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Ecovillages Are Illuminating the Way to a Sustainable Future

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Ecovillage: an intentional, traditional or urban community that is consciously designing its pathway through locally owned, participatory processes and aiming to address . . . four areas of regeneration (social, culture, ecology, economy) into a whole systems design [definition by the Global Ecovillage Network

*Lilleoru ecovillage permaculture garden, Estonia.

Imagine a community that’s built around using and resupplying the earth’s resources in equal measures – a community that handles water like it’s a precious commodity, that replenishes soil health through planting diverse crops, that chooses to live simply, utilizing only what is needed and cyclically restoring resources.

What you’ve just imagined has a name – it’s called an ecovillage.

While the concept of an ecovillage has been explored through myriad spiritual and cultural practices throughout time, the term “ecovillage” was first coined by environmentalist Joan Bokaer when she went on a continent-wide walk for sustainability in 1990. Bokaer went on to establish Ecovillage at Ithaca, one of the first official ecovillages in America. The term was popularized by scientist and researcher Robert Gilman along with his wife Diane. After the couple built their own solar-powered home in 1975, they established the Context Institute, one of the first nonprofits focused entirely on sustainability practices, which gave further credence to the ecovillage philosophy.

The definition the Gilmans crafted of an ecovillage is a system of living where “human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world.” Their definition also includes a critical piece about this system being able to continue indefinitely. Sustainability is a cornerstone principle for ecovillages.

Think about this definition – a system of living that does not debilitate or deplete or break down the earth’s resources and that does not require capping off eventually because it is neither harmful nor irresponsible.

Then think about these statistics from the World Health Organization – 6.7 million deaths occur annually from air pollution; 2.4 billion people rely on polluting technologies for cooking; and 99% of people globally are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.[1]

It’s clear that the way we’ve constructed life on the planet is broken. Ecovillages are attempting to show the world that a different way of life is possible – one that is sustainable, resourceful, and mutually beneficial for people and planet.

Ecovillages come in many shapes and sizes. Some have hundreds of members while others only a handful. Some choose to meld spirituality with sustainability while others keep their practices very earth-bound. Ecovillage at Ithaca’s first residents moved in in 1996 and now the land is home to 230 people and spans 176 acres. What began as a profoundly radical concept has grown into a flourishing community that stands as an example for ecovillages around the world.

Regardless of their structure, ecovillages are establishing themselves as powerful entities for environmental healing around the world.

Curious to see the different ways people around the world have envisioned a sustainable life?

These 7 ecovillages provide a diverse display of what kinds of environmental concerns ecovillages choose to take on and how they go about curating their earth-conscious lifestyles. Whatever way people choose to go about setting them up, every village demonstrates how it is possible to live in harmony with the planet.

Ecovillages are one powerful way to incorporate earth-care into daily life. But there are so many other ways for us to learn how to lead sustainable lives! NJIN is dedicated to teaching young people how to discover what sustainability practices work best for them and how they can innovate solutions to climate issues that they most care about.

After all, as ecovillages demonstrate, changing the way we live = changing the planet.

Check out NJIN’s programs to discover how you are most inspired to explore earth-care. Become the change you want to see!




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