This paper identifies and explores factors affecting sustainability and their interrelationships within the context of ecovillages. Through critical analysis of the theoretical concepts of sustainability and ecovillages as intentional communities, as well their practical exploration through a multiple case study, a contextualised reconceptualization of sustainability is developed. The conceptual framework proposed in this paper depicts sustainability as a dynamic, context-dependent concept consisting of a variety of interdependent factors.
The ecovillages looked at are held together by shared principles, which act as unifying themes. They translate the community characteristics (lifestyle, commitment, understanding) into community activities. These activities can be organised into different dimensions (environmental friendliness, economic alternatives, social network, organisation), all including the element of self-sufficiency to a greater or lesser extent. Sustainability has different levels (personal, community, global); ecovillages are connected to society and network with other communities, creating a link between the internal and external factors. Regular review processes address the dynamics of the factors; this self-reflexivity helps to keep the communities dynamic, and through the interrelationships of the factors can lead to enhanced sustainability.
With a holistic approach to a reconceptualisation in a practical context, the conceptual model proposed in this paper facilitates a deeper understanding of the concept. Drawing on findings from a multiple case study conducted in Scotland and Germany, through in-depth interviews with inhabitants of ecovillages involved in the organisation of their communities, it offers a guideline for understanding sustainability in ecovillages and can serve as inspiration to rethink conceptualisations of sustainability to date.