You'll live on the planet with a smaller ecological footprint. Clearly sharing resources not only saves money but reduces environmental impact. If we cluster housing, we're using less land for buildings and have more land to grow food (or leave as wilderness). If we use common-wall housing units with shared foundations and roofs we're saving building materials such as wood and reducing the impacts on air, water, and soil of manufacturing concrete, sheetrock, plywood, paint, rebar, and metal lath and fasterners. If we share common utility systems, and as many communities do, build passive solar buildings, and/or use gravity fed spring water or roof-water catchment,, we're saving on energy use and conserving water. If, as many communities do, we recycle graywater or compost or otherwise use our kitchen, human, or packaging waste, we're reducing the need for sewege services and reducing landfill space. If, as some communities do, we grow our own food, particularly with compost we make ourselves, we reduce the use of fossil fuel-created commercial fertilizer, petroleum-based plastic, and paper for packaging, and the impacts on air, water, and soil of transporting food long distances and storing, refrigerating it at distribution points and retail stores. And if, as some communities do, we organize a carpool or community vehicle co-op, and/or use biodiesel fuel, qe are obviously benefiting the environment.
Most Intentional Communities and certainly Eco-villages do many of these practices. Chances are that if you lived in a community, you'd be impacting the Earth more beneficially, or at least, less harmfully. Several European Eco-Villages have found ways to measure their ecological impact. Cohousing Communities- small, close-knit urban and suburban neighborhoods owned and managed by the residents themselves-often use "green" building materials, recycle, and use super-energy-efficient heating, power, and water systems as well. In the late 1990s Australian architect Graham Meltzer surveyed 278 households in 12 Cohousing Communities in Canada, the US, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. He found reduced car use, more efficient land use, and more sustainable energy use. Specifically:
- 72% of the cohousers surveyed reported reduced driving as well as increased biking and walking, most likely because they coordinated casual errands with neighbours, and they had more social and recreational opportunities at home-and many stayed home to work in home offices. On average, driving was reduced 9%.
- Cohousing Communities use less land and building materials than mainstream housing developments, while they vary widely in population density. because housing is often common-wall and clustered, cohousing communities are usually more compact in their use of land. Suburban cohousing communities in the US and Australia are more than twice as dense as conventional suburban developments, and the units themselves are about half the size of typical new-built houses in the US.
- A consistent 5-6% improvement in energy conservation practices was found in all Cohousing Communities surveyed, with a 9% average improvement in water conservation habits. While most Cohousing founders have strong environmental practices to start with, the strongest ecological impact is from people who learn to modify their practices after living in Cohousing for awhile. It seems that the longer residents live in Cohousing, the more likely they'll improve their pro-environmental practices.