Writing for learning

(image credit: Anthony Albright)


Welcome to my blog (if one can call this one a blog). I have a great passion for sustainable architecture and urban development, but at the same time no technical knowledge in these fields.

This blog serves two main purposes: to train writing and to learn about the covered topics while writing about them…and of course I will be more than happy if meanwhile I somehow manage to engage you as well.



The 7 motions

Hej hej!

It has been rather quiet from my side these weeks, but the reason is more than good – very busy and exciting things to do.

Just today, I have returned from Norrköping (Sweden) where Klimatriksdag 2014 took place. A great example of citizenship and democracy, the climate parliament stretched over 3 days full of lectures, workshops, exhibitions and, surely, discussion on motions on climate policies that would be passed to the parliament parties.


As a helping hand to CEMUS, Permakultur i Sverige and REALS, I had a pleasure to deeply experience the event from different sides. The first day was full of inspirational talks, and even the clocks on Tyska Torget couldn’t resist and with excitement rang the Swedish Anthem accompanying the words of Johan Rockström. In the evening, the hall at Louis De Geer was full and with a big loud flashmob, the climate scream, the parliament started.

The next day was learning and work. The exhibition consisted of various organizations and project that keep environment and the society in mind. Second hand and fairtrade shops, ethical banking, renewable energy…lots lots of inspirational things! Our green corner gave a good vibe to the picture approaching lifestyles from different sides – education, communities, growing food. We even attracted some beetles from the outside😉

(image credit: Emilia Rekestad)

The lectures on sustainable systems, economics, infrastructure development gave a good flow towards the discussion of motions. Out of hundreds of proposals, only 6-8 from each of the 7 categories got through to the next round, and then only 5 of each  made it to the final election that was held on Sunday at the astonishing Värmekyrkan. One of the final motions in the category ‘Consumption, food and lifestyle’ was the support for sustainable communities for transition and climate-resilience, prepared by Emilia Rekestad from Permakulture i Sverige.

(image credit: Emilia Rekestad)

And the winners were..(just wait a little while)

After the elections, we listened to special guests, Billy Larsson and Anders Wijkman, about global ethics as the way to solving the climate challenges and about the need for new economic system. Spiced with charming theatrical performance ‘Profeten’ by Najka, the day was heating up, and we were running back to the election site to hear the final results.

The 7 motions were announced and passed to the representatives of (not all, guess who didn’t come) parties that promised to consider them closely.

Energy New owner directives to Vattenfall, a state-owned energy company, to phase out fossil fuels and switch to renewables and high energy efficiency practices

Economy To change the regulations concerning the Swedish pension funds: to transit the investments from fossils fuels towards a sustainable climate-neutral society

Infrastructure  Make environmentally friendly transportation more attractive, including price-wise

Consumption, food and lifestyle Make all public consumption and purchasing environmentally and climate considerate

Influence Integrate sustainability education into schools and kindergartens through both theoretical and practical knowledge

Politics 1) To implement all the environmental goals that were set, but have never been put into practice (increase gasoline tax, increase capacity of railway transport and so on)

2)Decrease the climate impact two-fold over the next mandate period (from CO2 emission to extensive educational programs that will teach how people can reduce their individual impacts)

You can read on them in Swedish here. I can only add that it feels extremely rewarding to be a part of this.



Connecting eco-villages



One by one birds start to sing forming a consonant choir of sundry voices. A big stork is crossing the field fluttering its powerful wings, and there is no doubt that the day has come. The sun crawls out of the trees and looks into the windows of the old house filling its spacious rooms with light and warmth.

The Esna manor with its stunning surroundings, located in an Estonian village 100km South from Tallin, became a home for the Baltic Eco-village Network (BEN) whose participants gathered to discuss vital aspects of eco-communities and future projects of the cooperation.  The network, which connects so diverse and yet tightly related partners, has developed a good vibe during one year of operation and is eager to move forward.


People are increasingly getting concerned with their consumerist lifestyles and seeking the ways to reduce their ecological impact, involve in resilient communities and live in harmony with the environment. Thus, international cooperation of eco-villages, of which BEN is a good example, may serve the society by enhancing the communication of best practices and creating a platform for engaging projects. This recent meeting touched upon the future directions of the network including the ways to sustain the cooperationand develop new projects. During the upcoming year, the participants will meet to learn each other’s experiences in the key eco-village principles: social, ecological, economic and worldview. Also, the issue of food resilience will be addressed through the project aiming to support exchange of seeds in the region.

To increase its presence in the society, BEN will participate in the Baltic Sea NGO forum, focus on creating policy recommendations and closely address education. Moreover, the meeting touched upon the questions of entrepreneurship– how to create opportunities that can benefit both individuals’ passions and communities’ needs, and social resilience of communities – how to better connect with each other.

Learn and engage

Societies are highly dependent on the devastating resource and energy systems. We are losing connection with food becoming farther and farther away from its production, and we lack practical skills of creating things relying on numerous companies doing it for us. Education has the power to stop and reverse this trend providing people with insights on how they can get back to earth and become more self-sustained. Eco-villages, similarly to the Permaculture and Transition movements, are developing their educational programmes focused on eco-village designs.


For some, this can provide life-fulfilment and give new powers to move forward. In Denmark, there was a practice of providing eco-village education for unemployed. During the programme, they did a project for municipality helping with farm restoration. The programme, believed to be successful, gave valuable inspiration and leadership skills for their future life.

For others, the courses can bring significant health benefits. During the meeting, we visited one Estonian farm, where its owner gives permaculture education to people with psychological trauma. They can try building miniatures of natural houses using straw and clay. The recreational effects of this reconnection with nature are astonishing.

And these are not the only target groups that can benefit from such education. BEN is highly interested in involving more children and teachers, business leaders and decision makers, as well as the society at large. If the benefits are communicated correctly, then this sustainable lifestyle educationcan add significantly to the positive world transformation.

Create opportunities

It is highly unlikely that people will adopt eco-village lifestyle until this step ensures good employment opportunities. Entrepreneurship is vital for eco-villages to become self-sustained and resilient. Not only does it give motivation and fulfilment to residents, but it also brings money and vibrant life to the community. From the participants’ experiences, eco-villagers can earn by producing food, growing herbs and creating various crafts. Their sustainable profiles give them high added valueand meet the growing demand for high quality and responsible products. Moreover, eco-villagers are highly involved in education, training and services: from horse riding and animal behaviour to natural building, permaculture and renewable energy.


BEN is looking closely into how entrepreneurial opportunities may be developed in the region. Just recently, with the help of some members, a handbook on entrepreneurship[1] based on case studies was published to provide guidelines for eco-villages and foster development in the Baltic region. On the meeting, it was brought up that the network may serve as an information platformfor eco-entrepreneurs in the region. The creation of eco-village incubators for social enterprises and gathering success stories on both local and cooperation levels may help to boost economies that benefit both nature and people.

Stay together

‘It is vital to connect with nature, but we should also connect with each other’

Many communities fail, because people don’t manage to find ways to live and work together. Community buildingrelies on common values and joint activities, as well as decisions regarding common resources and proper governance systems. The system is based on trust, and participatory leadership is very important for eco-villages to sustain. The BEN’s participants were invited to a 7-day workshop designed to develop leadership skills for building communities through conscious communication, supporting greater trust and learning ritual practices.


Across the borders

To achieve greater results, BEN should continue developing as an inclusive network with an open mind. Both Permaculture and Transition movements can be seen as potential partners for eco-villages, and together they can create substantial impact on the society that is increasingly concerned with the uncertain future. It is also necessary to search for common roots in both Baltic and global traditional cultures and look for integration of them into a dynamic learning system that can benefit local communities and the whole world.


[1] Robert Hall, 2013. The enterprising ecovillager – Achieving Community Development through Innovative Greenntrepreneurship, BMK leidykla, Lithuania, 52 p.

In harmony with nature


stork’s nest in Esna

Last week, I was participating in the annual meeting of Baltic Ecovillage Network. In a mysterious and beautiful manor near the Estonian village Esna, the participants gathered to discuss vital aspects of eco-communities and future projects of the cooperation. Eventually, we visited Sven Aluste who lived nearby. Some time ago, he had moved with his family from the Tallin’s center to the countryside. Now, they have a pretty big land, inhabited with horses, ponies, donkeys, chickens, dogs and cats. There are many other things happening to add to this lively environment, since they offer various training courses in horse-riding, permaculture and natural building. And it is the latter I would like to talk a little more about.


building a straw-bale house, image credit Philipp

The use of natural techniques is becoming a new trend in building solutions. One of the examples of this are straw-bale houses.This approach to building has a very rich history starting from thousands of thousands years ago. The real boom was witnessed in the 1850s, when a mechanical hay baler was invented. What makes straw-bale houses so special in the light of sustainability pursuits is that they are made from renewable materials (straw and clay) and their insulation quality that reduce the need for heating and cooling. With enough experience and prepared materials, a one family house can be built for just two weekends. To ensure a long life of such a house, it is important to approach the building process with care and professionalism.


Sven Aluste’s new house made of reed-bale

One of such professionals is Sven himself. All of the buildings on his farm are built by him, and he is also continuously invited to help with other projects. Instead of straw, Sven uses reed as a material, which can be found in coastal areas.While designing houses, he pays attention to traditional architectural approaches, which add much cultural value to buildings. Inside, one can find a rocket stove covered with clay. Not only does it more efficiently burn wood, but also its pipe, which is stretched throughout the sleeping room, ensures that warm from steam is used to the fullest. Water heating panels, which Sven plans to install soon, and separate toilets add a lot to the environmental profile of this Estonian farm.

All this may seem small scale for making any substantial change, but if the trend develops and eventually involves high density communities, great results may follow.


Energy efficiency in district heating


CHP plant, Sweden (image credit Daily News)


I have just returned from a study visit to Kolobrzeg in Poland, where yet another meeting of the Innoheat project participants took place. Innoheat is an initiative of the South Baltic Programme and was established to gather actors from Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Sweden and Kaliningrad that are involved in district heating solutions.

District heating is a centralized system for generation and distribution of heat that we have in our radiators and hot water. Depending on its qualities, such approach allows for increased energy efficiency and may represent one of the cheapest ways to cut on carbon dioxide emissions. Apart from fossils, district heating can be based on waste incineration and renewables sources (biomass, geothermal and solar). What can also complement its efficiency qualities is recycling of heat surplus from industrial processes, which otherwise would be just lost, and combining heat and power generation into one process (cogeneration), which again allows for recovering so-called wasted heat occurring during the electricity production.

However, it is not only the technology that determines the efficiency of heating systems. Maintenance staff and tenants also have great influence on the amount of energy used. During the conference, increasing attention was paid to this factor and the importance of comprehensive training of these people. What YOU personally can do is be considerate about the amount of hot water you use and lower/turn off heat on your radiator when it is not needed (I am sure you also have some warm clothes to wear at home😉 ).

Another questions is whether heating companies are interested in training their clients to save energy. Imagine an apparel company striving to reduce the consumption of clothes. Contradiction? However, such companies DO exist and manage to find their competitive advantage through creating unique values for their customers. The same applies to heating companies. One of the possible benefits for them is that conscious customers can save companies money by reducing the peaks, which may cost a lot, especially with highly inefficient systems.

The problem is more complex when one considers the future scenarios with (ideally) highly efficient houses with low need for heating. Then, new business models should be developed to combine the competitiveness of producers and benefits for the planet.


Off-grid future

(image credit: Tom Chance)

Using only energy generated on site, BedZED district in Hackbridge (UK) has already become one of the iconic housing development projects. Even though it is still struggling with some technical problems, the implemented solutions and smart planning has brought impressive results in energy and water efficiency, as well as decreased the residents’ car mileage. The creation of self-sufficient communities is seen as a source of opportunities for lowering our impact on the planet, and off-grid electricity may be one of the first steps towards this goal.

For example, communicating the cost efficiency of solar power compared to kerosene, Off Grid Eletric targets developing countries providing them with light and electrical services sourced from their energy hubs equipped with solar panels. In Tanzania,  more than 10000 rural households have already joined their network. The company’s vision is to eliminate the need for more power lines, create jobs, support small entrepreneurs and develop communities through boosted economies, improved health, air and water quality.

(image credit: Matthieu Young)

While some see the “off-grid development” as a possible future for countries and continents, the US has pleased us with some ‘interesting’ news. In Florida, officials ruled off-grid living illegal reasoning it by the fact that houses without electricity and water are considered unsafe to live in. Surely, such news make the day for corporations that become more and more nervous amid the growing popularity of rainwater collection and solar panels installed right on houses. Still, I would say that there is nothing safer than such a self-sustaining lifestyle, and this is not really the question of sustainability – it’s not a secret that solar panels are far from the ideal solutions. Still, having a right of choice is vital for people to build resilient communities.

Collaboration for greater results


(image credit: EG Focus)

Through 50% reduction in energy use and 80% in CO2 emissions, The Co-op believes that their new home ” will create a benchmark for every other UK business and showcase what can be achieved through a socially responsible approach to design and construction”.

“One Angel Square” is the new headquarters of The Co-op, a large consumer cooperative in the UK. It is located in Manchester, and with its 15 stories is the biggest building in the city. But it’s not about the size or the unique design of the building that  have deserved great attention. According to BREEAM, this is the most environmentally friendly building in the world with its highest ever rating of 95,16%.

It has many impressive features – from on-site heat and power production (geothermal, biomass, solar) and the intelligent  design that allows much sunlight without overheating, to rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, LED lights throughout and so on (check BREEAM profile).

How did this become possible? Well, I believe that the biggest credit should be given to the collaboration between the project participants. Given the high complexity of a building life cycle, it is extremely important for all players to fight fragmentation that occurs throughout the process, and the key to it is integrated design-build-operate practices.

Technology is already out there, only organizational change is needed.