Gaia Education: Designing for Sustainability

May East - February, 2012

Guest Column

MAY EAST  is the Ecovillage Project Education Coordinator at the Findhorn Foundation ecovillage in Scotland and Director of International Relations between the Foundation, the Global Ecovillage Network and the United Nations.  May is a teacher of the International Holistic University and works internationally as an ecovillage consultant and educator.


 Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Teilhard de Chardin

Ecovillages are laboratories of new human relations, laboratories where we test the power of the new systemic thinking required to bring about the necessary changes in the local and global economic, social and ecological environments. Ecovillages provide conditions for cutting-edge sustainability experiments. In these living and learning laboratories, we swiftly learn from mistakes and advances. Both are held in a complex framework of dream and vision, earth and cosmos, technology and spirit, intention and love, dance and chant, cycle and balance, death and renewal.

 What is sustained in an ecovillage is not economic growth or development but rather the entire web of life on which our long term survival depends.  A sustainable community is designed in such a way that its ways of life, businesses, economy, social activities, physical structures and technologies, rather than interfering with, integrate with Nature's inherent ability to sustain life.

 As laboratories of sustainable living, ecovillages offer widely applicable insights for the planning and reorganisation of our societies. They combine a supportive socio-cultural environment with a low-impact, high-quality lifestyle. When we look at the ecovillage model developed on 5 continents, it is clear that ecovillages are creating a sustainable middle ground between rich and poor while designing interdependent and life-enhancing bio-physical and psycho-social processes. In these experiments we find no sign of the deprivation that seems, in the popular media, to be the necessary price for reducing resource consumption.  

 Established in 1995, the Global Village Network (GEN - is a worldwide association of communities, organisations and individuals working to create a sustainable planetary culture. In 1998 the first ecovillages were officially named among the UN Habitat top 100 listing of Best Practices, as excellent models of sustainable living.

GEN is convinced that the most promising way to move the sustainability agenda is through education. As life conditions change rapidly, the body of knowledge needs refreshing constantly and it takes the organic nature of a network to own and refresh it with new experiences.

 Gaia Education, officially founded in July 2005 as an offshoot of GEN, is a consortium of experienced ecovillage educators from around the globe, united in the effort to make accessible to a wide audience the valuable lessons learned from ecovillage design and development over the past several years.

 The main achievement of this group is the far reaching Ecovillage Design Education curriculum, or EDE. The EDE curriculum is systemically organized as a mandala of what is perceived to be the four primary, intrinsic dimensions of human experience: Ecological, Social, Economic and Worldview. Each of these four dimensions, in turn, contains five modules – thus twenty subject areas in total. It serves the purpose of educating for the transition to a comprehensively sustainable culture – broadly global in scope yet determinedly local in application. It focuses on fundamental principles, themes and aspects needing to be addressed in any comprehensive introduction to sustainability design and development.

 What sets this education as being distinct from the numerous other 'sustainability educations' appearing at this time is that the context for this education – the setting or active campus – is right here in the world's quintessential, prototypical, sustainable community models: ecovillages.

 The curriculum draws on the experience and expertise developed in the network of some of the most successful ecovillages and community projects across the Earth.

The EDE was introduced in 2005 to complement, correspond with, and assist in setting a standard for the United Nations' "Decade of Education for Sustainable Development – 2005-2014."

 From the village council to the negotiating table, this moment in history is calling forth the best and the strongest in each one of us. Together, we are reversing current trends of an unsustainable world. We are transcending and including the good, beautiful and truth of all ages. We are crafting systemic strategies that are most likely to change the world for the better as quickly and in as integrated a manner as possible.

 In this process the power of community is giving us growing evidence that substantial reductions in footprints are possible in ways that are easily achievable and will improve our quality of life.  Community-led initiatives are developing models that have been proven to work and that hold an important key in our transition towards more sustainable societies.

 In this journey we remember Gandhi's living message and aspire not to elevate the goals above the means.  The route we travel to reach the goal determines what life will be like once we get there.  The route must mirror the goal.  Our actions today embody and enact the sustainable world we want to live tomorrow.


 You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. 

                                                                     Buckminster Fuller