strengthens social ties between members of the community, creating a sharing culture.
“These are two short examples of how ecovillagers reconfigure their daily practices in new and innovative ways. New members arriving in the ecovillage see these new practices being reproduced by its members as normal practices, and are thus influenced by the group to participate in them. These reconfigured practices therefore become normal practices that everyone does, and the ecovillage becomes a protected space for the emergence of new normalities that encourage sustainable living. They become niches of new normalities.”
Simple, yet powerful! And just like the habitual behaviors of one person make no difference at all at the global level, the habitual practices of millions, billions of people create a tremendous impact. So we just cannot have enough ecovillages around the world who are, each of them in their own unique ways, reconfiguring our normal.
Rebeca explains: “Ecovillages question our “normal” unsustainable behaviours, and make efforts to transition their daily practices towards sustainability. The two examples above are neither novel nor complex. They do not require specific or expensive green technologies or scientific knowledge to be developed. They just require new ways of organizing our routines.”
And this in turn requires that we learn how to actually connect with each other and live together: which is incidentally a fundamental component of human happiness. So it’s a double win: we pursue an outcome that is important for us, through a process which is great for us!
Rebeca: “Of course we can change the way we do our day-to-day things. The social isolation measures to contain the coronavirus show – in a less pleasant way – that coordinated efforts to change our daily practices are possible. Masks and online education have become a new normal because of the pandemic. But why wait until we are forced to change what is normal, and in a manner that is not our choice? Ecovillages have been demonstrating that sustainable practices and more healthy ways of living can also become a new normal! We just need to overcome our personal and social inertia and make efforts towards building sustainable cultures.”
By building a better normal ourselves, we inspire others that it can be done, and we make the current normal less and less appealing. Building a new normal is not only possible, it is also very enriching and very much fun! Help us spread this idea. Join our global movement building a better normal – a sustainable, collaborative and healthy new normal!
Find more information on Rebeca’s research at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rebeca_Roysen/research
Roysen, R., & Mertens, F. New normalities in grassroots innovations: The reconfiguration and normalization of social practices in an ecovillage. Journal of Cleaner Production, 236(8), 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.117647
Building the new normal!
Strong human connections can totally be our normal! It will take an investment on our part, an effort to grow together, but with a shared intention we can work together to make that happen.
Every day ecovillages and communities around the world are building a more authentic, connected and regenerating way of life. They want this to be their normal, and rather than wait for the world to catch up, ecovillagers go ahead and build it themselves. They know in their hearts that it is not only possible – it is also destined to be.
Friends of GEN Building a New Normal is a campaign to celebrate the many people seeded around the planet who are building their own “new normal” through the very lives they live. Each one forms the bedrock of the Network, the Movement we are – saplings of regenerative planetary cultures. This campaign is a statement, a challenge, as well as an invitation to take action or join hands. We flourish together.
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