An ecovillage is a human-scale settlement consciously designed through participatory processes to secure long-term sustainability. All four dimensions ( the economic, ecological, social and cultural ) are seen as mutually reinforcing. Attention to each is essential for holistic and healthy community development. The power of human communities to come together and co-design their own pathway into the future is seen as a major driving force for positive change. The good intentions and creativity of citizens and their willingness to make a difference is one of the most underutilized resources we have today. Ecovillages are an outcome of citizens walking their talk in lowering ecological footprints while increasing their sense of belonging and purpose. Ecovillages are rapidly gaining recognition as demonstrations sites of sustainability in practice and as places of inspiration for the wider society. Ecovillage projects demonstrate that it is within human capacity and knowledge to consciously enhance and improve the environments in which we live.
Ecovillages are one solution to the major problems of our time - the planet is experiencing the limits to growth, and our lives are often lacking meaningful content. According to increasing numbers of scientists, we have to learn to live sustainably if we are to survive as a species. The United Nations launched its Global Environment Outlook 2000 report, based on reports from UN agencies, 850 individuals and over 30 environmental institutes, concluding that "the present course is unsustainable and postponing action is no longer an option."
Ecovillages, by endeavoring for lifestyles which are "successfully continuable into the indefinite future", are living models of sustainability, and examples of how action can be taken immediately. They represent an effective, accessible way to combat the degradation of our social, ecological and spiritual environments. They show us how we can move toward sustainability in the 21st century (Agenda 21). In 1998, ecovillages were first officially named among the United Nations' top 100 listing of Best Practices, as excellent models of sustainable living.
- Intentional Community: A residential group that comes together for some shared purpose or intention … or develops one.
- Ecovillage: (Robert and Dianne Gilman’s original definition, 1991) An intentional community, which is human-scaled, full-featured, harmlessly integrated with nature, supports healthy human development and is sustainable. Today within GEN we use the following definition: An intentional or traditional community (formed by at least 8 persons) that is consciously designed through locally owned, participatory processes to regenerate social and natural environments. The 4 dimensions of sustainability (ecology, economy, the social and the cultural) are all integrated into a holistic approach.
- National Network: A network of ecovillages within one country. A National Network should have at least 3 ecovillage members meeting the above mentioned criteria.
- Bioregions: A formation of several national networks and/or ecovillages sharing the same bioregion.