From Orkney our sailing journey continues further south. We have two options. We can sail around Scotland via the West Coast and the Hebrides, or through the middle of the country via the Caledonian Canal. Near the entrance of the Canal is the ecovillage Findhorn, which we want to visit. Our choice to sail through the canal is confirmed when we check the weather forecast: multiple low-pressure areas are expected to hammer the West Coast in the coming weeks; all the more reason to seek the shelter of the Canal.
We read that the Ecovillage Findhorn has one of the lowest ecological footprints of all industrialized societies, and half of the UK average. This intrigues us. Our research indicates that buildings consume enormous amounts of fossil energy and resources and are responsible for around a third of global CO2 emissions, which cause dangerous climate disruption. We wonder how Findhorn manages to achieve such a low ecological footprint. Is there something that the world can learn from this ecovillage?
Because the bay near Findhorn is too shallow for our boat, we leave Lucipara2 behind in Inverness and take the bus. A few kilometers from the fishing village of Findhorn we get out. With the bay on the one side and sand dunes and pine forests on the other, we wonder whether we are in the right place until a welcome sign confirms that this is where the entrance to the ecovillage is. Curious as to what we might find, we step inside.
We are welcomed at the reception, where our tour of the ecovillage begins. Three residents of a caravan started the ecovillage in the sixties. The caravan park was adjacent to an airbase of the Royal Air Force. In stark contrast to the violence of the fighter jets they founded a community based on love and peace. The community quickly grew to include people with an alternative lifestyle. One in which money or property don’t play significant roles, but love for nature and for each other all the more.
That love is palpable while we visit different spiritual spaces. They are beautifully designed and decorated with colors, symbols and natural materials. As down-to-earth Dutchmen we never meditated, but we are persuaded to give it a try. Peace comes over us. We understand that for many in the Findhorn community, the path to loving and sustainable behavior begins with inner peace.
With each other and for each other
A little later we are in a round building made of wood and stone. dozens of tables and benches are lined up next to a large kitchen. In this common dining area everyone is welcome to join for dinner on a daily basis. Eating together is important for the community: it’s cozy and it promotes social interaction among the residents.
The food is mostly homegrown. Between the houses we find a garden with herbs and fruit trees. Further afield is a large vegetable garden, where the community grows all kinds of fruits and vegetables using natural and non-toxic methods. The residents do this collectively, and their cooperation doesn’t stop there. Tasks such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, maintenance and public relations jobs are divided among groups, for which residents can sign up. There is no lack of volunteers: the communal buildings and gardens look very well maintained.
Ecology as a starting point
The community doesn’t only use ecological principles for growing their food. Many homes and community buildings are made from recycled and natural materials like wood and stone. We even see a whiskey barrel turned upside down that has been transformed into a home. With a diameter of about six meters it is not large, but still fully equipped to live comfortably.
In the newest part of the village we also find modern homes. They face south, are very well insulated, and equipped with heat pumps. The main structure is timber. We see solar and solar thermal panels on both the older and the newer houses. Elsewhere on the site there are community owned wind turbines. They provide electricity when the solar panels don’t produce enough. And the latest renewable energy addition is responsible for heating many homes: a biomass heating system.
The community carefully handles its resources. Organic waste is composted and used in the gardens. The remaining waste is recycled. There is even a community sewage treatment. Some goods are shared. There is a common tool shed and an electric car-sharing scheme.
Openness to the outside
What also strikes us is that Findhorn has no inward focused, communal attitude. On the contrary, the community is very open to the outside world. Visitors and new residents are welcome. On the tour we pass a house that is for sale, so we ask if there is some kind of authorization procedure. Our guide confirms that there is no such thing, but there is a kind of automatic selection: If one does not want to live in a community, one will not feel at home in ecovillage Findhorn. Some people who grew up here and moved away, end up moving back again with their own families.
Today the ecovillage has over five hundred permanent residents. In addition, it annually attracts thousands of international visitors and guests. Curious sightseers like us, but also participants in conferences and seminars. The Findhorn Foundation provides the course program. These range from an introduction (Experience week), “part of a community, ”permaculture”, to “meditation and mindfulness”. From one week to several months, there are quite some options.
An example of the effort the Findhorn Foundation undertakes to inspire others is the documentary film “A new story for humanity”. It features Satish Kumar, Elisabet Sahtouris, Charles Eisenstein and many more visionary thought leaders. It was filmed mostly during an international conference on spirituality and sustainability held at ecovillage Findhorn.
Together they have everything
Inspired we head back to Inverness. We still think about what we experienced long after we’re back onboard. We found so much more than we expected. Ecovillage Findhorn proves that it’s both technically feasible and financially affordable to build homes that are ecologically sound and use various forms of renewable energy. Thereby it serves as an example of how the carbon footprint of buildings can be reduced significantly.
At the same time ecovillage Findhorn is much more than a collection of sustainably built homes. The people in this community find money and possessions obviously not very important, but still have a rich life. They apply ecological principles on their food production and waste treatment. They trust each other to cooperate in the various voluntary working groups. And they trust each other to share goods. Nobody is in need of something: together they have everything.
Finally, we found it also very interesting to see the important role of spirituality in this community. Even if you are not into sharing spiritual moments, we are convinced that some form of inner peace is an important element, if not a prerequisite, of real sustainable behavior. Ultimately, love and trust are the basis of this sustainable community model: a beacon of hope and an example to the world.