Ecolieux: living well with a low carbon footprint?


Throughout France, citizens are coming together to live, work together and invent new places to live that would be adapted to the challenges of ecological transition. They create what are called schoolchildren who are characterized by the choice of a collective life, more restrained in means, more united and open to the outside world. According to a census carried out by the Oasis Cooperative and Habitat Participatif France, 1 schoolchildren and participatory housing accommodate about 20 people in France.

These inhabitants experiment with a low-carbon daily life, thus constituting resources of examples or illustrations of less impactful lifestyles. These places are sometimes called “oasis”, a term that allows us to generically group together all forms of collective school children: eco-hamlets, participatory habitats, ecological third places, collective farms, etc.

A study on more than 300 places of the Oasis network shows that the vast majority are found in rural areas, often in heritage sites in need of renovation, too large to accommodate only one family (farm, large farmhouse, castle or manor). With the exception of a few special cases, they accommodate between 3 and 12 households, each of which has a private space and shares gardens and common areas (laundry room, children's room, multipurpose room, guest rooms, etc.).

The inhabitants of these oases generally develop some economic activities on the spot to make a professional transition, either collectively (ecotourism, training, artists' residences) or in a more personal way (market gardening, crafts, groceries).

As part of his work on the place of sobriety in our lifestyles, the Ecological Transition Agency has entered into a partnership with the Oasis Cooperative, which runs the network of collective schoolchildren, in order to make feedback on schoolchildren and to constitute a observatory dedicated.

Research departments and players in the world of research have therefore evaluated certain dimensions of life within these schoolchildren using indicators such as the Indicator of relational capacity applied to schoolchildren (RCI-é), the local integration or the carbon footprint.

The ambition is to measure the conditions under which these places of life can constitute a link to build a more sober and united society. Let's take a look here at the carbon footprint of these places – measured by questioning 600 people from 48 different “Oasis” – the results of which were revealed last November.

Oasis are blooming all over France.
Oasis Cooperative, CC BY-NC-SA

5,4 tons of CO₂ equivalent emitted

The study is based on the carbon footprint average of a French person, about 10 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions (CO2eq) per year. In detail, these greenhouse gas emissions are linked for 1,8 tonnes to food, for 2,8 to transport, for 1,9 to the consumption of goods and services, for 2,4 to housing and 1,1 to utilities. These national figures – which are regularly recalculated – are commonly used as a reference for comparison with the individual emissions reports.


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Analysis of people's carbon footprint living in schools was carried out by looking at all the emissions generated by the practices and consumption habits of the inhabitants over a year.

Thus, the inhabitant of an eco-place has a carbon footprint almost twice as low, namely 5,4 tonnes CO2eq per year! Food thus represents only 1,2 tonnes CO2eq, transport more than 2. The most spectacular improvements concern the consumption of goods and services, which emit less than 500 kgCO2eq, and housing, the impact of which drops to around 600 kgCO2eq. .

Only the assessment related to public services which in the methodology is calculated by distributing the impact of public services among all French people does not change.

The practices in detail

Depending on the type of schoolchildren – thematic community, young people, participatory housing, ecohamlets, etc. – there are few differences in the distribution of the carbon footprint.

On housing, the difference can be explained both by more sober practices in terms of (ecological) construction and building maintenance (a lot of renovation), and by the almost non-existent consumption of gas and fuel oil in schoolchildren. , where energy is based on almost exclusive use of wood and electricity.

On the food side, where the difference is also notable, it is the emissions linked to the consumption of meat which appear much lower: 297kgCO2eq per year for the inhabitants of an Oasis against 873 in the national average, i.e. approximately three times less than the French average. Consumption of dairy products in schoolchildren is equivalent to 2/3 of French consumption.

As for the consumption of goods and services, the inhabitants of school children emit almost 4 times less greenhouse gas than the average for the general population. This result is explained by a retreat from the consumer society, a more systematic use of reuse and pooling of goods, leisure choices that generate 7 times less emissions than those of the general population , purchases of clothing 2,5 times less and furniture and household appliances more than 5 times less.

The inhabitant of an eco-place has a carbon footprint almost twice as low, namely 5,4 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent per year.
Oasis Cooperative, CC BY-NC-SA

Mobility and digital, points of vigilance

However, there are points for improvement. Residents living in schools make more long-distance journeys than the average French person. They thus have a carbon footprint related to the use of the plane higher than in the national average 598kgCO2eq against 430. Same observation for the train (93 against 20). This imprint is probably explained by the travel habits that these people, often highly educated, had before living in the oasis and for which they have not made any major changes.

For short journeys, on the other hand, the inhabitants of schoolchildren have more recourse to bicycles, and use carpooling more readily than the rest of the French. Thus, the carbon footprint of the mobility of inhabitants of schoolchildren is 25% lower than the French average, although in total they travel more kilometers than the average French person.

Another point likely to be improved, the emissions related to the use of digital: the inhabitants of the Oases still emit 107kgCO2eq, a balance which remains high, although lower than the national average (of 180).

Beyond the carbon footprint, the quality of life and integration into the territory are also assessed.

Very positive feedback on quality of life

The quality of life within schoolchildren is measured in particular through the quality of the relationships that exist there. This aspect is documented using ROI, an indicator of living well based on the capabilities approach which assesses 5 dimensions – the relationship to oneself, the relationships inside the place, the relationships outside the place, the relationship to society and the relationship to the 'environment. Respondents are questioned on twenty criteria.

The inhabitants of the schoolchildren testify thus, according to a study conducted in 10 Oasis and with 120 people, a stronger sense of alignment than before school life, authentic connections with those around them, a desire to contribute to larger-scale societal changes, and a need to reconnect with the alive. They also point out that living in a group makes it possible to go further in a process of sobriety.

85% of respondents feel they can trust most people in general, compared to 30% for the French population.
Oasis Cooperative, CC BY-NC-SA

A few striking indicators illustrate this relational quality: 85% of them feel that they can trust most people in general, compared to 30% for the French population as a whole. 95% find meaning in their work, compared to only 50% of Britons. Finally, 76% of them have the feeling of “taking the time to do what they really want”, which is only the case for 67% of the French population.

The main difficulty at first is undoubtedly that of the relationship with the outside, since the choice of this way of life can lead to misunderstandings with relatives or difficulties of integration within the territory of establishment.

Integration into the territory, more delicate

In connection with this last aspect, another crucial dimension for testing the proper functioning of school children is to ensure that they are properly integrated into the territory where they are located – relations with the population and local authorities. A study conducted in 2021 by students from Sciences Po Lyon in 8 schoolchildren from 7 different departments thus highlights that if the local authorities are generally benevolent, it is essential that the project be built upstream of the installation with them, and that the inhabitants of the schoolchildren show a desire to integration into local social organizations.

Indeed, relations are sometimes tense between the inhabitants of the schoolchildren and those of the host municipalities: despite a desire to open up to the outside, the life of the schoolchildren is sometimes, especially at the beginning, too centered on itself and on the material and organizational questions specific to the collective, creating a de facto gap with the life of the municipality.

Added to this are the prejudices that may exist between these new arrivals, who generally have no ties with the place where they settle and are perceived as urban dwellers "freshly converted to a certain ecology", and a world rural, judged by the former as too conservative. The size of the project would also play a role, so a small project would be more likely to be accepted than a large one.

The example of the Oasis network is interesting because it gives us a glimpse, on a small scale, of what a more sober daily life can look like, since the carbon footprint of the inhabitants of these school children is, apart from public services, twice lower than that of an average Frenchman. It also illustrates that beyond this assessment, this way of life also offers other benefits such as the quality of the ties that are formed there, well-being, inclusion and solidarity.

Pierre Galio, head of the responsible consumption department at Ademe, and Mathieu Labonne, president of the Oasis Cooperative, contributed to the writing of this article.

Marianne Bloquel, Circular Economy and Waste Department, Consumption and Prevention Department, Ademe (Ecological Transition Agency)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.


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