Sustainable living in cohousing community

October 18, 2018 11:26 am

Now that our moving date is getting closer, we are confronted by a tricky task: the organisation of the daily ethical life of our cohousing community.

Cohousing homes have green roofs

Green roofs on top of green houses

For the members of our cohousing group embarking on the adventure of building a community, social and environmental sustainability was in evidence from the start. Living an ethical life, with the lowest carbon footprint we could get, was embedded into our communal living project DNA.

Our architect Anne Thorne, herself a member, has designed low energy Passivhaus-standard homes, built with green building materials and including green roofs, water saving appliances, full south-facing aspects, on a ‘brown-field’ site whose original building has been retrofitted and is to be our common house.

Storage for our car and bike pools, both part of our endeavour to live ‘lightly’, is attached to the common house.

To get an eco-organic garden is easy and can be fun. To be bird- and butterfly- and even bug-friendly, to raise bees, to foster wildlife and indeed protect it, is not a burden but a lovely hobby. Our community will have fresh produce from our kitchen garden but also, because we do not aim for self-sufficiency and want to be well integrated in the wider community, we will be able to buy locally from the greengrocer up the road.

Up to that point, we are ticking the right boxes with minimum effort and a lot of pleasurable activities. However, more difficult is everyday living. Just now, furnishing our common house is posing unexpected conundrums.

We are confronting three main constraints: ethics, cost and space. None of them is very flexible and we will need a lot of lateral thinking to find a solution.

Of course, each member of the community has preferences which have been summarised as elegance, cosiness, lightness, practicality and cheerfulness. Not an easy brief. However, sustainable furniture is the priority.

Cohousing common house awaits sustainable furniture

Wooden common house floor awaits furniture

The choice is between: minimalism – preferred by those for whom sitting on the floor is not a problem; upcycled plastic – a suggestion received with sardonic painful smiles; recycled furniture, either from our old houses or bought – not enthusiastically taken to by all of us who do not want to live in a second-hand shop; homemade furniture from ethical wood – my chosen one, but not all agree.

Our skills at consensus decision making are going to be put to the test. Until now our decision had been existentialist, that is financial, and we all rallied to this, but choosing the colours of the rug in the top floor room may be a lot more awkward.

For the furniture, I am sure we will end up with a mixture of all except plastic.

One doesn’t need to be righteous to live an ethical life, nor does it need to be boring and ugly. It could be an opportunity for a richer communal life. Looking after the bees and making cakes from the honey together, gardening and cooking, sewing in a cosy space while discussing a book, making our own furniture – all these occupations help maintain, or even create, special bonds between people living in community.


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