There’s a short article in the current print edition of Resurgence magazine on how the Scottish ‘ecovillage’ of Findhorn comes to have the lowest ecological footprint ever recorded a community in the affluent ‘North’. Three factors explain this: the way the community shares goods and services; the way its food is managed; and short travel to work distances.
Community is the most important. There are high levels of sharing (for example meals are eaten together), and quite a lot of building space and possessions are shared rather than individually owned. The energy footprint of Findhorn is just over a fifth of the UK average, further helped by energy efficient buildings and the wind turbines that enable Findhorn to export electricity.
On food, the village buys locally from a supplier who has eliminated packaging and minimised food miles. The diet in mostly vegetarian (vegetarian food has a much lower footprint than meat.)
Finally, most of the people who live in Findhorn work on the community’s two sites (about 100 for the Findhorn Foundation) so don’t use carbon in travelling to work. This part may be harder for other communities to replicate.
The emphasis on community and shared use is also seen in the work in this area of the Euro-funded “sustainable everyday” project EMUDE (their international case studies, most with pictures, are worth reading). I’m always reminded of the story about the power drill; every household male feels the need to buy them, yet they’re used on average – this data point may be an urban myth but feels about right – for an hour each. Having them as community tools makes much more sense.