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Reflections on the final international Ecovillages project conference

In October an event of great importance for the Ecovillages project – the final international project conference – has taken place. The final conference was organized in Lithuania, where the project has started 3 years ago. The conference was designed to summarize the results of the project that has been achieved during 30 months of its implementation as well as to serve as a platform for gathering and exchanging of ideas and knowledge relevant to ecovillages development in the Baltic Sea Region. 

The conference was held in Druskininkai town on 17th of October, 2013. Rasa Melnikienė, the director of Lithuanian Institute of Agrarian Economics, the Lead partner of the project, has opened the conference by giving a welcome speech overviewing the project course and summarizing the results. Zigmas Medingis, the deputy director of Economics and International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Lithuania, has also greeted the attendees of the conference and expressed the gratitude for the promoting of sustainable development in rural areas. As the conference was held in Druskininkai, Linas Urmanavičius, the Vice-Mayor of the town, has also welcomed the participants in the town of Druskininkai.

The conference consisted of three sessions, each dedicated to different aspects of sustainability models. The first session, named “Pathways to sustainable living” and moderated by Ina Mayer-Stoll from ZEGG Ecovillage (Germany), had a focus on social aspects of sustainability and provided insights in the perspectives of community, health, architecture and economy. Karen Litfin, an Associate Professor at University of Washington, has shared the gleanings of her journeys to ecovillages on five continents and examined ecovillage life through four windows into sustainability: ecology, economics, community and consciousness. Prof. habil. Dr. Algimantas Kirkutis, Cardiologist and a President of Lithuanian Healthy Lifestyle and Natural Medicine Chamber has spoken on the importance of healthy lifestyle as a sustainable living basement, emphasizing that it can be meaningful and effective only when the conscious awareness of its importance is willingly and purposefully maintained. Stuart Pledger, a chairperson of CradleNet (Sweden), which is a network for the promotion of circular economy, has analyzed the phenomena of circular economy and the risks and possibilities of driving society towards it. The sustainable banking experiences in Finland were approached by Marika Lohi, a representative of the Merkur-bank in Finland, which provides financing to profit making and not-for-profit projects and involves not just an economic evaluation but also ethical, environmental and social assessments. An architect and pioneer of ecological construction in Finland, prof. Bruno Erat, has given a presentation on sustainable architecture, highlighting the role of genius loci – the spirit of the place. Finally, Dariusz Szwed from Green Institute Foundation (Poland) has showed that not only ecovillages but also big cities are colossal laboratories of progress and change towards sustainable development.

The second session dedicated to presenting project results has started with the brief summarizing of the main project outputs by Adam Ćwik, project partner from The West Pomeranian Business School (Poland) and moderator of the session. As outlined by the moderator, the project has produced 2 manuals on: eco-settlement practices and environmentally friendly technologies applied in ecovillages; and socio-cultural aspects of ecovillage establishment and governance. In the 2nd session 5 different stories-cases from ecovillages included in these manuals were presented: Achim Ecker, a chief landscape designer at ZEGG ecovillage, has introduced the concept of soil restoration and the technique of building a Terra Preta soil; Antonina Kulyasova from Centre for Independent Social Research (Rusia) has presented a philosophical concept of Kin’s domain and experience of Kovcheg ecovillage in Russia; Mia Saloranta, a representative of GEN-Finland, has presented the eco-concept of Kangasala Communal Village in Finland; prof. Zina Gineitienė from Melkys ecovillage has shared the expierence of Starfish-type networking in her ecovillage; and lastly, Katrien Van der Berge from Suderbyn Permaculture Ecovillage (Sweden) has introduced the cooperative ownership model applied in her ecovillage. Another member of Suderbyn Permaculture Ecovillage (Ecovillages project partner), Kalle Randau, has put a light on other project results – a virtual platform for ecovillages and consultants to showcase their products and services as part of the effort to transition society towards resilience as well as a handbook on green business and entrepreneurship, potentially accompanying every enterprising ecovillager on their path towards successfully creating their own personal green livelihood.  Lastly, the session was closed by researchers Michael Kull and Jarkko Pyysiäinen from MTT Agrifood Research Finland (Ecovillages project partner), who have presented the general outlines and preliminary themes of the policy recommendations that project has elaborated to be addressed to various decision-makers in order to facilitate the development of ecovillages as a sustainable way of living in the BSR. At the 2nd session Maxi Nachtigall, an Adviser Project Officer of Council of the Baltic Sea States, Baltic 21 Unit (Sweden) has also introduced Ecovillages project as a CBSS-Baltic 21 Lighthouse project and presented the status of the revised EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region Action Plan.

The 3rd (and the last) conference session, moderated by Laysan Mirzagitova, was designed to share the experiences of ecovillagers directly. The session was opened by Ulrike Schimmel, a member of Sieben Linden Ecovillage (Germany) and executive secretary of the Global Ecovillage Network-Europe, reviewing variety of ecovillages as sustainable settlements models. Nicole Grospierre-Słomińska, belonging to the Local Alternative Society near Lublin (Poland), has outlined the impact of LAS on a neighbourhood as well as relation between LAS and Polish traditional villages. Artūrs Polis, co-founder of Ikskile transition town (Latvia) and involved in the ecovillage movement for 11 years, has shared the experience of Transition model in Ikskile and gave reflections on what does work and what does not when applying Transition model in Baltic Sea States. Jemiollka Wiktorczyk has spoken on the history of three biggest Polish societies from the perspective of art and nature. Finally, the conference was closed by the inspiring speech of Robert Hall, a resident and initiator of Suderbyn Permaculture Ecovillage in Sweden, an adviser to GEN-Europe and chairman of Baltic Ecovillage Network. Robert has put a light on a great contribution towards sustainable Europe that was not envisioned at the launching stage of the project – the formation of Baltic Ecovillage Network (BEN), which is a transnational umbrella of national ecovillages networks in the BSR. Robert has presented the goals and potentialities of the BEN, offering a vehicle to continue the work started by the project towards the societal recognition of the values that ecovillages pursue and transition to sustainable living.

In order to spread the Ecovillages project results and ideas on sustainable living models, the whole conference was recorded. Please click here to see and listen to the presentations given at the final Ecovillages project conference.

Gallery of the conference

The Ecovillages project has contributed to the implementation of the Baltic Sea Region strategy and had a status of the lighthouse project of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. The aim of the project was to collect experiences and good practices from ecovillages around the Baltic Sea and foster the development of ecovillages as a more sustainable way of living in the region. Project was seeking to present sustainable solutions, innovations and lifestyle models tailored in ecovillages to the broader society at the same time encouraging ecovillages to spread these ideas and providing instrument for that. 

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