Living Our Values, Living Our Hope: Building sustainability within Seattle Urban Intentional Communities

Rivera, Rebeca F. Living Our Values, Living Our Hope Building Sustainable Lifestyles in Seattle Intentional Communities. Diss. U of Washington, 2012.

Sustainable consumption and the sustainable use of resources is a growing concern as negative environmental impacts such as carbon emissions, overuse of natural resources, and degradation of non-renewable resource stocks continue to rise. Disproportionate consumption by Northern countries and particularly the United States is the cause of both negative environmental impacts and environmental justice problems. Therefore changing consumption practices of the North is seen as a necessary solution. Unfortunately, most strategies to reduce consumption in the North have failed. Questions remain about what sustainable consumption looks like and how it might be implemented. This dissertation examines the sustainable consumption practices of urban communities, in Seattle, Washington, USA Through ethnographic case studies and the quantitative analysis of consumption in two intentional communities, this research examines factors that led those communities to consume more sustainably. Intentional communities are groups of people, including unrelated adults, who share their lives (and in this case housing) according to a shared set of values and goals. The communities in this study lived in single-family housing and shared the values and goals of environmental sustainability and social justice. Quantitative methods included weighing garbage, surveying consumption, and analyzing utility bills. Most notably the communities were able to reduce their consumption by 70-75% of US averages through choices made in waste reduction, water consumption, and miles driven. Ethnographic research methods included semi-structured and unstructured interviews, and participant observation such as attending community meetings and events and participating in the labor structure of the communities. This dissertation demonstrates that intentional communities, as common property institutions, are effectively generating social structures that facilitate sustainable lifestyles through four major strategies: 1) adopting an alternative habitus and building more sustainable cultural capital; 2) creating new institutions, most significantly common property institutions; 3) working together to provide systems of provisioning through collective economics; and 4) founding individual, collective, and institutional practices on a very specific set of beliefs and values, or worldview, that emphasizes egalitarianism, social justice, and the environment. In conclusion, this analysis suggests that a biocentric paradigm alone is insufficient to produce sustainable practices.

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