Tuesday, November 22, 2005

reflections on sustainability in community

I participated in a workshop by Tree Bressen this weekend, training me in facilitation for cohousing communities. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot. I particularly appreciated getting an insider's look at cohousing community issues and culture. And I was fortunate enough to be a witness to a "distillery"--an exploratory meeting--on the issue of "green decision making." It gave me an idea of the spectrum of concerns that people have when confronting such things as "what green criteria [if any] should we establish to make purchasing decisions?"

Many cohousing groups are concerned with sustainability. They cluster their homes to make room for open space. They share a common building with a large kitchen, meeting room and guest, kids and teen rooms so that each townhouse-style home can have a smaller footprint. They share laundry facilities. Often the building process itself is green.

But this doesn't mean that the individuals would rank "sustainability" as a primary value. "Community" is what brought them together, so relationships are very important. Being economical is important, too.

In other words, cohousing communities have to weigh the same variables that all of us do. How much more am I willing to pay to get a "greener" product? I've read that research shows that people will pay a 10% premium.

On the other hand, many products that are more energy efficient end up costing less money when you look at cost over time. So that's a no brainer.

The other issue that was really important was health and safety. People were concerned for the well being of their children. Could the group come up with an agreement not to put pestacides on their individual lawns? Questions like that need to be answered.

At least with cohousing you have a forum for discussing issues like this. And in many places they can make binding agreements. Having a consensus decision-making process means everyone has input. At the very least you will end up with something that you can live with, and generally speaking, if the process is healthy, you will have gotten your position aired.

But the community we were at did not appear to have a consciousness about peak oil. So there is consciousness raising to be done. It looks like I have my work cut out for me.

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