INTRODUCTION: A Personal Journey
The choice, after all, is ours to make…
we should look about and see what other course is open to us.
- Rachel Carson (1962)
When I found my way to the house at the top of the hill, I knew I had made a good decision to seek the place out. A wind mill loomed above a series of solar panels on the roof and a terraced garden wrapped around the house and to the edges of the property. I noticed a bike rack near a community bulletin board. Interpretative signs were in various places in the yard explaining specific features like a ―greywater marsh‖ that continuously cleaned water exiting the house‘s sinks and showers to be used for watering the garden. There were different-styled composting bins and, under a shelter made from bamboo beams, there was a large-scale ―vermiculture‖ (worm-composting) station. In addition to the
house, several other structures were on the property: a round, wooden hut which turned out to be a meeting place and occasional sleeping space for guests, an earthen (―cob‖) workshop, an outdoor
shower, and a composting toilet.
Venturing to the front door of the house, I found a stash of brochures for self-guided tours of the property. Before I had time to look at the diagram of the house‘s inner lay-out, a woman came out and
introduced herself as one of the resident co-directors and said she would give me a tour of the place if I
2wanted. She took me around the house (roughly 2,000 ft with three bedrooms, one bath, an office,
kitchen, living room, and a basement/workshop) pointing out certain features like a ―cold box‖ that
keeps food cool with natural air circulation, and explained the basic purpose and operations of the place.
By the time the tour was over, I had decided this was something that I wanted to be a part of in some way and would even live there if possible. I inquired about this possibility and was told that I needed to be a student at Humboldt State University (HSU) to be considered for one of the three co-director positions. I was on my graduate school search anyway so I began actively pursuing the idea of earning my Master‘s at HSU so that I might have the chance to live in this place called the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT).
In the meantime, I went and visited the University of California-Davis and stayed with a friend living in the Sunwise Co-op, a household of eight people (mostly students), that is part of the larger ―Village Homes‖ community – an early example in this country of an intentional community with an
ecological bent to it. There were fruit trees lining the walk-ways, community gardens and a vineyard, solar heat collectors, a childcare center, and strangers who said hello. I stayed long enough to
experience a sense of community that I had rarely experienced in the United States. When I was offered a room in the co-op, I began considering UC-Davis even more seriously than I had been before.
In the end, I decided to attend graduate school at the University of Oregon (UO). The Environmental Studies Program offered the type of education and academic freedom that I wanted and Eugene as a whole seemed to be an exciting and vibrant community. I still hoped to find a housing option similar to what I had seen at CCAT and Sunwise/Village Homes. Fortunately, I did find such a community a few months after moving to Eugene.
The Maitreya Ecovillage on the west side of town is a relatively new community of about twenty people living in personal dwellings, sharing a communal garden, gathering for frequent potlucks, and exploring ways to redefine urban existence. I moved into the newest building (at the time) which is a model of ―green design‖ – earthen floors, sustainably-harvested timber, recycled/reclaimed materials (e.g., already used tiles, sinks, toilets, doors), among other things. My neighbors quickly became friends and helped me balance school life with home life.
Having lived at the Maitreya Ecovillage for over two years now, it is very clear to me that the opportunity for personal and societal development is vastly improved when it is experienced on an ongoing, simple everyday level and with others who share similar goals. What seemed intimidating, undesirable, or even distasteful to me when I first moved in has now become habit -- things like preparing herbal remedies for a cold, putting on sweaters and a hat instead of cranking up the heat, and not flushing the toilet with each and every use. These are some of the practices that I have adopted and I am constantly made aware of more that I could do. It is a very inspiring and humbling process.
Though the lifestyle may look ―hippy‖ to some at first, once the reasons behind certain actions are understood and when it‘s done in a non-judgmental way, people are often able to see their own
behaviors and habits in a new light. For myself and I think for many others, it boils down to this: we have choices in how we live and how we impact others (human and more than human, alike) and the actual practice of living more benignly is not as difficult as it often seems. In fact, many find that living this way makes life feel richer and more fulfilling.
When Gary ―Spruce‖ Houser proposed the idea to me of working to create a version of CCAT at the University of Oregon, I was immediately interested. Since he had lived in Arcata for several years and had participated in activities at CCAT, he was even more familiar with the organization than I was. In the early months, as we worked to get others on board, it was Spruce who kept the idea alive if I began to feel like giving up due to discouragement, other work, or distractions. Spruce and other key people involved in developing the project that eventually became called the Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living (CASL) will be described in detail in ―The CASL Project‖ (Chapter 3) and ―The Plan of Action‖ (Chapter 4).
Ideally, others working on projects at other schools or even another student organization at the University of Oregon will find some useful insights in this document. Many of the appendices are meant to be ―break-away‖ papers that can be used for specific purposes (e.g., preparing the budget proposal for next year, resources and information for hands-on projects, publicity). The body of the paper is more of a ―How-To‖ manual providing background, project justification, and some lessons
learned and insights to share. Taken as a whole, it is an examination of the ―processes of unconventional models within conventional systems‖ (Scofield 2003, 24).
With some luck and a lot of work, creativity, and dedication, CASL and related efforts will help dispel the myth (referred to in both CCAT and CASL‘s mission statements) that living more lightly on the planet is more trouble than it is worth. These projects will allow people to viscerally and visually experience a new way of being and help spark the dialogue, interaction, experimentation, and inspiration so necessary for this change.
It is useful to begin with an overview of the larger issues that CASL and other related projects are addressing and provide a general frame of reference for the types of change such efforts are attempting to facilitate. While it is not within the scope of this paper to provide a thorough examination of the social, economic, political or even environmental reasons that prompted these projects, a careful and ongoing study of these factors is critical for the work involved to be comprehensive and effective.
The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling,
and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding.
Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many
to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous. - Wendell Berry (1991)
CHAPTER 1: The Sustainability Challenge
Humans are pervasive and dominant forces in the health and well-being of the Earth.
We are the first generation capable of determining the habitability of the
planet for humans and other species.
- Anthony Cortese (2003b)
1.1 Thoughts on Our Present Status
More and more people in industrialized countries, including notoriously gluttonous Americans, are beginning to recognize that a lifestyle change is needed if humans are to continue inhabiting this
1planet and enjoying a decent quality of life. Since the mid-1990s, issues such as ―sick building
syndrome, environmental illnesses, and widespread social malaise have become a national concern, and more home-buyers are beginning to insist on quality shelter in a healthy, neighborly environment‖ (Potts 1999, xvi). These types of concerns and a recognition that we, as Americans and as individuals, are responsible for implementing change is being documented through shifts in business ethics, consumer purchases, and surveys that track public opinions and attitudes (Ray & Anderson 2000).
However, while many people may realize their lifestyles are unsustainable, the ability to act on this awareness is largely unrealized. People believe that the present situation is inevitable, unchangeable and, most importantly, someone else‘s The present scientific quest for odorless hog manure
problem to figure out. Finding ways to should give us sufficient proof
that the specialist is no longer with us. convince ourselves and others that things - Wendell Berry (2001)
do not need to be the way they currently
are, that they can change, and that the onus is on each of us individually and collectively to plug in
where and how we can…this is the work at hand.
The Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living (CASL) and similar projects seek to address this challenge and offer new hope by ―reinventing what should be the most natural thing in the
world: Home‖ (Potts 1999, xvii). ―Home‖ can mean a lot of different things depending on the context
and the person but for the purposes of this paper, it is considered to be both the physical buildings that we live in and the surrounding socio-ecological environment. Facts about residential water and electricity use are provided in Appendices A and B. Some are highlighted below in order to give a sense of the residential sector‘s magnitude as well as the enormous potential for change that rests here:
1 Millions of people in the world (including in the wealthiest countries like the United States) are already unable to meet the basic requirements of life. Worldwide today, 20% (one in five people) do not have access to safe drinking water, 20% lack adequate housing, and 35,000 people (mostly children) die every day from hunger-related causes. Source: Anthony Cortese‘s ―Vision of Sustainability in 2050,‖ Second Nature, 2003.
? Residential sources of carbon dioxide emissions have risen by 14% over the last decade
although the population has increased only by 8% (EIA 2000).
? From a life-cycle perspective (i.e., manufacturing, construction, and operational phases), the
amount of energy and water consumed during the operational phase of the house is much higher
than the amount going towards its materials and construction. Technology is readily available
that can reduce this total life cycle energy consumption by 60% (Blanchard & Reppe 1998).
? The average American consumes their own body weight in solid materials every day – over 90%
of this material is used before the product or service is even received (Cortese 2003c).
? Electricity production is known to be the largest source of air pollution in the United States due
to the heavy reliance on fossil fuels (e.g., coal, natural gas) (UCS 2002). Nationwide, the
residential sector accounts for the largest demand of electricity at 35% of the total consumed
compared to 32% demand from the industrial sector and 33% from the commercial sector (State
of Iowa 2002).
? With less than 3% of the planet‘s water being fresh and available for use (as opposed to salty or
frozen) and with increasing tensions around the world and here in Oregon over access to water,
every drop counts (Reisner 1993; Shiva 2002; Symmes 2003). Domestic use is the second
largest cause of water consumption (vs. simply withdrawal) in the U.S. with almost 6 billion
gallons consumed per day (U.S. EPA 2003).
? Indoor home water consumption can be easily reduced by 30 percent or more simply by
installing water conserving devices (e.g., aerators on faucets, low flow toilets) (Rubin 1996).
Behavioral changes and modifications to outdoor water use can also greatly reduce residential
demand (EWEB 2003).
Clearly, the residential sector needs to be included in the work being done to transform our current society into a more sustainable one. As will be further discussed in this paper, part of the solution may come through technologies and innovations. Perhaps even more important for addressing this challenge are attitude and mindset. In order to make truly lasting and effective change, people need to begin to see themselves and the world around them differently. Using our imagination, creativity, and compassion and employing all the motivation and determination that we can muster will help put us on the track leading towards the world we want to see. The more time we spend on our present trajectory, the more consequences will be paid for it and the fewer options we have left to explore. CASL is one project working to discover what these options may be in a residential context and encouraging others to seek them out while there is still time.
Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe
the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by
accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our
planet (Sagan 1964).
1.2 Some History & Background on “Sustainability”
There is a lot of talk about sustainability these days but what exactly does the word mean? While the word itself may be relatively new, its meaning is not. The concepts behind sustainability stem from an ancient worldview that has been submerged by the dominant Western culture over the last couple hundred years (and even longer in some regards) and is now slowly beginning to resurface in mainstream thinking. The deep cultural and spiritual roots of sustainability include a reverence for the Earth, a mindfulness of future and past generations, and an acceptance of limits. Something that is sustainable is ―able to be continued indefinitely without a significant negative impact on the environment or its inhabitants‖ (Jenkins 1994, 191-192).
2The more unsustainable our world becomes, the more the topic is discussed and explored.
While the actual words ―sustainable‖ or ―sustainability‖ are not always used, people from a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, and time periods have expressed concerns and sentiments regarding the meaning behind these words as illustrated in the following quotes:
First Nations peoples hold an inexorable connection to the land they have
traditionally occupied. Our Elders are deeply concerned about the state of the
environment. Our economies, cultures, belief systems, social interactions,
education systems are bound up in our relationship to the land. The impact of
environmental degradation and unsustainable development has had
profoundly disruptive impacts on our peoples, communities and
cultures. Assembly of First Nations (2003).
Then I say the earth belongs to each…generation during its course, fully and
in its own right, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid
during the course of its own existence.
Thomas Jefferson (September 6, 1789)
All of life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of
mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly
affects all indirectly. Martin Luther King (1965)
Treat the Earth well. It is not inherited from your parents, it is borrowed from
your children - old Kenyan proverb
The world is a sacred vessel. It should not be meddled with. It should not be
owned. If you try to meddle with it you will ruin it. If you try to own it you will