Future Impressions: Ecovillages in the Baltics

Lessons to be learned about the future of the Baltics at the European Ecovillage Conference in Lilleoru.

By Carl Johansen

Just outside of Estonia's capital, in the ecovillage of Lilleoru, plans for a positive transformation to a sustainable society were being laid out last month. Speakers, scholars and activists from all over the world gathered to answer one crucial question: How can we live our lives to the benefit of the individual, the economy, and Earth itself.


For many of the participants, the proof is in the pudding. Ecovillages are on the rise globally, as an answer to both the individual's longing for a better and simpler life, and to the global challenges facing all of us.

Speaker on the Estonia Day of the conference is renowned Belgian entrepreneur Gunter Pauli, creator of the Blue Economy business model and called «the Steve Jobs of sustainability».

"Estonia used to be a large supplier of sea weed, and today you just let it rot there. Why? If you don’t want to buy gas from Russia — I agree — then make your own gas from your sea weed. By using sea weeds, we can produce natural gas at 1/3 of the price of shale gas. This is what we have to do. We have to outcompete these guys," Pauli says emphatically. 

Principles for a 'blue economy'


With the blue economy, the first principle is we use what we have, he says. — This is instead of wanting something you don’t have, which you would have to take away from someone else. 

The second principle is, don’t try to be the cheapest, but instead generate value. A cup of coffee illustrates this perfectly. When you drink a cup of coffee, what you take into your body is only 0,2 % of the biomass that was used by the farmer, while 99,8 % is wasted. But this can be used to farm mushrooms, which 5000 farms all over the world is now doing. And the coffee, after you have harvested the mushrooms, is an excellent treat for chicken, because the mushrooms breaks down the fibres and adds amino acids of the type the chicken likes. 

The third principle, Pauli says, is responding to basic needs of people. We are not trying to sell the latest high speed internet or the fastest car. What we are trying to do, is to ensure that with what you have, generating these chains of value, you respond to people’s needs. And all this needs to be guided by one common principle, which is the common good.

Pauli adds that to make these necessary changes happen, we need pioneering communities:

You always need someone to act as pioneers, as antennas, willing to take more risks than the rest of society. And those pioneers today are the ecovillages, the artistic community and the scientific community. Ecovillages can be hubs for innovation and economy at both a local and a global scale.

A regenerative movement


The full title of the conference is European Ecovillage Conference 2018: The wisdom of conscious communities. Kosha Anja Joubert, executive director in the Global Ecovillage Network, explains:

It´s a special time we live in. We have arrived at the epoch we call Anthropocene, where we as humans are co-creating the planet that we live on. At the moment, we have already destroyed a lot. More than 40 % of the bio diversity has been lost over the last 50 years. We need to learn how to regenerate it. Just being sustainable is no longer an option.  

The ecovillage movement were started by people who became aware of this, and wanted to implement local solutions to global challenges. We see from all over the world, that over time ecovillages really become seeds of transformation.

The conference itself has more the appearance of a vibrant, colorful festival than anything else. Workshops on low-impact living, social innovation and green business, cultural events, local food & wine, concerts and social gatherings are abundant throughout, and the bigger events are being held in a huge circus tent. Attendees, delegates and volunteers come from 46 countries and all parts of the globe. And it all takes place in the tranquil ecovillage of Lilleoru, where the community of about 125 people has been planning this event for two years.

One of the founders of Lilleoru, chairwoman Ave Oit, is a constant presence at the conference. A midwife and pedagogue by education, she calls herself an activist, and has been part of the community since 93.

Lilleoru is an educational hub and learning center for people who want to make conscious changes in their lives, and to help combine the inner and the outer change that the world needs.

The center is largely built by volunteers, and we are still working on constructing the facilities. Among other things we are currently creating a school for children. Here the focus will be on the individual, on personal development, and on outdoors and natural learning.

What is the potential for ecovillages in shaping the future of Estonia and the Baltic region?

Ecovillages can bring back life to small and local communities and make them stronger, and give people motivation to act together. There are great social and economic benefits in being eco friendly and local, and in using social tools and building a common culture. The economy in the rural areas in the Baltics is weak, and we have a problem with depopulation. But our countries have such a great cultural diversity, which we want to help bring back. And we need to restore our forests, our sea side, our mining sites. The potential is huge.

Quick facts: What is an ecovillage?

  • An ecovillage is a settlement designed through democratic processes to secure long-term sustainability. Four dimensions — economic, ecological, social and cul­tural — are seen as mutually reinforcing.
  • Ecovillage is not a trade mark. Anyone can in theory call themselves an eco village, but to get approval from the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), it has to have an intention beyond merely being a commercial entity.
  • Ecovillages have proved to be local hubs for social and economic development, and GEN are in dialogue with both the EU, the UN and several of the world's nation states about using the ecovillage blueprint as a model for sustainable development and job creation.
  • There are today more than 10 000 ecovillages around the world.

European Ecovillage Conference 2018: The wisdom of conscious communities

  • 600 in attendance
  • 46 countries represented from across Europe and beyond – including Australia, Belarus, Canada, South Korea, Iceland, India, Mexico and Qatar
  • 105 ecovillage delegates from almost 50 communities
  • Next year's conference will be held in Comune di Bagnaia, Italy

Further reading:

Global Ecovillage Network

Blue Economy

About the writer: Carl Johansen (b. 74) is a Norwegian author, freelance journalist and political activist. He is currently living in Riga.