On a global level there is an increasing and urgent need for positive models of viable, sustainable human settlements. Ecovillages or sustainable communities address this need, providing sustainability not only on environmental terms, but also socially, economically and spiritually.
Robert Gilman's (1991) definition is now generally accepted by members of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). An ecovillage is a:
- full-featured settlement
- in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world
- in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.
Ecovillage principles can be applied equally to urban and to rural settings, to both developing and over-developed countries, and provide solutions to human and social needs, while at the same time protecting the environment and offering an enhanced quality of life for all.
Ecovillages are communities with tightly-knit social structures, united by common ecological, social and/or spiritual values. Working with the simple principle of not taking more away from the Earth than one gives back, ecovillages are consciously diminishing their ecological footprint.
Ecovillages move toward sustainability by putting a high priority on:
- sustainable land use and local organic food production
- ecological architecture and building
- renewable energy systems
- low energy and/or renewable energy transport
- cooperative, social economies
- inclusive decision-making processes
- cultural and spiritual diversity
- integrated holistic health care
- global networking
- holistic and ‘whole person’ education
Ecovillages now exist on all continents except Antarctica. However, there are few, if any, that yet meet Gilman's definition completely. What one sees in all ecovillages, though, are people with a common vision who are building supportive community and working towards a more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable life. There is, inevitably, something spiritual about this quest.