An ecovillage is an intentional, traditional or urban community that is consciously designed through locally owned, participatory processes in all four dimensions of sustainability (social, culture, ecology and economy) to regenerate their social and natural environments.
GEN’s definition of ‘ecovillage’ is broad, allowing for many different kinds of communities and projects to be recognised. Because each ecovillage is designed by the people who live there, according to their vision, context, culture and interests, no two are alike..
While every ecovillage is unique, GEN categorized them into three general categories:
- urban – communities or eco-neighbourhoods with a common vision to reinvent life in the city to become more sustainable, collaborative and participatory;
- traditional – existing rural villages and communities that decide to design their own pathway into the future, using participatory processes to combine life-sustaining traditional wisdom and positive new innovation
- intentional – created by people who come together afresh with a shared purpose or vision.
GEN evolved organically to bring together this rich and diverse tapestry of ecovillages that had grown independently around the world. In our book ‘Ecovillages – 1001 Ways to Heal the Planet’, you can read the moving stories that lie behind such places of inspiration, stories about the courage, faith and leadership it takes to move from dream to manifestation. In our Ecovillage database you can gain a first overview.
Today, GEN reaches out to around 10.000 communities on all continents. We have learned that, while there is no one way of being an ecovillage, there are three core practices shared by all:
- Being rooted in local participatory processes
- Integrating social, cultural, economic and ecological dimensions in a whole systems approach to sustainability
- Actively restoring and regenerating their social and natural environments
For communities wanting to join GEN, we have developed Guidelines for Ecovillage Recognition, linked to the Ecovillage Playing Cards, which depict ecovillage principles divided into five groups – the four dimensions of sustainability — social, culture ecology and economy — arranged around one central path — whole systems design. The Playing Cards illustrate and distill years of experimentation and learning within our global network, as well as current research on resilience, sustainability and participatory design. The cards are a tool for play, reflection, dialogue, learning, research and design – for individuals, groups, projects, organizations and communities. They allow existing and newly forming communities to quickly map strengths and weaknesses, and find leverage points for successful next steps.
Everything GEN does and stands for grows from our belief in the potential of communities, and individuals within those communities, to find solutions that are driven by heart, not profit. How can we live high-quality, low-impact lifestyles that heal and restore, rather than destroy our environments? How can we give back rather than take more? Small lifestyle changes like growing and eating healthy food, using renewable energy resources, recycling, gifting, sharing, or reaching out to a neighbor, can all be starting points. As we continue down these routes, we might well find ourselves starting the next ecovillage! (see the GEN Manifesto)
What ecovillages are not
- An Ecovillage is not a particular outcome, but an ongoing process. Each ecovillage is a living and learning centre for a regenerative future, a place of continuous exploration.
- Ecovillages are not designed by outside developers, architects or experts, but by communities themselves.
- Ecovillages do not focus solely on ecology, even though many ecovillages start with a strong focus on the ecological dimension. Preservation and restoration of nature can only succeed when the social fabric is strong, cultural heritage is celebrated and people find ways to marry their love for the planet with their need to make a living. Experience has shown that, given enough time, ecovillages will naturally develop to encompass all four dimensions of sustainability.
- Ecovillages are not islands for the rich and middle class. Some of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the ‘Global South’ and communities with the lowest recorded eco-footprints in the ‘Global North’ are engaged in GEN. Ecovillages in the ‘North’ typically focus on simplifying lifestyles to bring their ecological impacts below local and global carrying capacities. They have some of the lowest recorded eco-footprints, with Findhorn in the UK at 50%, Sieben Linden in Germany at 30%, ? in Denmark at 30% and ? in USA at 20% of their national average! Ecovillages in the ‘South’ typically focus on preserving precious low-impact traditions, while improving living standards.
- Communities do not need to call themselves an ‘Ecovillage’ in order to be recognised by GEN.
Ecovillages and Ecovillage projects
In GEN, we are currently engaging in a lively discussion re the distinction between ecovillages and ecovillage projects, which are local initiatives that inspire, educate and foster ecovillage lifestyles, without constituting a certain number of people living together as a community. Examples of ecovillage projects can be educational centres (like the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, UK), green schools, permaculture centres and agro-ecological farms, transition initiatives, social and community enterprises, online communities, etc. And, leading on from this distinction, we are wondering what would constitute a minimum number of inhabitants for ecovillages. Maybe 30? Some ecovillages have as little as 20-30 inhabitants, while others have many thousands.
Ecovillages and Societal Transformation
Ecovillages help to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Agreements on local levels. Many social innovations developed in ecovillages can be transferred and replicated (see the GEN Solution Library) – and local solutions to global challenges add up – over time, ecovillages become a force for positive societal transformation!
SDG11 aims to make all cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030. Within GEN, we say that every village needs to become an ecovillage and every city a green city. In order to achieve these goals, the ecovillage approach needs to be dramatically scaled up without losing its core values of being locally owned, participatory processes. We are currently developing tools for further implementation and streamlining of GEN’s 5 Ecovillage Programmes:
- Ecovillage Incubation Programme: set up new intentional communities and ecovillages
- Ecovillage Transition/Development Programme: develop existing settlements into ecovillages on regional and national levels (see the Pan African Ecovillage Development Programme)
- Greening Schools for Sustainable Communities Programme: set up green schools as hubs for whole community sustainable development.
- EmerGENcies Programme: rebuild communities after disaster or with refugees (see the EmerGENcies Concept Note)
- Urban Eco-Neighbourhoods Programme
Some will say the vision of ecovillages is utopian, some will say that the world of 2017 has no place for such dreamers. But others, who have lived this vision, know that humans really can live in a way that not only sustains, but even regenerates the social and natural fabric of life. GEN knows that the holistic creativity and innovation which ecovillages bring, when combining the wise use of modern technology and resources with traditional heritage and wisdom, can massively contribute to addressing our global issues of poverty and environmental destruction. We can build a world living within its own means, and at peace with itself.