While the Omega Institute is in the limelight in “Designing Living Systems” for its green building standard, I wanted to post some information about earthships as started by New Mexican architect Michael Reynolds.
In terms of energy & material conservation, they beat Omega and every other LEEDS-certified building hands down (and are worth checking out before the Omega visit):
The deal in a nutshell:
An Earthship is defined by the following six principles (http://earthship.com/begin-here):
* Thermal/Solar Heating & Cooling
* Solar & Wind Electricity
* Contained Sewage Treatment
* Building with Natural & Recycled Materials
* Water Harvesting
* Food Production
* So, the home is off-the-grid
(meaning the design of the home provides for all electricity and water with NO infrastructure attaching it to the grid, like pipes, electricity lines etc; this is all localized). This is absolutely remarkable in green design but has been met with extreme hostility in many local governments where building codes STILL require thousands and thousands of dollars to be spent on complying/being part of the grid. Luckily, Reynolds, who started building earthships some 40 years ago, already fought the man (losing his architects’ license at one point) in New Mexico in order to make this incredibly earth-friendly model a legal one…the documentary “Garbage Warrior” follows Reynolds’ work and is educational, inspiring, and pretty entertaining.
* The entire structure (in many cases) is made of RECYCLED MATERIALS.
We’re talking rubber tires and plastic bottles. Because of this, teams have been able to go into disaster zones, such as Haiti and Indonesia after the tsunami, and recruit/educate locals in the construction of earthship homes made from materials found on premise. In terms of big systems thinking, I find this last level–the community education, empowerment and action–to be a step that organizations like Omega are aspiring to, but we’re not actually building the structure with them. When you look at the teams of companies (not individuals) that it takes to build these structures, it’s pretty startling–there are A TON of people involved. When you compare that to the single crew that builds the earthship you start to see where some of the money goes. And no offense to architects, I’m just saying that as a model, this one is in a realm that cuts across all economic classes and is accessible enough to invite the community into its construction.
* [and finally] the name earthship (which i personally find way too “hippy-dippy”) doesn’t actually characterize the beautiful, often adobe, homes we’re talking about. I mean, I’ve driven by some weird, super ugly, rubber-tire studded homes dug out of hillsides out west, and often associated them with “earthships,” but it’s worth checking out some images (especially of the gorgeous interiors full of plants, gardens and other innovative living systems) to get an idea of the artisan work evident in each. A good place to start: http://earthship.com/media/image-gallery.html