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Ecovillages are (usually) intentional communities that operate on a shared set of ecological, social and/or spiritual values, with sustainability as a common concern. They consciously seek to create and enact working models of sustainable living combined with social well-being and (in many cases) spiritual growth. As a movement, ecovillages self-organise as the Global Ecovillage Network, with regional networks around the world and national networks in numerous countries.

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Definitions of Ecovillage

The first use of the term 'ecovillage’ is thought to be in a 1991 report by Diane and Robert Gilman commissioned by Hildur and Ross Jackson of the Gaia Trust documenting leading examples of sustainable human settlements from around the world. They defined an ecovillage as:

A human-scale, full-featured settlement, in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world, in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.[1]

These key aspects can be summarised as follows:[2]

  • human scale (between 50 and 500 people)
  • holistic settlement, including food production, manufacture, leisure, social life and commerce (not necessarily completely self-sufficient or isolated from wider society)
  • harmless integration of human activities into the natural world (cyclical, rather than linear relationship with nature)
  • supportive of healthy human development (balanced and integrated approach to fulfilling human needs: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual)
  • sustainable – able to continue indefinitely into the future

Hildur Jackson suggests that, while useful because it emphasises the importance of local and community action, this definition understates important social and spiritual aspects, without which it could lend itself to an eco-fascist interpretation. She offers a more esoteric characterisation, in which the four elements of earth, fire, air and water respectively represent the key dimensions of ecology, social structure, culture/spirituality and infrastructure [3]. She and Karen Svensson describe ecovillages as follows:

Ecovillages embody a way of living. They are grounded in the deep understanding that all things and all creatures are interconnected, and that our thoughts and actions have an impact on the environment … The deep motivation … is to reverse the gradual disintegration of supportive socio-cultural structures and the upsurge of destructive environmental practices on our planet.[4]

The Global Ecovillage Network website offers the following current definition:

An ecovillage is an intentional or traditional community using local participatory processes to holistically integrate ecological, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of sustainability in order to regenerate social and natural environments.[5]

History of the Ecovillage Movement

Ecovillages can be seen as a modern-day manifestation of a history of counter-cultural intentional communities dating back hundreds or even thousands of years.[6][7]. Their concerns with environmental sustainability build on longer-standing movements such as bioregionalism, land stewardship and communitarianism[8].

The ecovillage movement in its present-day form emerged out of scoping and networking initiated by the Gaia Trust from the late 1980s onwards. Following release of the Gilmans' Eco-villages and sustainable communities report in the summer of 1991, Ross and Hildur Jackson convened meetings of ecovillage residents at their nascent ecovillage at Fjordvang in Western Denmark, in 1991 and 1994, and in 1993 formed the Danish Ecovillage Network, the first such national network. Participants in the 1994 meeting agreed to form a new network, which hosted a major conference at Findhorn in Scotland in 1995 [9]. Delegates at the Findhorn conference agreed to establish the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN)[10]. GEN has since grown to encompass thousands of projects around the world, with regional networks in Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania/Asia.

A research report by the TRANSIT project summarises the relationship between GEN and the wider ecovillage movement as follows:

While GEN was founded as a formal, international network with regional and thematic subnetworks, the ecovillage movement has always been a bottom-up movement, carried by a variety of single ecovillages. On the one hand, GEN is active in education, networking and information dissemination with political organisations like the EU and UNESCO. On the other hand, GEN provides a platform for support and exchange for the local ecovillages and welcomes not only new founded villages of the environmental movement but also traditional villages.[11]

Scope of the Ecovillage Concept

As well as intentional communities in both Global North and South, the Ecovillage movement also includes established communities and traditional villages in the Global South, where village living and subsistence-focused local economies are not the distant memories they are for many in the minority world. In some majority world cases, ecovillages have in some cases become alternative models for development on large scales. A major example is the 'thousand villages' project in Senegal, part of the Senegalese government's strategic development policy[12][13].

Despite the rural connotations that the term might infer, ecovillages have also been created in urban environments such as Inner City Los Angeles [14]. Some urban sustainable living projects such as Lilac Co-Housing in Northern England[15], while not ecovillages as such, can be seen to fit with the most widely accepted definitions. Similarly, urban permaculture is often described as a form of "distributed ecovillage"[16], while some writers see the more urban-focused Transition movement as a relative mainstreaming of ecovillage philosophy and practices[17][18]. Beyond Europe, the TRANSIT report also highlights the strength of the ecovillage movement in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and the creation by the Senegalese government of a ministry for ecovillages that supports traditional villages to become ecovillages.[19]

Numbers of Ecovillages in Europe

According to the TRANSIT research report on ecovillages, in 2017 GEN listed a total of 1000 ecovillages worldwide, 130 of these in Europe, while the Eurootopia directory of intentional communities listed 430 in Europe, of which an indeterminate number of ecovillages.[19]

Ecovillages and Sustainability

A 2018 study reviewed 27 separate research studies covering more than 60 ecovillages and found ten criteria and 119 indicators (actions) in different categories and dimensions (social, ecological, economic and cultural) recognising ecovillages as best practices and inspiring cases in order to live sustainably in this planet. On this basis, it proposes a framework for all communities that would like to identify and develop as an Ecovillage to its full potential. The ten criteria are: 1) protection and conservation of the environment, 2) provision of appropriate and sustainable habitats (Climate design), 3) social, individual and spiritual capital, 4) a healthy lifestyle both physically and spiritually, 5) saving energy and resource mechanisms and effective transportation systems, 6) self-reliance and support of local economy, 7) water and wastewater management, 8) waste and scrap management, 9) human development and capacity building, and 10) foresight.[20]

Ecovillages are also working actively towards the Sustainable Development Goals, as shown by a series of impact assessments conducted GEN in ecovillages on five continents.[21] Results showed that the vast majority are already contributing in concrete ways to achieving the SDGs. In relation to ecological impacts, 97% of showcase ecovillages are actively working to restore degraded ecosystems (SDG15), 90% sequester carbon in soil and/or biomass SDG13, and 97% work to restore or replenish water sources and cycles (SDG6). In terms of social impacts, all ecovillages provide education in sustainability-related fields (SDG4), women occupy at least 40% of decision-making roles in 90% of cases (SDG5), all nurture local traditions relevant to sustainable methods of building and food production (SDG11 on sustainable communities), 90% reuse or recycle over half their waste and 85% compost all food waste (SDG12 on responsible production and consumption), 80% have established conflict resolution procedures and all provide training in decision-making and mutual empowerment (SDG16 on responsible institutions, peace and justice), and 95% participate in campaigns to protect the rights of humans and nature (SDG17 on partnership).

Ecovillages and Wellbeing

Ecovillager Robert Hall has identified twenty key factors that allow ecovillages provide high levels of wellbeing for residents while maintaining use of natural resources at levels far lower than in the population at large and therefore much closer to sustainable limits. These are: pooled economy, shared work, work-life balance, inclusive decision making, conflict resolution, limited hierarchy, dimensioned communal group, celebration, new values and common worldview, deeper personal relationships and openness, physical contact, child-centred perspective, self-development practices, inclusiveness, emphasis on arts and culture, healthy food, physical activity, proximity to nature, environmental activism and ecologically responsible behaviours. Ecovillages thus represent largely successful experiments in promoting sustainable wellbeing that could support and inform efforts by national governments to foreground wellbeing as a policy goal.[22]

A university study compared subjective well-being of 84 residents of 30 ecovillages (and other intentional communities) in North America with those of Burlington, Vermont, a city in the USA reputed to offer residents a very high quality of life. Results indicated a slightly higher perceived quality of life among residents of intentional communities, despite markedly lower average levels of personal income and ownership of material goods. Quality of life in intentional communities correlated far more weakly with indicators of material affluence such as income, access to healthcare and levels of education, and more strongly with quality of social relationships, equitable allocation of workloads and access to collective resources. This suggests that intentional communities are better able to translate social capital, and to a lesser degree human and natural capital, into residents' wellbeing, and therefore less reliant on built capital. This allows residents to enjoy a high quality of life on the basis of far lower levels of material throughput.[23]

Ecovillages and Governance

main page: Ecovillages and governance

Ecovillages and Learning

main page: Ecovillages and learning

Common to all forms of ecovillage, and implicit in the GEN definition of ecovillages quoted above, is a sense of ongoing exploration and learning. Ecovillage residents Michael Würfel[24] and Diana Leafe Christian[25], for example, explicitly label their home communities works in progress. They also equate means with ends. All these initiatives are attempting to work towards building alternative social, cultural, ecological, economic and political structures that serve as living examples of Buckminster Fuller's undertaking to create new possibilities that make existing ways of living obsolete[26]. They are not pretending to have achieved this and the possibility always remains that the goal will change, as circumstances change and knowledge progresses[27].

Ecovillages and their networks and networking organisations are actively involved in education and research, both formal and informal. A group of ecovillage-based educators known as GEESE (Global Ecovillage Educators for a Sustainable Earth), in meetings and workshops taking place from 1998, created the [Ecovillage Design Education] programme, formally launched at the GEN 10th anniversary conference in 2005, and created [Gaia Education] as a custom vehicle to deliver EDE and other trainings.

Info on ecovillage research.

See also


  1. Gilman, D. and Gilman, R., 1991. Eco-villages and sustainable communities. A Report for Gaia Trust by Context Institute.
  2. Adapted from Bang, J.M., 2005. Ecovillages: a practical guide to sustainable communities. Bath: Bath Press.
  3. Jackson, H. 1998. What is an ecovillage? Working paper presented at the Gaia Trust Education Seminar, Thy, Denmark in September 1998
  4. Jackson, H. and K. Svensson, 1990. Ecovillage Living: Restoring the Earth and Her People. Totnes: Green Books.
  6. Metcalfe, B., 2012. Utopian Struggle: Preconceptions and Realities of Intentional Communities. Pp. 21-29 in Andreas, M. and F. Wagner (eds.) Realizing Utopia: Ecovillage Endeavors and Academic Approaches. Rachel Carson Centre Perspectives. Munich: Rachel Carson Centre.
  7. Brown, S. L., 2002. Intentional Community: an Anthropological Perspective. New York: SUNY Press.
  8. Anderson, E., 2013. Foreword to Lockyer, J. and J. Veteto (eds.) Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture and Ecovillages. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  9. Jackson, H. & R. Jackson, 2004. Global Ecovillage Network history 1990-2004.
  10. Dawson, J., 2006. Ecovillages: New Frontiers for Sustainability. Schumacher Briefings no. 12. Dartington: Green Books.
  11. Kunze, Iris and Avelino, Flor (2015): Social Innovation and the Global Ecovillage Network. Research Report, TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169. P.6.
  12. Jackson, R., 2004. The Ecovillage Movement. Permaculture Magazine 40 (Summer 2004).
  13. Dawson, J., 2013. From Islands to Networks: the History and Future of the Ecovillage Movement. Pp. 217-234 in Lockyer, J. and J. Veteto (eds.) Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture and Ecovillages. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. P. 225
  14. Birmbaum, J. and L. Fox, 2014. Sustainable Revolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. Pp. 226-230.
  15. Chatterton, P., 2014. Low Impact Living: a Field Guide to Ecological, Affordable Community Building. London: Earthscan.
  16. Haluza-Delay, R. and R. Berezan, 2013. Permaculture in the City: Ecological Habitus and the Distributed Ecovillage. Pp. 130-145 in Lockyer, J. and J. Veteto (eds.) Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture and Ecovillages. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  17. Lockyer, J., 2010. Intentional Community Carbon Reduction and Climate Change Action: from Ecovillages to Transition Towns. Pp. 197-215 in Peters, M., S. Fudge and T. Jackson (eds.) Low Carbon Communities. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  18. Alexander, S., Rutherford, J., 2018. The “Transition Town” Movement as a Model for Urban Transformation, in: Moore, T., de Haan, F., Horne, R., Gleeson, B.J. (Eds.), Urban Sustainability Transitions, Theory and Practice of Urban Sustainability Transitions. Springer Singapore, pp. 173–189.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Kunze, Iris and Avelino, Flor (2015): Social Innovation and the Global Ecovillage Network. Research Report, TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169.
  20. Barani, Shahrzad, Amir Hossein Alibeygi, and Abdolhamid Papzan, 2018. “A Framework to Identify and Develop Potential Ecovillages: Meta-Analysis from the Studies of World’s Ecovillages.” Sustainable Cities and Society 43: 275–89.
  21. Accessed May 10th 2018.
  22. Hall, R., 2015. The ecovillage experience as an evidence base for national wellbeing strategies. Intellectual Economics 9: 30–42.
  23. Mulder, K., Costanza, R., Erickson, J., 2006. The contribution of built, human, social and natural capital to quality of life in intentional and unintentional communities. Ecological Economics 59: 13–23.
  24. Würfel, M., 2012. The Ecovillage: A Model for a More Sustainable, Future-Oriented Lifestyle? Pp. 11-16 in Andreas, M. and F. Wagner (eds.) Realizing Utopia: Ecovillage Endeavors and Academic Approaches. Rachel Carson Centre Perspectives. Munich: Rachel Carson Centre.
  25. Christian, D. L., 2012. We Never Lock our Doors. Pp. 17-18 in Andreas, M. and F. Wagner (eds.) Realizing Utopia: Ecovillage Endeavors and Academic Approaches. Rachel Carson Centre Perspectives. Munich: Rachel Carson Centre.
  26. Christian, D. L., 2012. We Never Lock our Doors. Pp. 17-18 in Andreas, M. and F. Wagner (eds.) Realizing Utopia: Ecovillage Endeavors and Academic Approaches. Rachel Carson Centre Perspectives. Munich: Rachel Carson Centre.
  27. Jackson, R., 2004. The Ecovillage Movement. Permaculture Magazine 40.