Best-case scenario, the world's population will reach 9 billion persons by 2050. Due to human activity, the environmental situation is not truly optimistic—consider global warming, environmental pollution, and ozone depletion. All these factors contributed to the birth and strengthening of an environmental movement presenting the community that prefers the bosom of nature to the noise of urban. Nowadays there are about 3,000 ecovillages worldwide comprising more than 30,000 permanent residents—and this is a persistent trend in a sustainable economy.
Modern ecovillages are kind of social laboratories where citizens look for models of harmonious and efficient life on earth. This is not a step backward from civilization, but a more progressive and sustainable approach to organizing life on earth.
Ecovillages are self-contained and resilient cities that can't be uniform—varied terrain, landscape, climate and ethical views of the founders always form a unique eco-organism. However, they have something in common:
- Sustainable development principles—working with nature, maximum reduction of the negative impact on the environment, and reducing the ecological footprint.
- Water and waste recycling.
- Sustainable environmental management—permaculture, and sustainable integrated multi-purpose forest management and reforestation.
- Alternative energy sources—solar panels, wind farms, and integrated and rational use of renewable energy sources.
- Green development – экологически чистые материалы в строительстве (соломенные блоки, саман, дерево, глина, кирпич, камень, песок, ракушняк и пр.)
- Green development – using environmentally friendly materials in construction (straw bales, adobe, wood, clay, brick, stone, sand, seashell, etc.)
- Minimization of energy consumption—energy-efficient housing and minimization of household energy consumption.
Hippies were the first to leave cities and organize self-managed settlements (1960s, USA). In 1996 ecovillages around the world merged into the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). The goal of the organization is to offer real alternatives to the negative impact on the planet through examples of sustainable life in eco-communities.
Established in 1990, the present-day ecovillage includes 74 sustainable apartment buildings of various design—from modern buildings to unusual houses with thatched roofs. All buildings are made of natural materials. On 12 hectares of land, there are personal vegetable gardens, a 20-meter recycling system and 7 windmills, each of which provides electricity and heat for 10 houses. In the village, rainwater harvesting technology is made use of. Dyssekilde strives to be as carbon-neutral as possible. As architecture is progressing, it becomes easier to realize the principle when building new houses. The first buildings were made exclusively of straw, resulting in large heat loss. Since 2007, geothermal heating has been used as well as passive heat from large glass greenhouses built on the south facing wall of the houses. Local water consumption is reduced by 40% compared to the national average, which is achieved by collecting rainwater and using composting toilets.
Sieben Linden, Germany
Founded in 1993, the village covers an area of 80 hectares, most of which are fields and woods. The village uses solar panels, water purification systems, and composting toilets. The houses are heated with wood. There is active forest planting and manual work in the fields. Low-energy houses are built with natural materials. They combine frame construction technology with straw bales for heat insulation. The village contains the largest collection of such houses in Germany as well as the largest straw-bale frame house in Germany. In order to commission the first house of this type, its thermal conductivity and fire resistance were thoroughly tested. Both parameters significantly exceeded the official requirements. So when put on fire, the wall did not ignite for 90 minutes (there was smoke but no fire). As a result of these tests, an official permit was obtained for the construction of houses of this type in Germany.
The village is noted for its extremist eco-communities such as "Club-99". This community doesn't use electricity. The community house was built without machinery: they used two-man saws to make boards out of logs and put them together with used nails. When the official commission carefully examined the environmental footprint of the house construction, it turned out that it was only 3% of the footprint of the construction of an average house of a similar size in Germany. The other houses put their ecological footprint at 20% of the national average. According to a study conducted by the University of Kassel, the carbon dioxide level in Sieben Linden is less than 1/3 of the German average.
Established in 1968, it is one of the world's oldest ecovillages. At the moment, it is home to more than 3,000 people. The village was founded to realize the ideal of human unity. Modern Auroville leads the way in rammed earth construction, rainwater harvesting, wastewater treatment, and using alternative energy sources.
Crystal Waters, Australia
Founded in 1984, the village became the birthplace of the "permaculture" concept. The members managed to turn arid lands into a small oasis and to revive the diversity of flora and fauna. All construction work on the territory is carried out with minimal changes to the landscape while using only alternative sources of electricity.
It is the most high-tech ecovillage. Its model of sustainable development was recognized by the UN with an award. The village is divided into communities, each of which specializes in a specific area—solar energy, permaculture, farming, education, medicine, etc. The members welcome smartphones and have their own currency.
Finca Bellavista, Costa Rica
That's a unique treehouse ecovillage in jungles. All houses are carbon-neutral, and the village doesn't use electricity.
The UK's largest ecovillage was founded in 1962. It has the smallest environmental footprint of all communities in the country (resource use—half the average and environmental impact—half the rate). As a result, it has been awarded UN Habitat Best Practice designation from the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements.
It is an experimental government-sponsored ecovillage. The houses are built with wood, straw, clay and other eco-friendly materials and are fully integrated into the landscape. The earth surrounding the houses provides thermal insulation. The residents compost waste and get electricity from alternative sources: hydroelectric power stations and willow (the plant they grow in the village).
ReGen Villages, the Netherlands
It is a unique pilot project with its own complete waste recycling cycle and local high-yield food production, which makes it independent of external infrastructure. Each building will be covered with a glass frame. It will improve thermal insulation and create the opportunity to grow fruits and vegetables on your own plot of land all year round. ReGen Villages present an innovation—a unique system of multi-tiered vertical farms. The plants are arranged in containers which automatically provide the roots with sufficient nutrient-rich water. This will reduce the cultivated area by 50 times, irrigation water will be reduced by 90%, and the growth rate will increase several times.
Today the Ukrainian green economy is still developing so high-grade sustainable ecovillages are yet to occur. Ukrainian ecovillagers just start out equipped with the world's eco-culture experience. Yet, these initiatives present hopeful signs that a strong low-carbon movement will be developed in Ukraine.
Ukrainian designer Yuriy Ryntovt has been living in a forest near Kharkov for many years. He and his associates organized their own eco-space, which was originally designed as a creative village for artists. "Urban is completely spoilt. It is impossible to live in a city now. How can we talk about ecology, about real life, if you have never been to woods... We should tiptoe on the ground," Yuriy says.
Author: Elena Belenkaya