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 3lose it - Lao Tzu
2 For example, a Google search on ―sustainability‖ produced over 3,400,000 hits (on March 3, 2004).
3 These last four quotes cited from the Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Network, Dept. of Energy, ―Definitions
of Sustainability,‖ http://www.sustainable.doe.gov/overview/definitions.shtml.
In recent decades, the word ―sustainable‖ has been used in many contexts including:
―sustainable development,‖ ―sustainable growth,‖ ―sustainable use,‖ and ―sustainable communities.‖ While the interpretations and implications are quite different, the terms are often used interchangeably. Even when the term seems ―right,‖ its implementation is often problematic and misguided.
It has been argued, for instance, that while sustainability is the goal, sustainable development is how that goal is realized (Doppelt 2003). Sustainable development gained international attention and political credibility when a report was issued about it in 1987 by a World Commission on Environment and Development. This report, titled Our Common Future and often referred to as the ―Brundtland
Report,‖ defined sustainable development as development that, ―meets the needs of the present
generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs‖ (p. 43). This is a virtuous goal that few would refute. Yet it is not that clear-cut largely because defining ―needs‖ is a tricky but very important challenge in itself. For Civilization is a limitless multiplication
of unnecessary necessaries. example, in this same report, a five to 10-fold increase of the - Mark Twain
world industrial output was deemed necessary and 12 percent
of the world‘s biosphere was determined sufficient for all species other than humans.
The Brundtland Report exemplifies how a lofty goal can be quickly shot down when the objectives or supporting activities seem to contradict or counteract it. This example also points out the reason why the term ―sustainability‖ has lost its meaning for many.
It is curious to note that while we have difficulty envisioning a sustainable
world, we have no difficulty identifying what is unsustainable in our societies.
We can rapidly create a laundry list of problems - inefficient use of energy,
lack of water conservation, increased pollution, abuses of human rights,
overuse of personal transportation, consumerism, etc. But we should not
chide ourselves because we lack a clear definition of sustainability. Indeed,
many truly great concepts of the human world - among them democracy
and justice - are hard to define and have multiple expressions in cultures
around the world (McKeown 2003).
The lack of clarity and consensus on how sustainability works and what it means do not diminish the need for us to work on it. The ―sustainability buzz‖ is not a passing trend and, in fact, grows more pressing each day. Many proposals, principles, and doctrines have been outlined in order to provide a better understanding of the concepts behind sustainability and prescribe ways for them to be carried out. These documents range from new environmental policies at grammar schools to international mandates like the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which lists 27 principles regarding sustainability. Individuals, too, have worked to bring more clarity to what
sustainability means by articulating the profound ideas behind it—these ideas amount to nothing less
4 than a cultural transformation.
Transforming our current culture into a more sustainable one is an immensely complicated challenge with too many facets for one person, project, or community to adequately address. Yet it is at this level – small-scale and localized - that the work begins. Much of the work is deeply personal and acutely place-based as suggested by Muscue Martin (1995) in his description of sustainability:
The word sustainable has roots in the Latin subtenir, meaning 'to hold up'
or 'to support from below.' A community must be supported from below -
by its inhabitants, present and future.
Certain places, through the peculiar combination of physical, cultural, and,
perhaps, spiritual characteristics, inspire people to care for their
community. These are the places where sustainability has the best
chance of taking hold.
Deciding who the ―inhabitants‖ are in a community will depend on the perspective held by a particular person or group. Whether people see themselves as a functioning part of a larger system, or if they think local businesses, forests, and salmon are critical elements of their system, will largely determine how a community works—or doesn‘t. This idea of integrated versus fragmented parts is
central to figuring out the sustainability challenge.
Many in our society do not see themselves as part of a community and do not feel any particular responsibility to others around them. This individualistic attitude was expressed, for example, by a University of Oregon student leader who said, ―people don‘t have a responsibility to society necessarily
– we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our families; if we can take care of that, then we shouldn‘t have to deal with society‖ (Willis 2003, 13). If people do not feel responsible towards society and only to themselves, then behavior that may be detrimental to society becomes acceptable and even unavoidable. In the end this is not in the individual‘s best interest anyway since the consequences of such societal neglect is a society that does not work well for anyone.
We are all part of the same interlocking systems (e.g., health care, education, governance, economy, global events). If a sustainable world is to be created, then individuals must learn to see how their personal lives impact the ecological and social environment around them and vice versa. To learn such lessons, there must be teachers and opportunities that foster this awareness, promote civic engagement, and inspire personal responsibility. Hence, it becomes a question of education.
4 See, for example, the ―Hannover Principles‖ that William McDonough and Michael Braungart produced in 1992.
1.3 The Important Role that Universities Play
Clearly, this is a time for boldness, and no institution in society is more
strategically placed, more capable of contributing to the illumination of
urgent economic, ethical and ecological issues that affect our common
destiny, than is higher education.
- Ernest Boyer, past president, The Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
No matter how eloquently we describe what sustainability is or how detailed we get in outlining how we think it can be brought about, it will do us little good if we are not actively engaged in the idea, expanding our understanding of it, and constantly improving our actions. Learning how to live in accord with this concept and within the variables of our contemporary times is the challenge we now face and universities are the perfect testing grounds for doing this.
5Ironically, the more educated we get, the more ecologically harmful we often become. Studies
have found a positive (but not always linear) correlation between a person‘s level of education and their
6ecological footprint (McKeown et al. 2003). People with more education tend to earn higher incomes
which in turn leads them to consume more. While over three quarters of the U.S. population gets more than a secondary education, the energy use and waste generation of the average American is one of the highest in the world indicating that,
The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. ―simply educating citizenry to higher - Albert Einstein
levels is not sufficient for creating
sustainable societies‖ (McKeown et al. 2003).
So something in how we educate must change. The director of Oberlin College‘s Adam J. Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, David Orr, gets at this idea when he says: ―The kind of education we need begins with a recognition that the crisis of global ecology is first and foremost a crisis of values, ideas, perspectives, and knowledge, which makes it a crisis of education, not one in
education‖ (1994, 5). Others concur with this sentiment, including Anthony Cortese, president of Second Nature and the first dean of environmental programs at Tufts University, who said, ―The pedagogical shift in higher education must address the content, context and the process of learning. The content will require interdisciplinary systems thinking, dynamics and analysis for all major disciplines and professional degrees‖ (Cortese 2003c).
5 At the same time, basic education has been identified as a key factor in a country‘s ability to develop and achieve sustainability goals (McKeown et al. 2003).
6 ―Ecological footprint‖ refers to all the land and water in different ecosystem categories that go into supplying the resources
consumed by something or someone as well as all the wastes generated by this on a continuous basis, using prevailing technology (Wackernagel et. al. 1997).
Universities and other educational institutions are inherently filled with people who are actively exploring new ideas, intentionally developing new skills, testing old boundaries, and, ultimately, hoping to make a difference in the world. The continuous influx of such people that goes on at a university represents a tremendous opportunity for engaging people in learning, exploring, and questioning the meanings of and means for sustainability. Education that helps us to confront and question cultural norms and mainstream lifestyles will ―encourage people to consciously define and question what it means to live well and introduce students to alternate conceptions of good living‖ (Harsch 1998, 610).
Redefining ―the good life‖ depends largely on learning to recognize the critical differences between
7 ―standard of living‖ and ―quality of life.‖
Americans recognize that our society is far from perfect at home and
leaves much to be desired in our relations with the rest of the world…We
have the option, the opportunity, the power, and the responsibility to make
things better. A very important part of this process is thinking clearly about
what ―better‖ means (Richardson 1984, 20).
Many have argued that it is an inherent responsibility of the education system to take on this challenge. Fortunately, there is a ―strong movement among college and university presidents, deans, and faculty to promote civic engagement and democratic ideals through active faculty and student involvement‖ (Campus Compact 1999). Institutions of higher education are beginning to position themselves to better ―lead rather than follow, try new solutions to old problems, and continuously improve its business of environmental protection‖ (Creighton 1999). Cortese states, ―Higher education has unique academic freedom and the critical mass and diversity of skills to create new ideas, to comment on society and its challenges, and to engage in bold experimentation with sustainable living‖
Developing innovative approaches to teaching is a critical component of the sustainability challenge. A study at Tufts University found that the ―combination of theory, practice, and vision is a powerful and often underused combination for far-reaching university environmental action‖ (Creighton
1999). It is therefore important that research and academic opportunities exist for students to put ideas and potential solutions to the test and benefit from this process of trial and error. Too often, academic research has a disempowering effect because it ―describes what needs to be done but falls short of laying out the details needed to get things done‖ (Creighton 1999). This passive approach is inadequate for the type of education described by Dean Stills, co-founder of the Aprovecho Research Center, who said that
7 ―Standard of living‖ refers to the amount of disposable income an individual has (i.e., private domain) whereas ―quality of life‖ generally refers to issues that are owned/purchased collectively (i.e., in the public domain) such as health care, education,
public services, and other factors of social capital (Roseland 1998).