The costs of living in the material world

Researchers at the Essex Sustainability Institute, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit have recently published a paper exploring the externalities associated with high levels of material consumption. In the UK, poor diets, physical inactivity, loneliness and other artefacts of modern lifestyles cost an estimated £180 billion each year. The researchers conclude that there is a clear need to redefine what we think of as prosperity.

The paper is available open-access online here.

Just published – Ecocultures: Blueprints for Sustainable Communities

Blueprints for Sustainable Communities

We’re excited to announce the publication of our first edited volume, collecting case studies and analysis on established and emerging Ecocultures from around the world.

The volume details how communities are taking action to maintain or build resilient and sustainable lifestyles. Chapters include case studies from Australia, Brazil, Finland, Greenland, India, Indonesia, South Africa, the UK and the USA.

To read the first chapter, please click here.

Please click here to purchase the book.

Please also join us on social media. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts contain regular updates on the case studies in the book and on Ecocultures worldwide.

Socioecological Resilience at Céu do Patriarca Ecovilage – South Brazil

Landscape around Céu do Patriarca Ecovilage, South Brazil. Photo: Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger

Socioecological Resilience at Céu do Patriarca Ecovilage – South Brazil

Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger, Gustavo C.M. Martins, Alexandre Paulo Teixeira Moreira, Cristian Curti and Cristiana Simão Seixas 

The full text is available for download using the link below / right.

Abstract: This manuscript analyses the social-ecological resilience of Céu do Patriarca ecovillage (Florianópolis city, Santa Catarina state, Brazil). Initially, we describe the motivation and main events guiding the intentional self-organization process of the community in the past 23 years. We then provide a descriptive analysis of the main attributes – technological, knowledge and skills, social structures and relations, behavioural, psychological and belief systems, adaptive policies and management – related to its capacity to manage social and ecological disturbance in the present, past and future. We have also analysed the response measures demonstrated by the ecovillage to 8 of the main local socio-ecological disturbances. The analysis enabled the identification of 33 characteristics within the ecovillage that are indicative of its resilience. We also illustrate the presence of adaptive co-management features, and argue they have shown a high level of transformability across their 23-year trajectory. Before all the advancements and experiences accumulated by the Céu do Patriarca ecovillage, we conclude that it does not only offer an outstanding and insightful case study to think about the various facets of social-ecological systems resilience. Above all, it may well serve as a reference to other communities and people in search of concrete social-ecological systems trajectories that have shown significant progress in pursuing sustainable development.

About the authors: Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger is a Phd student in Environment and Society at the Centre for Environmental Studies (Nepam), University of Campinas (Unicamp) in Brazil. Gustavo Martins has a Bsc. in Environmental Engineering and is an associate of the Ecovillage for the past 6 years, where he is working with several aspects of permaculture.

Download Gerhardinger-et-al-2012-42.pdf

A psychological approach to understanding resilient communities: The contributions of individuals and of the community

Legate and Weinstein, 2011. Figure 2.

A psychological approach to understanding resilient communities: The contributions of individuals and of the community

Nicole Legate and Netta Weinstein

The full text is available for download using the link below / right.

Abstract: Throughout this volume, we are introduced to communities from around the globe adapting to drastic social, economic and ecological changes in an effort to preserve their way of live in the face of powerful stressors. This paper provides a psychological perspective of the resilience demonstrated by these communities, drawing on the major themes of coping and positive adaptation that run through the case studies in this volume. We discuss how social-ecological resilience can emerge as a function of the individuals within it and how fostering the psychological needs of community members can promote resilience. Using this framework, we then illustrate two types of interventions aimed at promoting social-ecological resilience. Finally, we put forward questions that we see as most important for further investigation.

About the authors: Nicole Legate is a graduate student at the University of Rochester. Netta Weinstein is a lecturer at the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex.

Download Legate-and-Weinstein-2012-3.pdf

Economic Analysis of Resilience: A Framework for Local Policy Response Based on New Case Studies


Figure 1; Regibeau and Rockett, 2011

Economic Analysis of Resilience: A Framework for Local Policy Response Based on New Case Studies

Pierre Régibeau and Katharine Rockett 

The full text is available for download using the link below / right.

Abstract: A recent set of case studies on resilience of ecocultures forms the basis for our review of and comment on the resilience literature.  We note the diversity of definitions of resilience and the confusion this creates in implementing resilience studies and develop a synthesis view that establishes a framework for defining resilience in an implementable way.  This framework emphasises the importance of defining the source of and magnitude of shocks as part of the definition.  Next, we outline measurement issues, including a variety of performance measures that can be used to gauge resilience.  We argue that self-determination and local ownership of resources is supported in the cases, and review the effectiveness of the informal insurance arrangements observed in the cases. We close with the variables suggested by the case studies to include in a resilience index and lessons for regional governments developing resilience policy.

About the authors: Pierre Régibeau is Visiting Professor at the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Group at Imperial College, London, and Academic Associate at Charles River Associates. Katharine Rockett is senior lecturer at the Department of Economics and was Dean (Social Sciences) between 2010 and 2011.

Download Régibeau-and-Rockett-2012-2.pdf

Resilience Through Relocalisation: Ecocultures of Transition?

Energy Saving Show, Richmondshire Eco Week, Yorkshire. Photo: Transition Richmond Yorkshire.

Resilience Through Relocalisation: Ecocultures of Transition? Transition to a post-carbon, post-consumer society: new, traditional and alternative ways of living in the ‘adjacent possible’.

Stephen Quilley 

The full text is available for download using the link below / right.

Abstract: The paper provides an overview of the Transition movement, exploring the relationship between the positive bottom-up approach to capacity building and the ontology of civilizational collapse.  As a vision of the good life, Transition is seen as an attempt by typically liberal, cosmopolitan and connected individuals to parachute into smaller, face-to-face, place-bound communities with greater capacity for resilience in uncertain times. The psychological structures and belief systems characteristic of complex ‘gesellschaftlich’ societies are contrasted with those implied by the project of relocalisation. The ‘peverse resilience’ of existing food provisioning and manufacturing systems is explored as an obstacle to the emergence of more resilient systems at lower spatial scales.  Using the evocative phrase the ‘great reskilling’, Transition successfully articulates the kind of technologies, knowledge and skills which will have value for a post-fossil fuel, more localised economy – a world made by hand. The Transition skills agenda also taps into a wider current of disaffection with meaningless consumerism and a resurgence of interest in both traditional crafts and the ‘maker’ approach to technology exemplified by the culture of ‘hacking.’   However, this counterculture not withstanding, the ‘prefigurative’ Transition skill-set  is miniscule relative to the overall scale of the economy  and the prospective needs of relocalized economies. There are real challenges to re-creating it from scratch, particularly in advance of any structural collapse, in the absence of local demand and in competition with the conventional economy. The paper goes on to discuss the social, political and cultural obstacles to the project of  resilience through relocalization, the problem of scale in constructing Transition communities and the tension between mobilising effective we-identities without abandoning liberal and cosmopolitan emphasis on diversity and tolerance. Finally it is suggested that given the degree of systemic interdependence, the vision of local, community-level resilience must be married with a broader strategy for transforming global production systems.

Stephen Quilley

About the author: Although Senior Lecturer in Environmental Politics at Keele University [] Stephen Quilley is technically a sociologist, having worked previously at University College Dublin (1999-2005) and the ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition in Manchester (1997-1999). With academic research interests ranging from the historical sociology of Norbert Elias to the long term dynamics of human ecology, Stephen is also working on policy-related projects relating to sustainability, urban regeneration, food systems, resilience and social-ecological innovation. Working closely with colleagues in Canada, Quilley has Associate Faculty status with Social Innovation Generation (SiG) at the University of Waterloo and is an Affiliate Researcher at the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation. A sponsor ofOpen Source Ecology [], he is also interested in education as a vehicle to create a society of proactive makers, menders, bodgers and builders – a vision he is trying to integrate into a new model of university education (

Download Quilley-2012-1.pdf

Alternative Agri-Food Networks in the Colchester area

Biodiverse meadows used to graze cattle for local markets near Maldon, Essex

Alternative Agri-Food Networks in the Colchester area and their contribution to  resilient communities

Ambra Sedlmayr [ambracsedl [at] gmail [dot] com] 

Background: Local and sustainable food sourcing initiatives in the Colchester area were surveyed to gain an understanding of the main opportunities and challenges to the development of alternative food sourcing strategies to build local resilience. A diversity of initiatives were identified and key informants were interviewed for each type of initiative. It was found that Alternative Agri-Food Network (AAFN) organisers perceive that lack of time and financial resources are the main factors limiting the promotion of AAFNs. They also believe that insufficient consumer awareness is a constraint to the spreading and deepening of AAFNs. Nevertheless, the recent development of a number of initiatives and the growing interest in local and sustainable food is promising for the future development of alternative food sourcing in the area, which is essential for developing more sustainable and resilient communities.

Ambra Sedlmayr

About the author: 

Ambra studied Biology at the University of Coimbra (Portugal). From there she moved on to conduct her postgraduate studies at the University of Essex (UK). At Essex she first completed the Masters degree in Environment, Science and Society, followed by a doctorate in Environmental Studies, focussing on the subject of agricultural marginalisation in Portugal.

Ambra’s research interests focus on the political, economic, social and psychological frontiers of conflict and tension, emerging between different ways of conceptualizing and realizing development. Her main research interest is on the maintenance and development of sustainable forms of agriculture and sustainable agricultural livelihoods in the context of  long standing and continuing pressures that drive agricultural industrialisation. Her research is intrinsically transdisciplinary and solution-orientated. Ambra is currently working for an international charity in the promotion of sustainable agriculture. She is still connected with the Centre of Functional Ecology at the University of Coimbra and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex.

Further publications: 

  • Sedlmayr, A. (2011). Agricultural marginalisation in Portugal: Threats and opportunities for sustainable livelihoods. Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, Colchester. PhD Thesis.
  • Sedlmayr, A. (2009). How does agricultural marginalisation come about? Presentation of a research paper at the Essex & Writtle “Sustainability and the Environment” Conference, Colchester.
  • Sedlmayr. A. (2008). The flooding of the foodshed. How cheap imports undermine local food systems in rural Portugal. Proceedings of the VII Iberic Conference of Rural Studies, Coimbra.
  • Sedlmayr, A. (2005). Factors affecting the Ecological and Economic viability of organic farming in central Portugal. Implications for the development of sustainable agriculture. Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex, Colchester. Master’s Dissertation.

Upsetting the Offset: The Political Economy of Carbon Markets

Upsetting the Offset. 2010. Edited by Steffen Böhm and Siddhartha Dabhi. Mayfly Books.

Upsetting the Offset engages critically with the political economy of carbon markets. It presents a range of case studies and critiques from around the world, showing how the scam of carbon markets affects the lives of communities. But the book doesn’t stop there. It also presents a number of alternatives to carbon markets which enable communities to live in real low-carbon futures.

Endorsement for Upsetting the Offset: 

  • “If you wondered whether capitalism could ever produce the perfect weapon of its own destruction, try this heady mix of carbon fuels, the trade in financial derivatives, and more than a dash of neo-colonialism, and boom! But this book is far from resigned to that fate. After examining the case against carbon trading… the book turns to alternatives, to hope, to sanity, and to the future.’ Professor Stefano Harney, Queen Mary, University of London 
  • “Anyone concerned about the future of the planet (is anyone not?) should read this book. The contributors give powerful evidence and argument to show that the carbon trading regimes favoured by the world’s elites will not work – and are, indeed, set to make things worse. But the message is not negative. There are alternatives, both effective and desirable.” Professor Ted Benton, University of Essex 
See more on the book on the publishers’ website.

Wastewater-fed aquaculture in the East Kolkata Wetlands, India: anachronism or archetype for resilient ecocultures?

Abstract: Wastewater-fed aquaculture is generally in decline. The 12,500 ha East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) Ramsar site in peri-urban Kolkata, India, is the only large-scale formal system still operating and appears to demonstrate a high degree of resilience. This paper identifies aspects of wastewater-fed aquaculture in the EKW that contribute to its sustained operation. The Driving Forces, Pressures, State, Impact, Response (DPSIR) framework was used to structure the assessment. Resilience within the EKW can be attributed to the scale of operation, adaptive production strategies that optimise resource utilisation while minimising risks, self-organisation among stakeholders and timely legislation and institutional interventions to preserve the natural character of the wetlands. The introduction of externalising technologies, erosion of social capital and loss of traditional ecological knowledge threaten to undermine this resilience. Outcomes from this analysis should inform future management of the EKW to ensure that resilience is retained and enhanced.

Citation: Bunting S., Pretty J. and Edwards P. 2010. Wastewater-fed aquaculture in the East Kolkata Wetlands, India: anachronism or archetype for resilient ecocultures? Reviews in Aquaculture 2(3): 138-153.

View text here.

Interdisciplinary progress in approaches to address social-ecological and ecocultural systems

Abstract: The emergent human cultures have shaped, and in turn been shaped by, local ecosystems. Yet humanity’s intense modification of the environment has resulted in dramatic worldwide declines in natural and cultural capital. Social-ecological systems are becoming more vulnerable through the disruption of livelihoods, governance, institutions, resources and cultural traditions. This paper reviews the environmental sub-disciplines that have emerged to seek solutions for conservation and maintenance of the resilience of social-ecological systems. It shows that a central component is engagement with the knowledges of people within their contexts. Local knowledges of nature (traditional, indigenous, local ecological knowledge and ecoliteracy) are used by place-based cultures to guide actions towards nature. The importance of new engagements between different knowledges is now becoming more widely recognized by scientific institutions. Yet there still exist many false dualisms (for example local knowledge versus science) which tend to emphasize a superiority of one over the other. Ecocultures retain or strive to regain their connections with the environment, and thus improve their own resilience. Revitalization projects offer ways to connect knowledge with action to produce optimal outcomes for both nature and culture, suggesting that systems can be redesigned by emphasis on incorporation of local and traditional knowledge systems.

Citation:  Jules Pretty (2011). Interdisciplinary progress in approaches to address social-ecological and ecocultural systems. Environmental Conservation, 38: 127-139.

View text here.