Global Ecovillage Network
"The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is a global grassroots network of more than 400 local ecovillages worldwide grown out of the eco-movement as well as traditional villages. It facilitates the exchange of experiences as well as running external courses also for politicians in how to develop ecovillages and learning from their sustainability experiences. On the base of empirical case study research we developed three Transformative Social Innovation narratives: of the Global Ecovillage Network and the two local ecovillages of Schloss Tempelhof in Germany and Tamera in Portugal. They describe aspects of change and innovation of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN)." (http://www.transitsocialinnovation.eu/resource-hub/global-ecovillage-network-gen)
"The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) was based on, and in some cases went on to incorporate, a number of “apparently simultaneous ideas arising in different locations at about the same time.”65 One component strand was the “planetary village” movement, centered on the Findhorn community in Scotland, founded in 1962.66 But the relationships between the various tributary movements were quite complex.
In 1975 the magazine Mother Earth News began constructing experimental energy systems, novel buildings, and organic gardens near its business office in Hendersonville, North Carolina, and in 1979, began calling this educational center an "eco-village."
At about the same time in Germany, during the political resistance against disposal of nuclear waste in the town of Gorleben, anti-nuclear activists attempted to build a small, ecologically based village at the site, which they called an okodorf (literally ecovillage). In the largest police action seen in Germany since the Second World War, their camp was ultimately removed, but the concept lived on, and small okodorf experiments continued in both eastern and western Germany. The magazine Okodorf Informationen began publishing in 1985 and later evolved into Eurotopia. After reunification of Germany, the movement coalesced and became part of the International ecovillage movement.
About the same time in Denmark, a number of intentional communities began looking beyond the social benefits of cohousing and other cooperative forms of housing towards the ecological potentials of a more thorough redesign of human habitats. In 1993 a small group of communities inaugurated the Danish ecovillage network, Landsforeningen for Okosamfund, the first network of its kind and a model for the larger ecovillage movement that was to follow....
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990, on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Robert and Diane Gilman used their journal, In Context, to publish stories and interviews describing ecovillages as a strategy for creating a more sustainable culture. When Hildur Jackson, a Danish attorney and social activist, discovered In Context, the ecovillage movement suddenly got traction.
Ross Jackson, Hildur's husband, was a Canadian computer whiz who had been working in the financial market, writing programs to predict shifts in international currencies. When he took his algorithms public as Gaia Corporation, his models made a fortune for his investors, but Ross, being a deeply spiritual man, wanted little of it for himself. Searching for the best way to use their prosperity, Ross and Hildur contacted the Gilmans and organized some gatherings of visionaries at Fjordvang, the Jackson's retreat in rural Denmark, to mull over the needs of the world....
Ross Jackson was also interested in utilizing the new information technology that was just then emerging: email and electronic file exchanges between universities and research centers (although it would still be a few years before the appearance of shareware browsers and the open-to-all World Wide Web).
Ross and Hildur Jackson created a charitable foundation, the Gaia Trust, and endowed it with 90 percent of their share of company profits. In 1990, Gaia Trust asked In Context to produce a report, Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities, in order to catalog the various efforts at sustainable community living underway around the world, and to describe the emerging philosophy and principles in greater detail. The report was released in 1991 as a spiral bound book (now out of print).
In September 1991, Gaia Trust convened a meeting in Fjordvang to bring together people from ecocommunities to discuss strategies for further developing the ecovillage concept. This led to a series of additional meetings to form national and international networks of ecovillages, and a decision, in 1994, to formalize networking and project development under the auspices of a new organization, the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).
By 1994 the Internet had reached the point where access was becoming available outside the realm of university and government agencies and contractors. Mosaic was the universal browser of the day, and the first Internet cafes had begun to appear in major cities. Ross Jackson brought in a young Swedish web technician, Stephan Wik, who'd had a computer services business at Findhorn, and the Ecovillage Information Service was launched from Fjordvang at www.gaia.org. With Stephan and his co-workers gathering both the latest in hardware advances and outstanding ecovillage content from around the world, gaia.org began a steady growth of "hits," increasing 5 to 15 percent per month, that would go on for the next several years, making the GEN database a major portal for sustainability studies.
In October 1995, Gaia Trust and the Findhorn Foundation co-sponsored the first international conference "Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities—Models for the 21st Century," held at Findhorn in Scotland. After the conference, GEN held a formative meeting and organized three worldwide administrative regions: Europe and Africa; Asia and Oceania; and the Americas. Each region was to be overseen by a secretariat office responsible for organizing local ecovillage networks and developing outreach programs to encourage growth of the movement. A fourth secretariat was established in Copenhagen to coordinate all the offices, seek additional funding, and oversee the website. The first regional secretaries, chosen at the Findhorn meeting, were Declan Kennedy, Max Lindegger, and myself. Hamish Stewart was the first international secretary.
According to Ross Jackson, the GEN was founded “to link the hundreds of small projects that had sprung up around the world....”
The Gaia Trust website adds:
The projects identified varied from well-established settlements like Solheimer in Iceland, Findhorn in Scotland, Crystal Waters in Australia, Lebensgarten in Germany to places like The Farm in Tennessee and the loosely knit inner-city Los Angeles Ecovillage project to places like the Folkecenter for Renewable Energy in Thy and many smaller groups that were barely started, not to mention the traditional villages of the South. Following the foundation of GEN, Albert Bates continues, “[w]ith generous funding from Gaia Trust for this new model, the ecovillage movement experienced rapid growth.”
Kibbutzim that re-vegetated the deserts of Palestine in the 20th century developed a new outlook with the formation of the Green Kibbutz Network. The Russian Ecovillage Network was inaugurated. Permaculturebased communities in Australia such as Crystal Waters and Jarlanbah pioneered easy paths to more environmentally sensitive lifestyles for the mainstream middle class. GEN-Europe hosted conferences attended by ecovillagers from dozens of countries, and national networks sprang up in many of them. In South and North America, nine representatives were designated to organize ecovillage regions by geography and language. By the turn of the 21st century GEN had catalogued thousands of ecovillages, built "living and learning centers" in several of them, launched ecovillage experiments in universities, and sponsored university-based travel semesters to ecovillages on six continents....
Ecovillages today are typically small communities with a tightly-knit social structure united by common ecological, social, or spiritual views. These communities may be urban or rural, high or low technologically, depending on circumstance and conviction. Okodorf Seiben Linden is a zero-energy cohousing settlement for 200 people in a rural area of eastern Germany. Los Angeles EcoVillage is a neighborhood around an intersection in inner Los Angeles. Sasardi Village is in the deep rainforest of Northern Colombia. What they share is a deep respect for nature, with humans as an integral part of natural cycles. Ecovillages address social, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainability in an integrated way, with human communities as part of, not apart from, balanced ecologies....
The best concise description of an ecovillage that I've seen comes from what is apparently an older version of the Gaia Trust website, preserved on an article at Permaculture Magazine:
Ecovillages are urban or rural communities that strive to combine a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life. To achieve this, they integrate various aspects of ecological design, permaculture, ecological building, green production, alternative energy, community building practices, and much more. These are communities in which people feel supported by and responsible to those around them. They provide a deep sense of belonging to a group and are small enough for everyone to be seen and heard and to feel empowered. People are then able to participate in making decisions that affect their own lives and that of the community on a transparent basis.
Ecovillages allow people to experience their spiritual connection to the living earth. People enjoy daily interaction with the soil, water, wind, plants and animals. They provide for their daily needs – food, clothing, shelter – while respecting the cycles of nature.
They embody a sense of unity with the natural world, with cultural heritage around the world and foster recognition of human life and the Earth itself as part of a larger universe.
Most ecovillages do not place an emphasis on spiritual practices as such, but there is often a recognition that caring for one’s environment does make people a part of something greater than their own selves. Observing natural cycles through gardening and cultivating the soil, and respecting the Earth and all living beings on it, ecovillages tend to maintain, recreate or find cultural expressions of human connectedness with nature and the universe.
Respecting this spirituality and culture manifests in many ways in different traditions and places.
The typical ecovillage has 50-400 people. Many ecovillages, particularly in Denmark, are linked to a cohousing project of some sort. Such projects lower the material cost of housing (construction materials, heating, etc.) per person, and reduce energy costs by integrating the home with workplace and recreation.73 Neighborhood-based ecovillages in some places have influenced the liberalization of local zoning laws and housing codes, and promoted the adoption of new building techniques by the construction industry. Ecovillage practices include peripheral parking, common open spaces and community facilities, passive solar design, vernacular materials, and composting toilets.
The ecovillage movement is a loose and liberally defined network. According to Robert and Diane Giulman, in Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities (1991), an ecovillage is “A human-scale, fullfeatured 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.” The GEN refuses to police member communities or to enforce any centralized standard of compliance. At a 1998 GEN board meeting in Denmark, the Network affirmed “that a community is an ecovillage if it specifies an ecovillage mission, such as in its organizational documents, community agreements, or membership guidelines, and makes progress in that direction. The Network promotes the Community Sustainability Assessment Tool, a self-administered auditing survey, as a way to measure progress toward the same general set of goals.
The Ecological portion of the checklist, for example, includes detailed survey questions on
1. Sense of Place - community location & scale; restoration & preservation of nature
2. Food Availability, Production & Distribution
3. Physical Infrastructure, Buildings & Transportation - materials, methods, designs
4. Consumption Patterns & Solid Waste Management
5. Water - sources, quality & use patterns
6. Waste Water & Water Pollution Management
7. Energy Sources & Uses
Question 2, “Food Availability,” includes questions on the percentage of food produced within the community, what is done with food scraps, and whether greenhouses and rooftop gardens are used for production year-round.
Such liberality of standards is arguably necessary, given the diversity of starting points of affiliate communities. An ecovillage based in an inner city neighborhood, it stands to reason, will probably have much further to go in achieving sustainability than a rural-based intentional community. Urban neighborhoods, of necessity, must be “vertically oriented,” and integrate the production of food and other inputs on an incremental basis, often starting from zero." (http://c4ss.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/C4SS-Resilient-Communities-and-Local-Economies.pdf)
Flor Avelino et al. :
"The Ecovillage movement emerged in the 1980s/90s when thousands of local ecovillages emerged worldwide in response to ecological and social challenges. The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) was founded in 1995 as a legal charity and bottom up network for education, exchange of experiences and political lobby work. It has branches on each continent and many national networks. One of the GEN members is Tamera, an ecovillage in the South of Portugal, where 170 people live and work on site permanently, accompanied by hundreds of visitors from all over the world. A central feature of Tamera is its belief that societal challenges (e.g. war, ecological destruction, inequality) originate from distorted human relations. Tamera is mostly known for its Water Retention Landscape, its Solar Village experiments with low-tech innovation in energy and its relation to peace activism.
GEN provides monetary, artefactual, mental, natural and human resources. This includes experiences in basic self-made technologies, social capital and voluntary engagement as well as financial support for ecovillage members and initiatives. GEN also provides a public online database, including an interactive map, which informs people about ecovillages projects across the world. 2
GEN is a very informal network that relies on personal contacts. It fosters a sense of relatedness by providing a platform for sharing experiences with living and working in an ecological community. These experiences, as well as shared visions of ‘a better world’, and being part of a world-wide movement contributes to strong bonds. Moreover, GEN is a platform for sharing group building methods that are developed and tested across ecovillages:
The emotional level is crucial. The Forum [a specific group building method used in ecovillages] is central as a learning method for going through your own processes. Singing and massaging each other: these are non-mental activities. (GEN Interview 5; Kunze & Avelino, 2015)
We do a lot of sharing: Being heard and sitting in a circle; Some people and guests say it is the first time they ever feel really heard. (GEN Interview 4, ibid)
Gaining a sense of autonomy is at the heart of the ecovillage movement, as most ecovillages aim to reach high levels of ecological, economic and social self-sufficiency in their local and regional context. Sharing experiences on how to achieve such autonomy is an important function of GEN and also of individual ecovillages:
We also try to achieve a global effect. We are an education place for peace workers, also from the global south and crises areas. People come that want to learn how to create sustainability, autonomy in an ecological and social dimension. We support projects in different continents and we provide knowledge to everybody who wants it. (Tamera Interview 1, ibid)
Besides ecological and economic self-sufficiency, individual ecovillages as well as the GEN network organizations search for a balance between individual autonomy and community solidarity, partly by exploring alternative governance structures and autonomy-oriented decision making methods such as e.g. sociocracy. 3 The ecovillage movement provides an opportunity for developing competences in diverse areas of life. For instance, visiting and residential academics are encouraged to also work in the garden or kitchen, while farmers and cooks get involved in organization and decision making. Events organized by GEN often focus on sharing, learning and experimenting with socio-ecological, socio-technological and social competences.
A sense of impact is primarily driven by the many real life examples in the hundreds of ecovillages across the world, often in the form of small-scale transformation experiments. ‘We have positive, real examples. Seeing a living example is much more valuable than talking. Living the change.’ (GEN Interview 5, ibid). In the case of Tamera, the permaculture gardens, the man-made lakes and the organic buildings are particularly strong physical manifestations of idealistic philosophies. As formulated by a Tamera resident:
The special thing is that I am experiencing this on myself. Not somebody is telling me stories. I walked in this place. (…) I [was away] for a few months, and I came back and it was full with water … ! (Interview TAM3, ibid)
Through its interactions with governments and science, GEN has advanced people’s feeling of being taken seriously by providing international visibility, credibility and legitimacy to the work of GEN members:
GEN started off as islands and experiments of the future. Today we live in a different world. Awareness has risen dramatically. The concepts that GEN was using 10 years ago are currently used by many politicians and even in the corporate world. Now it is no longer about creating future island but it is transitioning society to resilience. (GEN interview 1, ibid)
Members of GEN gain a sense of meaning through a shared narrative of ‘Changing the world one heart at a time’ (GEN Interviewee 4, ibid). GEN connects different ecovillages as well as other ecological movements in developing narratives and strategies on social change, which resonate with the ideas that individual ecovillages develop. Tamera strongly emphasized that it wants to create new social systems, or in fact, a new world, a ‘Realistic Utopia’. The Tamera Manifesto for a New Generation on Planet Earth, for instance, argues that ‘the world is in transition towards a new way to live on Earth’, that ‘we are experiencing the collapse of the mega-systems’, and that ‘the new planetary community is making a fundamental system-change’. Resilience in the sense of socio-ecological resilience, technological and economic independence is an important goal in itself for the ecovillage movement. A psychological sense of resilience is also fostered within and between ecovillages in the explicit attention for experimentation, failure, recovery and regeneration, conflict resolution and flexible decision-making methods.
Living in an ecovillage can also include disempowering aspects. First, the legal frames of the respective governments often have limiting effects on local eco-innovations. For instance, many laws restrict the use of compost toilets, independent water (re-)use or eco-construction of houses. In Tamera, there have been conflicts with the local governments regarding slow adaptation of land-use planning regulations, which did not allow Tamera residents to build any more houses (resulting in many of them having to live in trailers). Tamera has also created its own certified school (combining elements from Montessori and Waldorf), but residents still have been legally obliged to send their children to the official local school. Second, the personal engagement that is required to live in an intentional community is very intense. While the focus on inner work and social relations is often considered empowering, it also seems to be one of the main sources of challenges and power struggles. In Tamera, when asked explicitly about issues of disempowerment, the thing that was mentioned first and foremost concerned ‘inner power struggles’ (Kunze & Avelino, 2015). It was often emphasized that working on social relations can be extremely confronting and difficult and that this can be disheartening. It was also mentioned that at such disheartened moments, the community is experienced as supportive." (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09654313.2019.1578339?)
- case study of the social innovation potential of GEN and member villages:
"Ecovillages and the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) are examples of social innovations because they experiment with resilient and regenerative structures and practices, while spreading their experiences in on-site education centers to often international visitors as well as to other sectors from eco-building technologies to consensus decision making methods."
Kunze, I. and Avelino, F (2015) Transformative social innovation narrative of the Global Ecovillage Network. TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169
Kunze, I. (2015) Transformative social innovation narrative of the Ecovillage of Schloss Tempelhof. TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169
Avelino, Flor (2015) Transformative social innovation narrative of Tamera Ecovillage : a summary. TRANSIT: EU SHH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169