These Dutch pioneers Ad Vlems and his wife Monique Vissers took the bull by the horns and launched the idea of an Eco-village in 2008. They were inundated with responses. Five years later, the Eco-village became a fact. Meanwhile, their ‘self-sufficient’ village has about 44 adults and 15 children: the oldest is 78, the youngest is less than a year old. People live with them because they love community life, consider sustainability important or enjoy being in nature. Often it is a bit of all three.
We hebben een voedselbos waar we zestig procent van ons voedsel vandaan halen. Dat eten is gratis: elke vrijdag komt iemand met een kruiwagen langs die groente en fruit uitdeelt.” Ook op het gebied van water en energie is het ecodorp vrijwel zelfvoorzienend. Zo vangen de bewoners regenwater op in ondergrondse tanks voor de wc’s, wasmachines en de tuin. En door het duurzame energiesysteem kost de verwarming iedere maand precies … nul euro.
The way in which the homes are financed is also unique.
The community is part of the VrijCoop : an association of eco-villages that helps new residential communities with financing and takes houses off the market. That’s how it works:
- As soon as an eco-village has paid off its own loan, the social rental income (minus an amount for maintenance and repairs) goes to the VrijCoop.
- With this money, the VrijCoop gives loans to new eco-villages, so that they are not dependent on banks and subsidies for financing.
- This boosts the eco-village movement…
- … but it also ensures that more and more communities become part of the VrijCoop, which means that more and more homes are taken ‘off the market’. As soon as a house is part of the VrijCoop, it will never be sold again and it will remain a social rental home forever. In this way, houses again become places to live in, instead of to earn money.
They believed that sustainable living should be for every pocket. “We knew right away that we wanted to build social rental housing.” By doing a lot ourselves (such as preparing the Ecodorp site and helping to build it), it was possible to realize the climate-positive homes for 128,000 euros each, and then to rent them out as social rental homes. “We are our own project developer and landlord, so we don’t have to make a profit,” says Ad: “The social rental income is exactly enough to repay our loan in thirty years.”
The power of the commons
If you get to work with a group of citizens yourself, you can set the bar very high in terms of social and ecological gain, Ad notes. Take the houses: “By building them yourself, you can say: we want everything to be made from organic materials or from waste. For example, our foundation contains glass foam, a residual flow from the glass recycling industry, and our walls are made of hemp lime. As a result, more CO2 is stored in our homes than was needed to build them.”
“Nothing is so-called ‘too ambitious’ with us: you can do what you like. Because when the people shine, the ecovillage also shines.”Ad Vlems
The power of the community
To keep the eco-village going, all residents cooperate two days a week. That sounds like a lot, but an evening meeting counts as a half day and you can do what you like. Ad: “Nothing is supposed to be ‘too ambitious’. So if you want to come along to the ministries we visit, you can. This empowers people and enables them to discover new qualities. That’s fantastic, because when the people shine, the ecovillage also shines.
Want to join an eco-village? There are now 77 initiatives in the Netherlands. You can find them on this website .