RE: Cohousing Groups Calling Themselves Ecovillages
From: Michael Mariner (
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 1998 17:25:45 -0600
John Poteet said:

>The problem with the ecovillage concept is threefold.  The first is that
>it involves extra up-front costs that banks will not finance and would
>disqualify many prospective mortgage buyers.  

I suppose this is true if you go full bore toward meeting every 
ecovillage ideal from the beginning.  But, how about just including some 
values about sustainability in your mission statement, then building what 
the banks will support, then retrofitting later?

Also, there are many things you can do in your communities that result in 
living "more lightly" on the planet beyond architecture and energy use.  
Minimizing commuting with van pools, xeriscaping in dry climates, 
minimizing herbicides and pesticides, growing some of your own food, 
etc., etc.

>The second is that state
>and local building codes and departments are extremely conservative and
>reluctant to approve of alternative materials and techniques.

They *are* still conservative in some areas of the country, but in many 
others they are evolving to common sense, for instance, to requiring that 
the designs meet engineering criteria for load bearing, etc.  And, there 
are many localities that have okayed either specific types of alternative 
construction or gone to requiring engineering approval.  Don't assume!  
Check with the local code enforcers before you design or before you 
assume they won't work with you.

Some bldg. depts will change their outlook if they are shown examples of 
other communities that have embraced alternative building and not been 
fired or sued for negligence....

Realistically, I realize cohousing groups can't dillute or delay their 
endeavors indefinitely to fight "city hall" on everything, but the only 
way we'll change the status quo is if we make some effort to change them. 
 If you can't deal with it while building your community, perhaps some 
"burning souls" can educate building officials post-move in

>  The third
>is that people largely do not want to deal with the extra work involved
>with maintaining an ecologically sound building site. For these reasons
>prospective cohousing communities would be better off sticking to minor
>modifications of the current building standards until the ecovillage
>concept is economically supportable.

This above is a sweeping generalization and depends on many factors -- 
climate (use a technology appropriate to your climate!), type of 
technology, how well it's done, the preventive measures taken during 
construction, etc., etc. 

If you're really into making a difference and  setting a good example of 
environmental building, do some homework and don't accept "conventional 

>In the end we were forced to drop even the words "passive solar" because
>they had no meaning and would represent false or deceptive advertising
>as we sold our last few units.

Sounds like you were forced to make many choices with cost and other 
factors winning out over environmental considerations. Not having been 
there, I certainly can't know the numbers and the factors.  Sounds like 
folks went in with good intentions only to find they couldn't do them 
within the constraints of the situation.

But I don't think other cohousing groups should get forget ecological 
values and possibilities based on one group's experience.  Sometimes 
early decisions such as choice of a site can derail many good intentions. 
 For instance, if the site doesn't lend itself to both good solar 
orientation *and* community esthetics, then it probably wasn't a good 
choice of a site.  Caveat: again, I know nothing about John'Poteet's 
group's circumstances and am not "judging" them.

>For cohousing projects to use the term "ecovillage" without major
>environmental improvements (no composting doesn't count) would amount to

As John says below, composting *does* count - it's one of many practices 
we can do within our total lifestyle to protect our environment for our 
children and their children.  If you compost all food scraps year after 
year, building up the soil in your community you *have* made a major 
environmnental improvement.  But I assume John means composting (and 
recycling) is not enough by itself, which I agree with.

I couldn't agree more about maintaining integrity -- greenwashing is 
especially repugnant.  Some corporations have shown how cleverly 
Borg-like they can be with assimilating and obfuscating and clever PR.

First, there are no existing ecovillages -- they're all *aspiring* 
ecovillages and most are humble about what they've done compared to what 
they believe is possible over time.  Becoming an EV is an evolutionary 
process.  They aren't instantly created.  Even if you had unlimited 
dollars and unlimited time to create one, you probably wouldn't succeed 
because all the science isn't in about how to live most sustainably on 
the planet.

>Any suburbanite with a
>well insulated house, a vegetable garden, a compost pile and a carpool
>is doing as well as your average cohousing project environmentally. Our
>strengths are in other areas and should be stated as such.

True enough for the present state of the nation. Of course, only a 
minority of suburbanites do all of those, partly because they are 
isolated from others and mostly unaccountable (except to themselves) for 
their lifestyle choices. Some suburbanites don't do any, not even 

But let's look to the future.  Better than that, let's *make* the future. 
I feel cohousing communities have far greater opportunities to live more 
sustainably AND ENJOYABLY than individual households do.  

For example, in cohousing communities:

- It's easier to carpool if you know and like your neighbors -- and you 
can share trips to stores, schools, vacation trips, etc., not just to 

- Instead of just a few households growing random things, you can plan to 
collaborate and grow a variety for your commonhouse (and other) meals.  A 
large greenhouse is a major thing for one household to build and 
maintain, but a community can build one and those who love it can grow 
food for themselves and others.  And the labor and know-how will more 
likely be there to grow it organically, without using 

- You're stewarding a larger piece of land -- not just a single city lot. 
 A few people who love dealing with growing things can make good use of 
even a small plot of land -- edible landscape, etc.

- Eventually, you can find ways to for businesses located on your land 
and avoid commuting for some people.

- You can share toys such as boats, RV's, Lear Jets. 

- You can share tools such rototillers, mulchers, backhoes, wood shops 
and music studios.

- You can support and encourage each other a lot more than isolated 
households can.

- You can have great dances, dinners, music jams, movie nights without 
driving anywhere.

- You can train and apprentice each other on various skills from 
computers to car repair to canning to food drying.

All of those things can make up your community lifestyle and will result 
(almost as a by-product!) in living more ecologically. 

Yatata, yatata, yatata, long timers on this list have heard it before, so 
I'll put on the brakes here.  

Those who want to see where cohousing might evolve to, check out the 
ecovillage web presence (URL below) and read more about a humane 
sustainable future on the wonderful "In Context" Site -- 

Michael Mariner
maikano [at]
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