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Community-Led Initiatives and SDG3: Good Health and Well-being

Community-led initiatives promote alternative approaches to health and well-being that tend to take a more holistic approach than conventional healthcare. Greater emphasis on lifestyle, community and quality of social and physical environments can complement or replace existing biomedical methods, providing for higher levels of overall health and well-being at lower financial costs and throughputs of energy and materials, and so reconciling public health provision with increasing attention to the effects of resource constraints.[1][2][3][4] Ecovillages provide high levels of wellbeing for residents depite throughputs of energy and materials far lower than in the population at large. The achieve this through numerous and diverse strategies (not all of which are used in all ecovillages), including pooled communal economies, shared work, attention to work-life balance, inclusive decision making, conflict resolution, limited hierarchy, celebration, cultivation of new values and shared worldviews, deepening of personal relationships, promoting physical proximity and contact, child-centred perspectives, self-development practices, inclusiveness, emphasis on arts and culture, healthy food, physical activity, proximity to nature, environmental activism and ecologically responsible behaviours.[5][6]

Specific approaches employed include:

  • Design alternative lifestyles that reconcile high levels of individual and community well-being with low levels of material consumption, hence minimising (or even reversing) environmental depletion and ecological degradation.
  • Building social, individual and spiritual capital by promoting: residential design and public spaces based on increased levels of social interaction, including playgrounds and recreational facilities in settlement design, participation in collective activities and services (such as maintenance of collective spaces and horticulture), holding social events, rituals and ceremonies, work parties, communal meals, decision-making based on consensus and/or consent, social democracy and equality, and the existence of shared spaces such as community centres and public gathering halls.[7]
  • Living close to nature, in the case of rural ecovillages and permaculture projects, and/or creating green infrastructures (especially in urban areas[8]). Evidence suggests this can help increase well-being (reduced mental stress and longer life expectancy) as well as decrease air pollution and help alleviate noise.[9][10]
  • Use of holistic strategies and methods within community development, sustainability and/or regeneration projects in order to promote increased individual and/or community well-being through healthy lifestyles, social cohesion (including meaningful and trustworthy relationships) and environmental health.[11]
  • Encouraging walking and cycling, community cafés and food growing projects that help enable healthy diets; operating 'Care Farms' and similar outdoor projects that create environments and activities conducive to mental and physical health.[12][13].
  • Frequent and comfortable community meetings; presence of local leaders, ethnic, intergenerational, religious, gender and age diversity; spending leisure time in a healthy way (communal sports such as yoga, meditation, recreation, art, crafts, games, etc...), consumption of local foods and native medicine plants (traditional medicine).[14]
  • A common focus on "Inner Transition": changing personal and collective mindsets, outlooks and values, as an essential complement to action oriented towards external change.[15]
  • Creating the basis for fruitful strategic alliances with planners and providers of centralised health care, as promoted by the Transition movement in Canada.[16][17]
  • Many CLIs promote sustainable and local energy production, especially under community ownership. Sustainable energy technologies help support human health by decreasing significantly the emission of air pollutants.[18][19]


  1. Raffle, A.E., 2010. Oil, health, and health care. BMJ 341, c4596–c4596.
  2. Poland, B., Dooris, M., Haluza-Delay, R., 2011. Securing “supportive environments” for health in the face of ecosystem collapse: meeting the triple threat with a sociology of creative transformation. Health Promotion International 26, ii202–ii215.
  3. Missoni, E., 2015. Degrowth and health: local action should be linked to global policies and governance for health. Sustainability Science 10, 439–450.
  4. Zywert, K., 2017. Human health and social-ecological systems change: Rethinking health in the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Review 4, 216–238.
  5. Hall, R., 2015. The ecovillage experience as an evidence base for national wellbeing strategies. Intellectual Economics 9: 30–42.
  6. 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.
  7. Barani, Shahrzad, Amir Hossein Alibeygi, and Abdolhamid Papzan. A Framework to Identify and Develop Potential Ecovillages: Meta-Analysis from the Studies of World’s Ecovillages. Sustainable Cities and Society 43 (November 2018): 275–89.
  8. Haluza-Delay, R., Berezan, R., 2013 Permaculture in the City: Ecological Habitus and the Distributed Ecovillage., in: Lockyer, J. & J. Veteto (Eds.) Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture and Ecovillages. Berghahn, New York & Oxford, pp. 130–145.
  9. Sandifer, P.A., Sutton-Grier, A.E., Ward, B.P., 2015. Exploring connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human health and well-being: Opportunities to enhance health and biodiversity conservation. Ecosystem Services 12: 1–15.
  10. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 2018. Urban Nature for Human Health and Well-Being. FS-1096. Washington, DC., FS-1096. Washington, DC.
  11. Richardson, J., Nichols, A., Henry, T., 2012. Do transition towns have the potential to promote health and well-being? A health impact assessment of a transition town initiative. Public Health 126, 982–989.
  12. Smith, J.N., Hopkins, R., Pencheon, D., 2016. Could the Transition movement help solve the NHS’s problems? Journal of Public Health.
  13. Trauth, J., 2017. Lighthouse Community School: A Case Study of a School for Behaviorally Challenged Youth. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture 27, 61–65.
  14. Barani, Shahrzad, Amir Hossein Alibeygi, and Abdolhamid Papzan. “A Framework to Identify and Develop Potential Ecovillages: Meta-Analysis from the Studies of World’s Ecovillages.” Sustainable Cities and Society 43 (November 2018): 275–89.
  15. Power, C., 2016. The Integrity of Process: Is Inner Transition Sufficient? Journal of Social and Political Psychology 4: 347–363.
  16. Poland, B., Lana, D., 2016. Unusual Allies: Social Movements and Public Health. A Case Study of the Canadian Transition Movement. Canadian Public Health Association Annual Conference, Toronto.
  17. Patrick, R., Dooris, M., Poland, B., 2016. Healthy Cities and the Transition movement: converging towards ecological well-being? Global Health Promotion 23, 90–93.
  18. Bauwens, T., Gotchev, B., Holstenkamp, L., 2016. What drives the development of community energy in Europe? The case of wind power cooperatives. Energy Research and Social Science 13: 136–147.
  19. Buonocore, J.J., Luckow, P., Norris, G., Spengler, J.D., Biewald, B., Fisher, J., Levy, J.I., 2016. Health and climate benefits of different energy-efficiency and renewable energy choices. Nature Climate Change 6: 100–105.