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Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love.
Teilhard de Chardin
Ecovillages are laboratories of human relations, in which we test the
power of new systemic thinking to bring about necessary changes in the
local and global economic, social and ecological environments.
Ecovillages provide conditions for cutting-edge sustainability
experiments. In these living and learning laboratories, we quickly learn
from mistakes and advances. Both are held in a complex framework of
dream and vision, earth and cosmos, technology and spirit, intention and
love, dance and chant, cycle and balance, death and renewal.
What is sustained in an ecovillage is not economic growth or
development, but the entire web of life on which our long term survival
depends. A sustainable community is designed in such a way that its
ways of life, businesses, economy, social activities, physical
structures and technologies do not interfere with Nature’s inherent
ability to sustain life.
As laboratories of sustainable living, ecovillages offer widely
applicable insights for the planning and reorganization of our
societies. Ecovillages combine a supportive social-cultural environment
with a low-impact/high-quality lifestyle. When we look at the ecovillage
model developed on five continents, it is clear that ecovillages are
creating a sustainable middle ground between rich and poor, while
designing interdependent and life-enhancing bio-physical and
psycho-social processes. In these experiments we find no sign of the
deprivation that the popular media depicts as the necessary price to be
paid for reducing resource consumption.
“Ecovillages,” as defined by the Global Ecovillage Network, “are
human-scale settlements, rural or urban, in the North or in the South,
that strive to create models for sustainable living. They emerge
according to the characteristics of their own bio-regions and typically
embrace four dimensions: the social, the ecological, the cultural and
the spiritual, combined into a systemic, holistic approach that
encourages community and personal development.”
The Global Village Network (GEN), established in 1995, is a worldwide
association of communities, organisations and individuals working to
create a sustainable planetary culture. It does this by promoting
networking and exchange activities within the ecovillage movement and by
communicating the ecovillage experience to mainstream policy-makers,
planners and professionals. In 1998, the first ecovillages were
officially named among the UN Habitat top 100 listing of Best Practices,
as excellent models of sustainable living.
Jonathan Dawson, GEN’s president says: “To reach a global figure
for the number of ecovillages in existence very much depends on how and
what you count. Sarvodaya, for example, a member of GEN, works with
around 17,000 villages throughout Sri Lanka; does that count as one
member or 17,000? Another member of the network in Senegal works with
350 villages. Similarly, 13 of the European members are national
ecovillage networks. So, does that make 13 members, or do we also count
in the many initiatives affiliated to these national networking
What is beyond dispute is that ecovillages represent a significant, large and growing movement, as the recent Vital Signs 2007-2008 published by the Worldwatch Institute confirms.
GEN places a high priority on publicizing the activities of its
members in the fields of integrated ecological design, green building
and retrofitting, organic food production, appropriate technology and
renewable energies, community building practices, community currencies,
right livelihood and local economic development and more.
Ecovillages creatively address the worldwide contemporary quest for
sustainability while taking leadership for the future with utmost
seriousness. This is done by:
Dr. Daniel Wahl, one of the systems thinkers of the global ecovillage movement says:
“In a constantly changing environment, sustainability is not some
ultimate endpoint but is better conceived as a continuous process of
learning and adaptation. Designing for sustainability not only requires
the re-design of our habits, lifestyles and practices, but also, the way
we think about design. Sustainability is a process of co-evolution and
co-design that involves diverse communities in making flexible and
adaptable design decisions at local, regional and global scales. The
transition towards sustainability is about co-creating a human
civilization that flourishes within the ecological limits of the
planetary life support system.”
In ecovillages we train how to navigate interconnected social,
ecological, economic and psychological contexts at the same
time. Daniel Wahl suggests that “in the interior dimensions of
human consciousness we pay attention to how the metadesign of human
worldviews and value systems shape our intentions and aspirations, which
in turn influence what, how, and why we design. In the exterior
dimensions of our material existence, as participants within complex
ecological and social systems, we pay attention to patterns, trends and
connections from the perspective of conscious co-creators within a
dynamically transforming whole.” Sometimes we look from outside
and see a social and biological system, sometimes we look from inside
and the same event is perceived as a field of consciousness. Independent
of the perspective, our task is to deliver more quality with fewer
resources, and for the benefit of life as a whole.
Ecovillages are not isolated islands. In ecovillages, some live at
the edge. The edge is the meeting point between the known and the
unknown, between something being too well known, which makes it boring
to us, and too unknown, which makes it confusing. The edge is a zone,
beyond comfort, of high intensity, instability, creativity and
The ancient ones would say, “Pay attention to the edge where two
ecosystems meet— such as savannah meeting tropical forests—because there
rests a sacred space.” In ecologic design the transition or edge
between two or more distinct biological communities is known as the
‘ecotone.’ The edges between different ecosystems are always more
productive than either of the ecosystems themselves, since the edge area
can support species from both ecosystems and also species which are
unique only to the transition zone. Just as it is possible, through the
design of ecological sustainable systems, to increase diversity and life
by maximizing the edges between neighboring biological communities, so
it is possible to create a larger edge effect in community development
and thereby maximize its benefit to the society as a whole.
Designers of sustainability are maximizers of edges, thus enriching
life. Through enriching alliances and confrontations they maximize edges
between different social communities with differing modes of operation,
power structures, cultures, physical environments, and worldviews.
When we explore the creativity of the edge, we realize an increase in
energy, excitement and commitment. When bridges are built and threads of
connectivity within permeable membranes are woven, new life
After a decade of existence, GEN is now bringing the ecovillage
message into mainstream international governmental and civil society
forums. It is a leading participant— along with the CIFAL Network—in a
UNITAR training programme, to build capacity of local authorities
worldwide to implement the Millennium Development Goals. It has ECOSOC
consultative status as an NGO at the United Nations and is represented
at events such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the World
and European Social Forums, the World Urban Forum. GEN addresses
countless conferences and seminars worldwide on sustainability-related
The network is convinced that the most promising way to advance the
sustainability agenda is through education. As life conditions change
rapidly, the body of knowledge needs refreshing constantly and it takes
the organic nature of a network to own and refresh it with new
experiences.Gaia Education, officially founded in July 2005 as an
offshoot of GEN, is a consortium of experienced ecovillage educators
from around the globe, united in the effort to make accessible to a wide
audience the valuable lessons learned from ecovillage design and
development over the past several years.
The main achievement of this group so far is the Ecovillage Design
Education curriculum (EDE). The EDE curriculum is systemically organized
as a mandala of what is perceived to be the four primary, intrinsic
dimensions of human experience: Ecological, Social, Economic, and
Worldview. Each of these four dimensions, in turn, contains five
modules, with a total of twenty subject areas. EDE educates for the
transition to comprehensive sustainable culture, which is global in
scope, yet determinedly local in application. It focuses on fundamental
principles, themes and aspects needing to be addressed in any
comprehensive introduction to sustainable design and development.
What makes this education distinct from the numerous other
‘sustainability educations’ appearing at this time is that the context
for this education, the setting or active campus, is right there in the
world’s quintessential, prototypical, sustainable community models: the
ecovillages. The curriculum draws on the experience and expertise
developed in the network of some of the most successful ecovillages and
community projects across the Earth. The EDE is being introduced to the
world at this time to complement, correspond with, and assist in setting
a standard for the United Nations ‘Decade of Education for Sustainable
From the village council to the negotiating table, this moment in
history is calling forth the best and the strongest in each one of us.
Together, we are reversing current trends of an unsustainable world. We
are transcending and including the good, beautiful and true of all ages.
We are crafting systemic strategies that are most likely to change the
world for the better in the quickest and most integrated ways possible.
In this process, the power of community is giving us the growing
evidence that substantial reductions in footprints are possible in ways
that are easily achievable and will improve our quality of life.
Community-led initiatives are developing models that have been proven
to work and that hold an important key in our transition towards more
In this journey, we remember Gandhi’s living message and aspire not
to elevate the goals above the means. The route we travel to reach the
goal determines what life will be like once we get there. The route
must mirror the goal. Our actions today embody and enact the
sustainable world we want to live tomorrow.
According to a study published last April by the internationally
recognized footprinting consultants, the Stockholm Environment Institute
(SEI) based at the University of York, the Findhorn ecovillage has
recorded the lowest ecological footprint ever recorded in the developed
world—just half of the UK national average. This means that the average
resident in the Findhorn community consumes just one half of the
resources and generates one half of the waste of the average UK citizen.
Community-level energy generation, local organic food,
energy-efficient house design, low levels of commuting and sharing of
resources were found to be the major factors contributing to these
results. As we studied the results, it became clear that an important
factor accounting for the low footprints in Findhorn was the practice of
At Findhorn, the benefits of communality are reflected in a
relatively low ownership of ‘consumables,’ such as washing machines,
lawn-mowers, television sets, tools and the like, which people share.
We have community laundries. People gather in private homes for
showings of DVDs and videos. The vibrant arts scene in Findhorn and at
other ecovillages, such as choirs, dance classes and community-organized
concerts and gatherings, reduce the demand for televisions and other
electronic tools of entertainment. Despite all these efforts, Findhorn
is not a perfect model. Findhorn still requires the resources of ‘1½
planets’ to sustain its consumption.
The ecological footprint is a great educational tool whose power lies
in its ability to afford comparison, in the simplest possible terms,
between the amount of productive land (resources) that a population uses
and the globally equitable fair share that is available to it. Over the
past 45 years of its existence, the Findhorn community has realized
that far more options are open to people when we work together and
cooperate, than when we design and adopt new life styles alone or in
Kosmos is proud to honor May East, who represents the vanguard of
the emerging group servers of humanity. Her story is the story of our
future as more of us from every country in the world are born to serve.
The tale that has most deeply informed my life is the tale of my
great great grandmother who was a free Guarani woman, living in deep
intimacy with the subtropical forests of Brazil until the day she was
lassoed by my great great grand father, a European coming from the
Iberia peninsula. She was uprooted and given a Christian name, Maria.
How uncomfortable I was to hear the elders of my family sharing this
story in between laughs and jokes. As I grew up, I gradually learned I
could identify and tap from both lineages—the oppressor and the
oppressed, the adventurer and the captive. Yet the medicine within
invited me to go beyond the polarised roles and use my mixed blood, as a
gift for bridging the worlds.
My journey has been one of joining social movements, one after
another, which resulted in an intensive training for active service in
human affairs. As a social change activist I was always intrigued by what I was going to activate next.
Starting with the anti-military movement in the 70’s, I fought for
the basic freedom of selecting who we wanted to rule our country. This
was followed by the anti-nuclear movement against outdated
life-threatening German imported nuclear technology.
Then to the environmental movement, denouncing the extractive action
of gold miners and loggers raping the ‘places where the Earth rests’
home of our Brazilian ancestors. For years I was a diplomatic attaché of
the Forest People’s Embassy, connecting Northern ecologists with the
guardians of the endangered ecosystems. From there I embraced
ecofeminism, confronting the patriarchal values that no longer serve
women, men or our basic relationship to the natural world.Throughout the
journey, I alternated voices of advocacy with voices of inspiration. As
an ‘artivist’ I advanced many of the agendas through music. This
included a career as pop singer and composer, part of a generation of
new Brazilian musicians, fusing acoustic and electronic, afro-braz
rhythms and modal melody, later internationally labelled as world music. Most recently, I built my own sandawa,
a Pythagorean monochord string instrument, known by its circular sound
rich in overtones and organized according to harmonic intervals of the
As life conditions and the world changed, I, a world worker in
training, changed with it…. With countless crises of reorientation, I
constantly challenged myself to go beyond isms and fixed opinions, attentive not to become a socially stuck.
In the 90s, it was my turn to consciously uproot myself from the
global south, and open a new chapter, with Findhorn, motherhood, family,
education for sustainability and the ecovillage movement.
Inanna and Tara were born and grew up in a recycled whisky barrel
house, where we lived a very low footprint life style. Through them, I
was able to deepen my connection with the Feminine Principle of Creation
and explored the women’s spirituality movement and the power of
As soon as I landed at Findhorn, I heard about an intention of the
founders of the community to collaborate with the United Nations. This
connection had been nourished unofficially over the years. I accepted
this field of responsibility as an inner assignment and started to
gradually weave official bridges. I have been navigating these waters
for the last 16 years with intensity, engagement and joy.
Today Findhorn is part of a global network of 12 UNITAR associated
training centres, called the CIFAL network. CIFAL Findhorn operates as a
hub for capacity building through the exchange of practices between UN
agencies, local authorities, private sector, civil society and academic
Joining the ecovillage movement was the next natural step. From
within the ecovillage laboratory, I trained in many social skills, as
sustainability designer and educator, curriculum developer and
facilitator, and together with 23 other ecovillage-based educators known
as the GEESE (Global Ecovillage Educators for a Sustainable Earth) we
founded Gaia Education.
Throughout the journey, I learned many many lessons and I know there
are many still to come. With humility, a sense of right proportion, and
without over or underestimating the capacity of co-creation with life, I
am aware there is no final destination. By truthfully aligning my
personal will to the collective will, the future unfolds… sometimes with
What is alive today? Free from three enriching marriages and knowing
that liberty, beyond being just a privilege, is a test, I dance between
being a woman, a mother and a world worker. My daughters in their teens
teach me relevance. My inner work fuels my outer expression. I love
study and sunshine. I retreat and expand. With friends in the valleys,
and friends in the mountains, my heart aflame continues to explore new
horizons while serving and weaving the evolutionary threads of ascent.
May East is a sustainability educator, working internationally with intergovernmental agencies, organisations, businesses and the United Nations in the creation of policy guidance for sustainable development and delivery of leadership and sustainability programmes.