Local Resilience

Ecovillages | Design at the Edge

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 organisations?

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:

  • increasing our ecological and bioregional literacy
  • developing processes and tools that significantly reduce our footprints
  • cultivating the social virtues of frugality, simplicity and sharing of resources
  • rediscovering a healthy and sustainable relation to self, society and the Earth
  • re-designing methods of production and patterns of consumption in a way that
    enables us to live within the limits of nature.

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 innovation.

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
possibilities emerge!

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 themes.


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 Development 2005-2014.’

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 sustainable societies.

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.

Findhorn Reduces Ecological Footprint through Community Cooperation

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 communality.

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 nuclear units.


The May East Story

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
natural scale.

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
miraculous ease.

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.