What is an ecovillage?

General definition

An ecovillage can be defined as a "community, either traditional or intentional, which aims at becoming more socially, culturally, economically, and ecologically sustainable".
In that way, an ecovillage is specifically designed in order to be as resilient as possible and produce the least possible negative impact on social and natural environments: an ecovillage is therefore a project in constant evolution and not a fixed structure.

Although some autonomy in term of energy and resources provision is necessary to reduce their environmental and social impact, ecovillages do not intend to be isolated and completely self-sufficient communities. On the contrary, their objective is to be open to outside so that their model can spread and so that their cooperation can be more efficient. In that sense, the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) has been created in 1995 by 25 community representatives around the world in order to form a strong worldwide network of ecovillages and build bridges between ecovillages and policy-makers, NGOs, academics and governments.

Depending on the way they've been created, ecovillages can be divided into two different categories:
  • traditional communities: these communities are already existing rural villages which commonly decide to become more sustainable and use participatory processes to make the community decisions
  • intentional communities: these communities consist in formed groups of people who gather in an ecovillage with a shared vision

How many ecovillages can be found in the world?

Tough question! It is quite difficult to estimate the number of ecovillages in the world, as there is no existing exhaustive listing of the ecovillages. Besides, estimating the precise number of ecovillages involves to have precise criteria to define an ecovillage, which is not the case.
However, the Global Ecovillage Network lists more than 1,100 communities in the world. In Europe, 110 ecovillages have joined the regional GEN network.

Who are the inhabitants of ecovillages?

Most ecovillages have a population from 50 to 350 individuals. However, some can be smaller or still under their creation process. Other can often be much larger: in that case, larger ecovillages can consist of networks of smaller sub-communities.
Ecovillages are implanted on territories where other individuals live: these persons, as they are settled at the ecovillage's surroundings, can participate in the community even if they are not members.

Ecovillagers have many different motivations to live in an ecovillage although most of them declare that the main motivation is the will to seek alternatives to the current way of life, in which they don't find anymore all what they are looking for.
More precisely, the reasons for moving in an ecovillage are diverse: living in a safer environment, having a better environment to bring up children, looking for alternatives to destructive systems, enjoying alternative forms of community, reducing the destruction of natural habitat, limiting urban sprawl, enjoying more fulfilling ways of life, limiting consumption of fossil fuels, being more resilient to climate change consequences, promoting local economy...

As the motivations to live in an ecovillage can differ from an ecovillager to another, the community defines its intentions: the intentions of an ecovillage give a direction to the project and an identity to the group. The intention is a key element of an ecovillage as it determines which people can be included in the project and which should be excluded, based on their very personal motivations.

The 4 sustainability pillars of ecovillages

In the four pillars approach to sustainability, sustainability is defined as the precise intersection of environment, economy, society, and culture.

More precisely, a sustainable community is a community which:
  • preserves its natural environment
  • contributes to regenerate local economies
  • stimulates society diversity and strong cultural life
  • takes care of people, whether they are from the community or outside

Social Social
Culture Economy

LogoEcological Sustainability

All human activities have an impact on the environment and, conversely, the health of the environment can have major consequences on human activities. In that sense, within the 4 pillars approach to sustainability, the environmental pillar has a main position in that, without a life-sustaining environment, the other three pillars cannot exist.
Ecovillages intend to integrate human with nature and protect biodiversity and natural environment.

The areas of ecological sustainability covered by ecovillages are:
  • Protection of cycles of water
  • Use of energy from renewable sources
  • Food production from organic agriculture
  • Construction of sustainable buildings
  • Reduction and reuse of waste
  • Protection of biodiversity and regeneration ecosystems
  • Promotion of public transportation systems

LogoCultural Sustainability

One of the ecovillages' objectives is to support and regenerate diverse cultures, using practises which encourage people to connect to themselves, to the others and to the planet: it will indeed enable people to empower and care for each other, for the whole community and for the environment.

The areas of cultural sustainability covered by ecovillages are:
  • Support of personal growth
  • Respect of cultural traditions
  • Involvement to protect communities and nature
  • Celebration of life and diversity through art
  • Reconnection with nature

LogoEconomic Sustainability

Ecovillages intend to build and strengthen economic practices in order to fully serve the needs of people and natural environment. The aim is therefore to propose resilient alternatives to the global economic and monetary systems.

The areas of economic sustainability covered by ecovillages are:
  • Guarantee of equitable ownership of land and resources
  • Promotion of social entrepreneurship
  • Wealth creation through sharing and collaboration
  • Support of local economies
  • Creation of alternative banking and exchange systems
  • Responsible production, consumption and trade

LogoSocial Sustainability

In order to be more sustainable, ecovillages need to pay a special attention to build trust with the organisations, to facilitate collaboration and to make sure that ecovillagers feel considered and heard. Besides, ecovillages are places where people, through their diversity, must feel that they belong to a common project with shared goals.

The areas of social sustainability covered by ecovillages are:
  • Respect of diversity and development of a community vision
  • Guarantee of participatory leadership and shared governance
  • Equal access to holistic education and healthcare
  • Use of communication skills, conflict facilitation
  • Development of fair, effective and accountable institutions