December 2022

Balancing Different Definitions of Sustainability

Don Lindemann, writing in 1997 about his experience living in Berkeley Cohousing, noted: “I feel that practically everything we do individually and collectively in our community is modeling a way of life that is more satisfying and sustainable than the resource-consuming lifestyles and practices in which most (North) Americans remain enmeshed.”

“Sustainability” is a term that frequently comes up in discussions of cohousing. CCN’s website has a fulsome discussion of how cohousing can promote social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Cohousing achieves this goal in both big and small ways. In big ways, we help create diverse, intergenerational communities that provide opportunities for connections and support. In smaller ways, access to shared spaces in cohousing communities reduces individual home size needs which can do things like decrease material possessions. It also allows for the exchange of knowledge, skills, and expertise.

The Canadian Cohousing Network board has been working on initiatives to make cohousing more sustainable. For example, as mentioned above, we have been working with other organizations and researching how to make cohousing more affordable, resilient, and sustainable.

But what are some of the ways that individual cohousing communities approach questions of sustainability?

Common Meals are a significant feature of many cohousing communities. Discussions of sustainability around common meals can bring up different, and seemingly incompatible, definitions of sustainability. For some, “sustainability” suggests considering our environmental impact: things like buying organic, trying to find locally sourced foods, and eating less meat and dairy. For others, “sustainability” is linked with issues of finances and labor: how can communities make sure that their common meals remain affordable? How can they continue to provide regular community meals without the workload becoming unmaintainable?

These different conceptions of sustainability can be hard to balance in a community! What kinds of things are your communities doing to make your common meals more sustainable?


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