Our education and daily life-style precedes the choices we make when we become policy-makers, bureaucrats, business actors, researchers, activists, teachers, or do any other job. As long as we fail to acknowledge and tackle the sources of our ingrained behavioural patterns, we are patching up symptoms and risking their reproduction…

The way people are educated. Schools and universities can be regarded as ‘vehicles of mass-socialization’. When a child goes to school, it is one of the most poignant acquaintances with the worlds outside their family home, a place where they are most influentially ‘socialized’. When an 18-year old goes to college it is an important life-phase of self-actualization and one of the first steps into adulthood and relative independence from parent care. Schools and universities play a big role in the creation of world beliefs, lifestyle habits and working practices. The apparent dominance of ‘short-term optimisation’ is not surprising, as this is what the majority is trained to do. Whether it be economics, law, public administration, organisation studies, business management or engineering, the focus lies on how to make current systems more efficient, maximise profits, constitute current rules and practices, or in other words: make the current regime structures function and survive through well established methods and practices. Beside such ‘mental socialization’, schools and universities also reproduce unsustainable daily practices related to transport, food, waste, spatial planning etc. They do this through their respective choices for architectural design, campus facilities, labour conditions, dining halls, waste management etc. In this way, schools and universities provide an influential example for future generations on how to think and operate throughout their lives.

The way people live their daily lives. The far majority of people in the western world live either alone or with a partner and / or children. Student houses and some rare examples of communal living are an exception, but that is almost always a temporary situation. For most of us, the ‘private’ and the ‘professional’, the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’, the ‘nuclear family’ and ‘the others’, comprise drastically separated worlds. Such habitual circumstances affect the way people position themselves towards their living and working environment, both physical and mentally. How can we expect people to identify with sustainability and feel ‘a sense of urgency’ with regard to environmental and societal problems, if these are associated with ‘the outside’ and ‘the others’? These societal structures shape our priorities and many of our habits such as economic optimisation (maximizing economic security for our nuclear family), consumption patterns (maximizing comfort for our nuclear family) and mobility practices (moving from the professional or social ‘outside’ to the private ‘inside’ as fast as possible).

New ways of educating and living are not just a normative desire, but also an empirical observation. Over the last couple of decades, many thousands of people across the globe have actively created alternative forms of living and educating.

There are hundreds of sustainable communities, ‘eco-cities’ and eco-villages throughout the world. Those who think that these communities are merely ‘isolated hippie-endeavours’, would be surprised to see how professionally many of these communities aim for sustainable development in its most integrated form, including a concrete educational goal. Not only do they practice sustainability by adapting their own life styles and consumption patterns, they also create circumstances to facilitate and enable such life style changes. These community-builders have been passionate frontrunners in designing alternative technology, new architectural designs, innovative water and forest management, social experiments such as communal living, self-governance, alternative trading, educational & pedagogical innovation, and so on. Many of these communities have organised themselves through cross-national, regional and global networks. Besides the usual associations with ‘hippies’ and ‘tree-huggers’, these communities suffer from many other stereotypical prejudices, including anarchism, social isolation, elitism, incestuous or sectarian tendencies, dogmatic idealism, etc. Even though such accusations may be justified in some cases, it should be noted that the whole environmental movement once started with people that were regarded in a quite similar way, subsequently silenced and ridiculed for decades. The fact that many environmental activists displayed fanaticism and terrorising strategies, did not render the basic ideas of the environmental movement dispensable. Quite on the contrary, environmental awareness has spread in the mean time, and sustainability discourse has been taken up by scientists, governmental institutions and businesses, to such an extent even that PR-companies across the world are now proclaiming that “green is the new gold”. In the same way, the ideas underlying the sustainable communities throughout the world can provide us with more valuable strategies for the future than most of us can imagine.

How much resources and living species on this earth could be saved through communal living and different forms of training and education? In an era of sustainability discourse, in which many are attempting to change ‘consumer behaviour’ and ‘industrial practices’ by ‘stimulating innovation’, it  makes no sense to deny the hundreds of sustainable learning communities and networks that have emerged across the globe…

Our education and daily life-style precedes the choices we make when we become policy-makers, bureaucrats, business actors, researchers, activists, teachers, or do any other job. As long as we fail to acknowledge and tackle the sources of our ingrained behavioural patterns, we are patching up symptoms and risking their reproduction…

The way people are educated. Schools and universities can be regarded as ‘vehicles of mass-socialization’. When a child goes to school, it is one of the most poignant acquaintances with the worlds outside their family home, a place where they are most influentially ‘socialized’. When an 18-year old goes to college it is an important life-phase of self-actualization and one of the first steps into adulthood and relative independence from parent care. Schools and universities play a big role in the creation of world beliefs, lifestyle habits and working practices. The apparent dominance of ‘short-term optimisation’ is not surprising, as this is what the majority is trained to do. Whether it be economics, law, public administration, organisation studies, business management or engineering, the focus lies on how to make current systems more efficient, maximise profits, constitute current rules and practices, or in other words: make the current regime structures function and survive through well established methods and practices. Beside such ‘mental socialization’, schools and universities also reproduce unsustainable daily practices related to transport, food, waste, spatial planning etc. They do this through their respective choices for architectural design, campus facilities, labour conditions, dining halls, waste management etc. In this way, schools and universities provide an influential example for future generations on how to think and operate throughout their lives.

The way people live their daily lives. The far majority of people in the western world live either alone or with a partner and / or children. Student houses and some rare examples of communal living are an exception, but that is almost always a temporary situation. For most of us, the ‘private’ and the ‘professional’, the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’, the ‘nuclear family’ and ‘the others’, comprise drastically separated worlds. Such habitual circumstances affect the way people position themselves towards their living and working environment, both physical and mentally. How can we expect people to identify with sustainability and feel ‘a sense of urgency’ with regard to environmental and societal problems, if these are associated with ‘the outside’ and ‘the others’? These societal structures shape our priorities and many of our habits such as economic optimisation (maximizing economic security for our nuclear family), consumption patterns (maximizing comfort for our nuclear family) and mobility practices (moving from the professional or social ‘outside’ to the private ‘inside’ as fast as possible).

New ways of educating and living are not just a normative desire, but also an empirical observation. Over the last couple of decades, many thousands of people across the globe have actively created alternative forms of living and educating.

There are hundreds of sustainable communities, ‘eco-cities’ and eco-villages throughout the world. Those who think that these communities are merely ‘isolated hippie-endeavours’, would be surprised to see how professionally many of these communities aim for sustainable development in its most integrated form, including a concrete educational goal. Not only do they practice sustainability by adapting their own life styles and consumption patterns, they also create circumstances to facilitate and enable such life style changes. These community-builders have been passionate frontrunners in designing alternative technology, new architectural designs, innovative water and forest management, social experiments such as communal living, self-governance, alternative trading, educational & pedagogical innovation, and so on. Many of these communities have organised themselves through cross-national, regional and global networks. Besides the usual associations with ‘hippies’ and ‘tree-huggers’, these communities suffer from many other stereotypical prejudices, including anarchism, social isolation, elitism, incestuous or sectarian tendencies, dogmatic idealism, etc. Even though such accusations may be justified in some cases, it should be noted that the whole environmental movement once started with people that were regarded in a quite similar way, subsequently silenced and ridiculed for decades. The fact that many environmental activists displayed fanaticism and terrorising strategies, did not render the basic ideas of the environmental movement dispensable. Quite on the contrary, environmental awareness has spread in the mean time, and sustainability discourse has been taken up by scientists, governmental institutions and businesses, to such an extent even that PR-companies across the world are now proclaiming that “green is the new gold”. In the same way, the ideas underlying the sustainable communities throughout the world can provide us with more valuable strategies for the future than most of us can imagine.

How much resources and living species on this earth could be saved through communal living and different forms of training and education? In an era of sustainability discourse, in which many are attempting to change ‘consumer behaviour’ and ‘industrial practices’ by ‘stimulating innovation’, it  makes no sense to deny the hundreds of sustainable learning communities and networks that have emerged across the globe…