Definitions and History

Whole Systems Movement

The whole systems movement people believe that:

  • Each individual and the foundation (in this case the Earth) needs to be healthy and thriving to co-create a thriving system.  It becomes everyone’s’ vested interest to help each other in order to help themselves.
  • Our relationship with the Earth can be that of symbiosis and regeneration. They uphold their perspectives, lifestyles, livelihoods, communities, and organizations towards this relationship.
  • that a system functions as a whole being made up of synergetic parts aka “systems thinking”
  • If an action affects all parts of a system (in this case, the Earth) simultaneously then we can no longer isolate one action/ cause affecting one “effect”.
  • Whole systems based question “How will this product affect our environment considering the resources that are being used and where the product will go after it’s life?”



Sustainability and Stewardship of Earth

Each of the movements discussed above is adamant in prioritizing the sustainability of the human civilization and our planet.

“A push towards clean air, sunshine, beauty, rediscovering each other; community and celebration. This is a key shift in our perception. The difference between change that feels like being torn away from something and change that feels like moving towards something is huge. This is the approach transition takes. It suggests that collective intentional transition could lead us to a far better place than where we are today. Who’s to say that the world we see today is the best we could ever do?”

The mission of these projects not only aims to address the issues of peak oil, climate change, and social inequality but also provides tangible solutions that have already began globally.  What appeals to me about the ecovillage and transition town models is their influences of the permaculture ideology; one that plans a society of low energy, sustainability in harmony with the Earth.  Providing basic needs on a communal, decentralized basis, creating local economies, and building efficient/ low energy physical structures without using nonrenewable resources is the pathway towards a healthier Earth.  

Ecovillages and Sustainability

Eco-villages are built on the ethic of an “ecologically” conscious village.  These structures have been known to drastically remediate their land from dilapidated flooded areas into fertile water storing lands. Many of these villages are physically isolated from the larger community but interconnected in terms of stewardship and supporting the community.  That being said, they are known to have many acres of land, utilizing it for; large food production, timber growing, orchards, livestock, and/or other business endeavors from growing goods on the land.  Often times, community members take charge of creating renewable energy sources, food processing technologies, and/or efficient natural/sustainable housing.  

Transition Towns and Sustainability

Pioneered by Rob Hopkins. This movement shares many initiatives of the ecovillage movement.  One of the major differences is the setting of most Transition projects.  The movement is targeted towards urban/suburban dwellers.  It’s mission is to create community with a much higher population density whereas most ecovillages cap their population at 500 people.  Transition towns are known to “regreen” their cities by planting roof top gardens on all capable roofs, creating an abundance of community gardens and farmer’s markets, planting food forests, raising livestock, tool-sharing centers, etc.  Another difference highlighted to the ecovillage movement is the expectation to source a small percentage of resources from outside of the community even in a low energy future.  

Evolution scenarios: Enlightened Transition/Powerdown (government led path of co-operation, conservation, sharing); Earth Stewardship (creatively descending the energy demand slope as a ‘mirror image’ of the creative energy ascent we have experienced); Building Lifeboats (industrial civilization cannot be salvaged in anything like its present form; a process of building community solidarity, and preserving the essentials of life

Sustainable Cohousing

In my opinion, this option is the least sustainable of the three.  It is because this movement’s aim is to attract “mainstream” civilians to join an alternative lifestyle.  There are still environmentally sustaining factors such as the sharing of common appliances, common meals are shared at least weekly, and there is less square footage of built spaces as the residents share common facilities.  There may be community gardens, food forests, and other efforts of self sufficiency but this is not a mandatory characteristic of the Cohousing movement.  



Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change. Resilient communities are complex systems capable of bouncing back from adverse situations. They can do this by actively preparing for economic, social and environmental change. They most closely resemble the complexity of natural systems.-

As defined by Rob Hopkins (developer of Transition Towns) resilience is measured by the ability to adapt in the face of collective issues.  Resilience will be essential during the impending crisis of Peak oil, climate change effects, and collapse of economy and will be dependent on; the extent to which communities can direct and shape decisions that affect them, the ability for a community to self organize and manage resources, and make decisions with the intent of maximum sustainability.