Monday, April 13, 2009

Eco-Community Land Trusts holding title as Corporations Sole: Organizing the Global Ecovillage Movement into a Network of Semi-Autonomous Zones

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Abstract: The Global Ecovillage Movement offers a newly suggestive cartographic representation of the contemporary global order. Eco-community Land Trusts ("Ecolts"), especially ones titled as corporations sole, can be a particular affront to state sovereign hosts, as they largely are, in and of themselves, discrete economic and lego-political entities that enjoy their own de facto internal sovereignty of extraterritoriality. My research proposes interfacing with ecovillages and international law policymakers for purposes of developing optimal legal structures and drafting these into a uniform international protocol designed to allay state fears and nurture global acceptance of Ecolts as dynamic models for sustainable society.

Research Proposal
Research topic and main research question:
Developing Legal Structures for the Global Ecovillage Movement: Can a Uniform International Protocol Advance the Viability of Eco-Communities and further Stabilize their Legitimacy and Success via a kind of Decentralized Unity?

Description of proposed research:
The Earth Charter is a global initiative that began in the 1990s. The final version, issued by the Earth Charter Commission in 2000, is composed of sixteen principles steeped in environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace. It is a kind of “Declaration of Interdependence” or global Bill of Rights. The Earth Charter was drafted in coordination with a legally binding, hard law treaty designed to provide a legal framework for all environmental development law and policy. This hard law treaty is called the International Covenant on Environment and Development.[1] It is being prepared by the Commission on Environmental Law at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN brings together 82 states, 111 government agencies, more than 800 non-governmental organizations, some 10,000 scientists, and experts from 181 countries into a unique worldwide partnership.[2] With the Earth Charter embedded in an international treaty, arguably there is already a framework in place for furthering initiatives on behalf of the Global Ecovillage Movement.[3]

Since the 1960s there have been efforts to establish communes or intentional communities. These were first attempts to propose alternatives to an affluent, industrialized society characterized by mindless consumption and domination by powerful corporate forces causing social fragmentation and destruction of the environment. Especially after E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful[4] was published in 1973, there has been a growing recognition of what is referred to as a “limits to growth analysis,” which concludes that a sustainable society must be defined in terms that extend well beyond taking social control of markets; it must focus on notions of simplicity, co-operation, and self-sufficiency, and a long period of negative economic growth culminating in a steady-state economy. By definition this requires autonomous, skilled, conscientious, responsible, and active citizens banding together to cultivate their local ecological, food-growing, fabrication, commercial, social and cultural systems.[5] This is in contrast to external, centralized government at any level imposing its authoritarian relations via top-down control of any kind.

Eco-communities are examples of sustainable society in which members take responsibility, research, plan, organize, manage, evaluate, and govern well, while promoting the following:

- Much simpler, non-affluent living standards
- Small, highly self-sufficient local economies, mostly using local resources to produce and meet local needs with little trade between regions, let alone between nations
- Highly participatory and co-operative systems
- Alternative technologies that minimize resource and environmental impacts
- A totally different economy, one that is not driven by profit or market forces, in which there is no growth, and in which much of the economic activity does not involve money[6]

Today there are many thousands of intentional communities worldwide that comprise the Global Ecovillage Movement.[7] This sustainable alternative path is sometimes referred to as “The Simpler Way.”[8] Such a Way means actually building impressive instances of settlements and economies exhibiting the sorts of lifestyles and values that the limits to growth analysis shows must be the essential elements in a sustainable and just world order; a veritable remaking of local geographies with many ecologically aware, small scale, co-operative, largely self-sufficient economies leading the way. Ecovillages are not part of a larger hierarchy, but rather part of a horizontal pattern of culturally creative customs, extended kinship, contract and alliance, and spiritual affinities fostering a more abundant life.[9] In ecovillages power is in the hands of the people via a radically participatory, inclusive democracy. Ecovillage strategy is about building the required new socio-economic systems right now in a “prefiguring of the new within the old,” before the old society has been swept away. Such settlements worldwide allow a massive socio-political movement with a new consciousness to come into being.

An Eco-community Land Trust ("Ecolt") is a form of common land ownership with a charter based on principles of self-sufficiency and sustainable, ecologically-sound stewardship and use.[10] In my research I wish to explore the titling of the land in the name of a corporation sole, which in turn is held out as an Ecolt administered by a democratically-governed village council which manages the trust via a Land Stewardship Trust Agreement.[11] The trust removes land from the speculative market and facilitates uses such as off-the-grid, inheritable eco-housing and organic garden plots, common village spaces, and open space preservation. Through a renewable long-term lease, individual leaseholders own only those improvements on the land created by their labor and investment (or that of their forebears), and do not own the land itself. Resale agreements pertain only to improvements. This ensures that the land value of a site is not included in future sales, but rather is held in perpetuity by the Ecolt in the name of the corporation sole. The income and property tax exclusions afforded to the eco-community via the Ecolt/corporation sole entities effectively constitute these settlements as semi-autonomous zones within their own sovereign states. Ecolts do not seek to elude formal structures of the state, but rather to attenuate the states’ hierarchical and centralized impositions, such as involuntary taxes and manipulation via systems of, e.g., financial exchange, education, food and energy production.

The use of the corporation sole is somewhat unique as ecovillages are not religious organizations per se. Rather, they share a deeply spiritual sense of sacredness in their relationship to the land, and endeavor to educate their fellow, planetary citizens in sustainable practices of land stewardship,[12] e.g., permaculture[13], doing nonprofit-type, charitable work.[14] The sole corporate overseer is the ecovillage founder with a named successor designate. This is a mostly ceremonial role akin to that of a tribal chief or senior elder.

Successful ecovillages include the Findhorn Community, Scotland; The Farm, Tennessee; Lebensgarten, Germany; Crystal Waters, Australia; Ecovillage Kovcheg, Russia; Gyurufu, Hungary; The Ladakh Project, India; and the Danish Association of Sustainable Communities. Some collaboration between ecovillages already exists. A more uniform, internationally validated protocol concerning ecovillage legal structures would likely strengthen horizontal integration, intensify a sense of decentralized unity founded upon common purpose, and foster stewardship of the planet as a garden rich in democratic simplicity, justice, peace, and contentment.

Literature references:
Atuahene, B. (2005-2006). Land titling: A mode of privatization with the potential to deepen democracy. St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 50, p.761.

Bates, S. & Van Ryn, T., eds. (2006). The Land Trust Standards and Practices Guidebook, 2d ed. Land Trust Alliance: Wash., DC.

Christian, D.L. (2003). Creating a life together: Practical tools to grow ecovillages and intentional communities. New Society Publishers: Gabriola Island, BC, Canada.

Communal Studies Association. (2009). Communal Studies: Dedicated to the Understanding and Study of Intentional, Contemporary, Historic and "Utopian" Communities. Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from

Gerstenblith, P. (1995). Associational Structures of Religious Organizations. Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 1995, p.439.

Megre, V. (2008). Ringing Cedars Series (9 Volumes). Ringing Cedars Press: Paia, HI; See,

Ohara, J.B. (Fall, 1988). The modern corporation sole. Dickinson Law Review, Vol 93, p.23.

Papworth, J. (2006). Village democracy. Societas Imprint Academic: Charlottesville, VA.

Quigley, W.P. (2006). Revolutionary Lawyering: Addressing the root causes of poverty and wealth. Washington University Journal of Law, Vol. 20, p. 101.

Sharshkin, L. (2008). Family gardens: Russia's primary agriculture, Ringing Cedars Press: Paia, HI.

Approach and global time plan over 4 years:
My approach is simple: Listen to and learn from all knowledgeable individuals and their communities. Familiarity with all voices in the Global Ecovillage Movement in collaboration with their legal advisors is, of course, essential. Outreach would also extend to traditional indigenous groups whose non-hierarchical, non-sedentary, semi-nomadic lifeways and originary custom are the bedrock model for sustainable society and culture. Also essential is a thorough and exhaustive grounding in the work to date on sustainable communities in the comparative and international law arenas. This would entail research and analysis of all of the relevant documents available and interfacing with people in governmental and non-governmental organizations who are involved in environmental development law and human rights policy. My aim is to create a syncretic database that is gleaned from interaction with officials, educators, activists, and ordinary folks who are either directly engaged or tangentially influential in ecovillage phenomena and sustainability efforts. I propose immersing myself by actually living in a local ecovillage during the proposed four-year tenure. This would allow my critical intuition to engage a life-long heuristic tendency that inclines toward a phenomenological apprehension of my research area. Through problem-based learning, cohorts of students can collaboratively engage sub-areas of the research to help facilitate their own learning and the research as a whole. My experimental research would by necessity involve travel to and stays of short duration in a variety of ecovillages and intentional communities. I propose using participatory action-research (PAR) as my methodology.

Scientific setting within research school:
By its nature, the Global Ecovillage Movement encompasses eco-friendly scientific aspects that are common to the health, safety and welfare of any and all small human settlements. An obvious sampling of these include shelter, food-growing, energy production, education, fabrication and commercial enterprises. The social sciences of sociology and anthropology also come into play regarding an ecovillage’s social, cultural, and spiritual practices, and their impacts on the surrounding cultural ecology. The subject matter for my research proposal has elements common to various areas of research: human rights, comparative law, ius commune and community law, and cross-border environmental law.

Scientific and social relevance:
If ecovillages are to lead the way toward sustainable society they will require the structural support of a viable legal and jurisprudential underpinning. The community of nations is poised to explicitly posit an unalienable human right to associate and to establish societies into structures of their choice that demonstrably model the Earth Charter principles of environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace. Doing no harm to and communing with the natural world, while building self-sufficient, more associated individuals within cohesive and just societies is not just good science; arguably it is a social imperative.

[1] Commission on Environmental Law of IUCN – The World Conservation Union in cooperation with the International Council of Environmental Law. (2004). Draft International Law Covenant on Environment and Development, 3rd Ed.. Environmental Policy and Law Paper, No. 31, Rev. 2. Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from

[2] Earth Charter Initiative. (n.d.). Earth Charter Initiative. The Earth Charter International Secretariat. Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from

[3] Mare, E.C. (2000). A concise history of the global ecovillage movement. Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from

[4] Schumacher, E.F. (1973) Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered. Blond & Briggs: London.

[5] Trainer, T. (July 2000). Where are we, where do we want to be, how do we get there? Democracy & Nature, Vol. 6, No. 2.

[6] Ibid., p.272.

[7] Intentional Communities: A Project of the FIC (Fellowship for Intentional Community). (2009) Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from; Global Ecovillage Network. (n.d.). Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from; Peters, V. & Stengel, M., eds. (2005) Eurotopia: Directory of intentional communities and ecovilllages in Europe. Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from

[8] Turner, T.(F.E.) (n.d.). The simpler way: Working for transition from consumer society to a simpler, more cooperative, just and ecologically sustainable society. Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from

[9] Dawson, J. (2006). Ecovillages: New frontiers for sustainability. Schumacher Briefing No. 12 (Schumacher Briefings). Chelsea Green Publishing Co.: White River Junction, VT.

[10] Note: “Eco-community Land Trust (“Ecolt”) is my own neologism. For a definition of “Community Land Trust,” see, The E.F. Schumacher Society: Community Land Trusts. (n.d.). Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from; Swann, R. (1972). The community land trust: A guide to a new model for land tenure in America. The Center for Community Economic Development: Cambridge, MA.

[11] Banighen, J.T. (1990) Intentional Communities & Land Stewardship Trusts. Trumpeter. Vol. 7, No. 1. Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from

[12] Jackson, H. (2002). Ecovillage living: Restoring the Earth and her people. Chelsea Green Publishing Co.: White River Junction, VT.

[13] Bang, J.M. (2005). Ecovillages: A practical guide to sustainable communities. New Society Publishers: Gabriola Island, BC, Canada.

[14] Gaia Trust.(n.d.). Retrieved on April 11, 2009, from