People all around the globe are seeking ways to solve the world’s ecological problems. Some are finding better ways to provide food locally, some are finding better ways to harness alternative forms of energy, and still others are finding ways to live in cooperative communities which use less resources to sustain life. Recycling, reusing, reducing are just a few of the processes in place in many locations. Everyone knows that many people doing small things can help to make big differences. But there are a few spots where small groups of people are using unique ideas to make big differences in their own parts of the world. With a focus on sustainability, their revolutionary ideas have changed the way of life locally. Often fusing social justice within the framework of ecological development, their projects are not only role models, they are visionary.
1. New Jerusalem Orphanage
This forward-looking orphanage in South Africa houses 40 children in a contemporary residential facility built from recycled shipping containers. Forty, or more, live in existing space. The project allowed half of the children currently residing at the orphanage to move away from currently crowded conditions into spacious and colorful accommodations. The orphanage was established by Anna and Phina Mojapelo, with help from volunteers, the government, and donations from private and corporate sponsors. Since 2000, more than 1,000 youngsters have found shelter there. The children range in age from birth to 18 years old.
The orphanage has an eco-friendly focus as new construction is added within the organization’s environmental sustainability framework. Every effort is made to recycle, reuse materials and minimize the carbon footprint at this agricultural smallholding located in Midrand. Toward that end, a large permaculture garden has been planted and provides vegetables for the complex. The eco-friendly building is in line with the plan of providing holistic development for children in the care of the orphanage.
2. Torri Superiore Ecovillaggio
In the Ligurian Alps, a medieval village had been abandoned and had fallen into near ruins. It had existed in the foothills of this part of Italy, since the 13th century. Located not far from the French border and just a few miles from the Mediterranean Sea it has been nearly completely restored by a group of ecology minded residents who call the abandoned village home. They also view it as their collective recycling project. Joined by volunteers from around the world, they have used natural materials, specific bio-architecture principles and eco-friendly restoration work to create homes and food for their new community. In addition, they have created work for others by opening the parts of the complex to eco-tourism, educational tours and courses about restoration and ecology.
Their biggest goal is to transition to what they believe will be a post petroleum world. They have also begun programs for the village’s sustainable future by adding a reed bed for recycling grey water, a solar cooker, a Ram pump which uses no electricity to pump for water, and a composting toilet. The 20 permanent residents oversee their small scale production of olive oil, bee keeping, organic gardening for fruits and vegetables, and housing and care for their chickens and donkeys. Every family has a private home and a kitchen. The restoration of the historic village continues.
3. ModCell Straw Technology
ModCell is an insulation technology using straw bale to create prefabricated panels used in constructing carbon-negative building projects. The technology is used to build high performance structures which are super-insulated and low energy consuming. The materials are locally sourced and sustainable. The company has used the panels in schools, offices, commercial buildings and housing projects. The thermal performance exceeds current regulations for build by three times. The buildings are air-tight and can have zero heat requirements.
The company recently completed the Yeotown Eco-lodges. The project is located in North Devon, United Kingdom, about 15 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean coast. It is a health retreat focused on developing positive and healthful lifestyle habits. The Eco-lodges used the ModCell straw technology combined with natural stone and timber to complement the surrounding, rugged countryside.
4. Hockerton Housing Project
The Hockerton Housing Project in Nottinghamshire, England, began in 1993 with the goal of building houses sheltered by the earth on a property of 25 acres located near the village of Hockerton. The focus was creating a development which was sustainable, with minimal environmental impact which used little energy. The homes use a design which needs no heating system, but keeps the homes cool during summers and warm through the winters. They also consume up to 25% less energy than typical homes built currently. One idea the company uses to create a typical 83.5% reduction of energy use is to super-insulate single skin concrete walls. At Hockerton, there is also a wind turbine, which the community owns, that offsets carbon emissions. There are 7 solar arrays which provide energy that the community shares. The members also share collective billing and purchasing so that they can monitor energy use and work together to improve it. The homes share a large capacity heat store and heat exchanger. The harvest and treat rainwater using three distinct purification levels:
• Untreated water is used for irrigating plants
• Non-potable, medium treated water is used for washing, bathing and flushing toilets
• Potable, highly treated water is made safe for drinking and preparing food
Hockerton uses a floating reed bed system for waste water treatment. The purification process takes about three months for waste water to thoroughly pass through the reed bed purification system.
The unique co-housing method provides each Hockerton family with a house they own privately and a private garden. They share the energy and water systems, buy food as a group, and share their skills to make the entire project work well and continue to be cost efficient. Their collaborative approach to living requires 300 hours of adult community service annually, but their community allows and supports co-operative business and social entrepreneurship which benefits the community as a whole
5. Camphill Community Clanabogan
The Clanabogan community in Northern Ireland is located about 4 miles away from Omagh, in the countryside of Co. Tyrone. It was founded in 1984 on the principles of Rudolf Steiner, with a goal of creating a community where life is shared among adults with learning disabilities, co-workers and their families. More than 80 people live in Clannabogan, divided over 6 main households. Though Camphill communities focus on therapeutic sessions such as eurythmics, bathing, riding lessons and others; the communities also provide a work life which embraces sustainable agriculture and horticulture.
Residents work at Clanabogan in a variety of healthful pursuits. Residents: farm, grow vegetables for daily meals, weave fine Irish Tweeds and cotton fabrics, create objects sculpted from found wood on the property, bake bread products for their meals and to sell to the public, make hand dipped candles, and dry herbs to make tea, oils, and kitchen herb blends. These sustainable activities are healthful for residents and environmentally aware.
Renewable energy projects at Clanabogan teach residents about the seasons and the environment. To that end, the community has worked with biodynamic agriculture to create pathways and access roads linking purpose built houses within the context of the natural habitat. An aquatic waste water and sewage treatment system was built on the property to effectively sanitize and provide a flowform method for returning treated wastes to the natural environment.
The site uses a biomass woodchip heating system, a 20kw wind turbine for generating electricity, a ground source heat pump which extends the growing season inside a poly-tunnel, solar water heating, and a photovoltaic array to generate electricity while displacing the grid.