Day 1 @EDE: forum, 4 dimensions of Sustainability

Kick off

The classes of this week focus on the Social dimension of ecovillage. It’s taught by Ms. Kosha Joubert, CEO of Global Ecovillage Network.

Kosha, sitting in front of the whiteboard. On her left, a volunteer translator was translating for her. On her right is Mr. Wang Haichao, the founder of Sunshine Ecovillage Network. Photo by the author.

35 of us sit around  the edge of the grass mat. 15 gens and 19 ladies. About 9 people look between the age of 30 to 60, the rest mid to late 20s. A very young (at-heart 🙂 group! I imagined in the following weeks, many interesting interaction will happen among these people.

Kosha kicked off the lecture by a beautiful speech. As she reminded us, this UNESCO research and training center for rural education is closed to the cradle of Taoism, the Qingcheng Mountain. The harmony between nature and human beings (“天人合一”) is the centerpiece of this ancient Chinese philosophy. The training center itself is a nice architecture surrounded by lots of greens.  We can hear a live orchestra of some insects at every single moment. (It can be very loud, as all the doors and windows of the main classroom are wide open.) For a moment, I was distracted by a large dragonfly gliding in the center space of the room.  

I like the seating of the class. We can see each other’s face. Also, the large space in the center of the room symbolizes openness and emptiness (dropping your baggages and ego), making spiritual room for new ideas and mindsets.

Class highlight

We have a very full schedule for the week. Photo by the author.

Deep sharing. Before introducing the framework and concepts of ecovillage design, Kosha led us do a few exercises to share personal experience with class members. First 2 people formed a group, then 3 in a group, then 12 people volunteered one by one to share their experience in a “forum” format. All sharing centers around one question: what brought you to this class? These exercise quickly built intimacy and initial trust among members.

It’s also inspiring to learn about the diverse background of the group: current students from permaculture schools, former law professor, Huawei’s senior manager turned rural community leader, software product manager turned independent writer, management partner of a real ecovillage project, landscape designer, tea farm owner, local EPA official, health coach, former doctor, teachers of Waldorf schools, employees of Sunshine Ecovillage Network, … Think about it. These people all see the value of sustainability from their own unique life experience. Now they come here to learn about using the whole community’s power to implement ecovillage, while practicing a live community at the same time.

Group agreement. It’s wise to set ground rules upfront if 30+ people are going to live in a commune for a month.  The first rule idea is punctuality. Then people suggested “be focused”, “be open”, “deep listening”, which are nice but not really necessary to make them rules. Kosha advised us to keep only very essential rules, such as “not speak badly behind people”.

Ecovillage cards. An ecovillage is “A rural or urban community that is consciously designed through locally owned, participatory processes in all four dimensions of sustainability (social, culture, ecology and economy) to regenerate their social and natural environments.” (from GEN glossary) Under each dimension, there are 5 sub-dimensions, visually and intuitively displayed by beautifully designed cards, see below. One of the exercise we did was to vote for 3 individual strength and 3 weakness points. Then data were collected to analyze the profile of group competence.

It was amusing that some people mistaken the two type of “ballot” (tree leaves). They had to withdraw their votes and vote again. It turned out that this class was particularly strong on culture and weak in economy.

Ecovillage cards. We voted individual strength and weakness to selected cards, using two types of leaves.


People of the day

Volunteers. How many volunteers are needed to support 30+ people for this one month class? I was surprised by the number: 12. Most specialize in one function, e.g. English-Chinese translation, cooking, environment, photographing, etc. A few work on whatever hands are needed.

Liang.  The first “weird worm” caught by the super “early bird” (the author) on Day 1 morning. At 4:50am, he was washing a big basket of some leafy vegetable, literally leaf by leaf. Next to him, there was already another basket full of washed vegetable. He woke up early and could not fall back asleep immediately. So he just got up and worked. Later during the day when I met him, I asked if he went back to sleep afterwards. Fortunately he did.

Xiaorui. The lead volunteer chief for the class. At 6:00am, she’s about to cook breakfast for the group, which is scheduled for 8:00 am. I was curious what we are going to have. So we had a chat. I know upon class registration that the meals from community kitchen will be only vegetarian. This is perfect since I am a vegan. But based on the dinner last night, I worried if I will get enough plant protein. With a serious and confident look, Xiaorui pointed at the boxes and sealed brown bags on the floor, organic grains and beans sourced online. They just arrived yesterday, so they were not tidied up yet.  I know I am in good hands now.

Top: one side of the kitchen. Bottom: dry food ingredients sourced online. Most are organic grains and beans. Photo by the author.

Small things

There are coffee lovers in the class. 

We have one 30-min tea break in the morning as well as in the afternoon. Some students brought fancy coffee gears and beans for the class’s enjoyment. Later the table were filled with more tea products.

A volunteer couple made the categorized trash bins with hand drawn signs.

I asked one of the volunteer responsible for environment if the trash will be treated separately once they are dumped into the building’s trash bins outside. “Nope. But it’s still important to form a habit of separating trash at the source”, he said. Also, the categorized trash is more likely to be recycled by people who pick recycle-able items and sell them for income.

2 thoughts on “Day 1 @EDE: forum, 4 dimensions of Sustainability

  1. I have read all your entries now, starting with day 14 and working backwards! I look forward to the next ones. Thank you to Albert for posting the link to your blog. I post on a blog too, not so often, and to facebook
    In our city (Hamilton ON Canada, 500,000, former steel industry city, on L Ontario) we segregate our trash and recyclables are supposed to be treated as such. Recently China stopped buying north american waste plastics (China took more than half all that waste!!). Now we are overloaded, all trash goes back in one pile and our efforts are wasted. so sad.
    I’m going to look for a set of those GEN cards, as I am co-organizer of a ‘community permaculture lab’ here with a focus on low impact personal lifestyle resiliency.


    1. Hi Ian, thank you very much for your interest and sharing what you are doing. I would like to relay the situation of your town “overloaded, all trash goes back …” to my EDE class, as this is a very good real world example. Yesterday in the class, our teacher played “the Stuff Story” clip,, it vividly illustrates how the “have-more” industrialization growth model eventually leaves the planet more trash. It’s time we as human together look for a new business model. I will reply to your other comments later as I would like to return some thoughtful food for thought 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s