The most powerful form of activism is just the way you live : grassroots intentional communities and the sustainability of everyday practice

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Changing household consumption patterns may be the fastest pathway for reducing the currently unsustainable levels of resource consumption in the developed world. Between 50% and 80% of global land, water and material consumption and greenhouse gas emissions can ultimately be traced to household consumption, contributing substantially to environmental degradation. Changing household consumption practices therefore presents an opportunity to significantly reduce this negative environmental impact. This thesis has explored ‘intentionally sustainable communities’, such as ecovillages and cohousing communities, as sites where significant changes to household consumption are occurring. These communities are niche sites of grassroots innovation; crucibles in which new arrangements of potentially innovative and sustainable household practices are formed that may (or may not) be usefully transferred to mainstream households. This research examines the extent to which these intentionally sustainable communities have reduced their environmental impacts. It then explores the environmentally beneficial household consumption practices that have been established and sustained, the role of the intentionally sustainable community in enabling members to change their practices, and the potential for these communities to have wider influence. A mixed method approach was adopted, first undertaking a systematic literature review of ecological and carbon footprint studies of intentional communities globally. Second, two Australian case study communities; a rural land sharing cooperative (Bundagen), and an urban cohousing community (Murundaka), explored the practices and elements of practice that residents perceived as significant for their everyday sustainability. Finally, the potential for Murundaka to influence household consumption practices on a wider scale was considered. The systematic review found strong but limited evidence that many intentional communities are achieving substantial reductions in environmental footprints. Empirical insights from the case studies revealed that a broad range of community-led interventions across many domains of practice were improving household sustainability in the communities. Key elements discussed include explicit and shared meanings from creating a community vision, the impacts of shared spaces, infrastructures and resources, and the role of community dynamics in circulating competences through effective social learning. The research highlights the key role played by nonmainstream practices such as the intentional, resident-driven creation of community and community-scale governance. These practices enable community members to act as both policy makers and practitioners, with greater scope and reflexivity to intervene in the systems of practice which shape their daily lives. Finally, pathways through which intentionally sustainable communities may be able to influence the practices of wider society were discussed, through an exploration of the influence of Murundaka on its broader community.
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