Box What Is a Community

Community typically refers to a wide range of groupings of people: a church, a city, a political party or other affiliation. But more fundamentally, a community suggests a group of geographically rooted people engaged in relationships with each other (though many of the examples of community discussed in this chapter have relevance to broader definitions of community as well). Through these relationships, members in a community have shared responsibilities—as the Latin roots of the word suggest: com (with) munis (duties).

Source: See endnote 4.

cation. This has proved to be the case in Lydney, England, where residents set up a Community Energy Club to help bring energy efficiency measures and small-scale renewable energy projects to the area. Since it started in 2001, the club has grown to 115 members who together have introduced about 500 energy efficiency measures. Altogether these efforts will save 3,865 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over the life of the projects—a significant amount considering that the average U.K. resident produces about 9 tons of CO2 emissions each year.5 Other times, what is needed is not just social support but mobilization of a community's resources—for example, to invest in a community-owned wind farm. In 2006, Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland completed installation of four wind turbines that have a capacity of 750 kilowatts. Together these produce 40 percent more electricity than the community needs, allowing them to generate revenue by selling some back to the local utility through the broader grid system. Of course, this project took several years to plan and construct, but now the wind farm provides the community with both a source of clean electricity and revenue.6

Opportunities to enhance the sustain-

ability of a community when building or just renovating are nearly boundless—limited only by the energy, commitment, and resources of the community. Unlike at the household level, where design options can be limited, nearly the entire metabolism of a community can be adjusted to be more sustainable: from where fresh water is obtained,

Engaging Communities for a Sustainable World to how food is produced, to how waste is treated. (See Table 11-1.) Most of these take significant time and effort to imple-ment—or financial resources when built by a contractor—but in the end they can help bring the community together (through the planning and construction of the project), cut costs, and reduce ecological impact.7

Table 11-1. How Selected Communities Model Sustainability






Micro hydroelectric generator

Inverie, Scotland

In 2002, this remote Scottish community on the Knoydart peninsula finished refurbishing a 280-kilowatt hydroelectric generator, which now provides electricity for at least 65 properties.



ZEGG, Belzig, Germany

The 80 residents of ZEGG obtain their heating from a wood-chip-fired heating plant, with the wood sustainably harvested from the local area.



Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm, Sweden

In this Stockholm district 1,000 residences obtain their cooking gas from biogas that is generated from the district's wastewater.




Kibbutz Lotan, Arava Valley, Israel

Kibbutz Lotan maintains an array of sustainable agriculture features, including organic gardens, composting, trellising, and community-supported agriculture. It also maintains a migrating bird preserve of five distinct habitats.

Water Catchment

Rainwater harvesting

Christie Walk,



This 27-unit Adelaide community captures all on-site rainwater and uses it to maintain its 870 square meters of rooftop and surrounding gardens.

Sewage Treatment

Ecological machine

Berea College Ecovillage, Kentucky, United States

This community's "ecological machine" processes about 12,700 liters of wastewater each day using a combination of bacteria, snails, and plants. Some of this water is then stored for use on the community's lawns and garden.

Sewage Treatment

Constructed wetlands

Ecoovila, Porto Alegre, Brazil

In this 28-family community, sewage is processed in a biological system that uses reed beds to filter water—water that is then used to irrigate the community's gardens.


Water reuse

Solaire Apartments, NewYork City, United States

In this luxury apartment building, a water reuse system filters wastewater and reuses it for toilet flushing and the building's cooling tower. In 2006, this system recycled about 73,000 liters per day, reducing total water needs by one third.

Transportation Car sharing

BedZED, London, England

Forty residents subscribe to a community carsharing venture, obtaining access to electric cars that are charged by solar energy.

Source: See endnote 7.

Engaging Communities for a Sustainable World

The ecovillage and co-housing movements are perhaps the best illustrations of the opportunities that exist in designing communities to be sustainable through the mobilization of resident energy and resources. An ecovillage, in particular, has the goal of creating "a human-scale, full-featured settlement, in which human activities can be 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." While none have achieved this high ideal, many have made great strides. A resident of Findhorn Ecovillage has just half the ecological footprint of an average individual in the United Kingdom. And in Germany's Sieben Linden Ecovillage, per capita CO2 emissions are just 28 percent the national average.8

While co-housing communities are typically more focused on developing a connected community than on reducing environmental impact, they often incorporate many ecological designs as well as adding another important element—namely, clustered homes. Instead of spreading out houses, co-housing communities group homes together, enabling them to preserve more land as open space or farmland and to facilitate community connections by having neighbors within walking distance. At the center of these houses there is also typically a community house, where meetings, dinners, and other activities are regularly held.9

Ecovillages and co-housing communities are not the only communities that can implement these changes. Indeed, with 385 registered ecovillages (though the actual number is greater if broader village networks are included) and about 500 co-housing projects worldwide, these serve more as models for other communities than as solutions themselves. Many of the projects these communities implement are readily replicable by any group of like-minded neighbors. Small groups within a broader setting can come together and start a sustainability project, such as a car-pool, community garden, or weekly potluck dinner of locally grown food.10

People can even convert their neighborhood into an ad hoc ecovillage—like residents in the neighborhood of Phinney Ridge in Seattle, Washington, did. Phinney Ecovil-lage members hold regular meetings and gatherings to help neighbors reduce their ecological impact. In spring 2007, the group started a new neighborhood global warming project. This venture, partly funded by a grant from the city government specifically for neighborhood-based climate change efforts, is helping to mobilize residents to change their behavior to reduce fossil fuel use— everything from switching to a push lawn mower that relies on human power rather than fossil fuels to lowering their thermostats and turning off appliances not in use.11

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