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ASSESSING ENIVRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE DESGIN IN ECOLOGICAL INTENTIONAL
COMMUNITIES: EXAMPLES FROM TEXAS
Christina W. Lopez
Department of Geography
Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
This thesis builds a new model for assessing ecological intentional communities’ (EICs)
environmentally responsible design, with a geographical perspective, by amalgamating
concepts from the Built Environment Sustainability Tool and the Living Environments in
Natural, Social, and Economic Systems frameworks. Goals of the research were to 1) identify
ecological intentional communities in the state of Texas, 2) determine if a relationship exists
between their location in the physical environment and proximity to the built environment
with their abilities to implement environmental-enhancing practices, and 3) to assess these
capabilities and categorize the communities on a spectrum of environmentally responsible
design. The overall objective was to determine if ecological intentional communities
provided a framework for future development on a larger scale to generate a more
sustainable society. The study found 11 functioning communities in Texas, identified
advantages and disadvantages to location and proximity, but no clear relationship between
the factors. Ecological intentional communities were categorized as either regenerative,
sustainable, or green on the spectrum of environmentally responsible design. This model,
and study, serves as a foundation for assessing communities’ capabilities of design through a
In constructing a new model for assessing EICs, five categories with their subcategories were
created to gage their placement on the spectrum of environmentally responsible design
(pictured below). A survey with both closed and open response questions was used to
obtain the data. As applied in the LENSES framework, open responses allowed for the study
to account for unknown practices.
The BEST framework tallies points based on capabilities for sustainability. Here, a binary
system of a 1 or 0 was applied to award “points” to those communities who had a higher
level of capabilities through their design. Through this process, the EICs were then placed
into a category on the spectrum of environmentally responsible design: Restorative,
Sustainable, and Green.
11 EICs were found in Texas (see below). The green dots represent established communities
– or those that have been functioning at a physical location. Blue dots are forming
communities; this means they have land and are in the process of fully applying their
Of these, 7 were rural, 2 urban, and 2 suburban. Because of their accumulation of points
were close, they are placed into 3 broad categories: restorative (integrated with nature),
sustainable (no harm, neutral), and green (attempts of progress).
This category includes EICs: 7 (rural), 8 (urban), 5 (rural), and 4 (rural). EIC 7 is located in
Cedar Park. They practice aquaponics, garden through Permaculture designs, and use
livestock (chickens and goats) for dairy products and pest control. While a conventional
single family home serves as the community center, most of the members live in additional
structures, similar to the tiny house pictured below.
EIC 8 is an urban community in Houston. They produce some food organically, and use
rainwater or greywater for garden irrigation. EIC 8 is 1 of 2 communities able to use
bicycles and public transportation as methods of transit. Solar power is used for water
heaters and their electricity is produced from solar and wind energy (as an option through
their electricity provider, not produced by the community).
EIC 5 is situated in rural Dale, they use wicking beds (raised beds that draw up water only
when needed) along with other types of Permaculture designs for food production. Their
livestock (chickens, turkeys, goats, and a cow) are fed organically, free range, and are used
for eggs and dairy only. In addition, rainwater is collected and greywater is used. They also
have composting toilets to reduce water usage.
EIC 4, located in rural Sanger, is part of a 76-acre tract of the Texas Land Conservatory. As
part of their conservation efforts, they only have native, free-range wildlife and do not
house livestock for their own use. The community produces their own solar, wind, and
biomass energy on site. EIC 4 is the only community whose major source of energy is solar
power produced on site. Their homes were designed sustainably, using Ferro-cement Earth-
bermed domes that are partially buried in the ground, and have Junipers to serve as
windbreaks from cold northern winter winds. Further, greywater and composting toilets
are implemented for reduced water consumption.
Green design can be considered as implementing environmentally responsible practices
that attempt to progress somewhat past conventional living standards in the United States.
These practices comprise: organic food production, soil care, recycling of waste, repair of
items, purchasing new instead of used, and composting food waste or feeding it to
animals. The communities in this category are EIC 2 (rural) and EIC 9 (urban). Two
photographs below show housing types at EIC 2. And the main house for EIC 9.
The author endeavored to conclude whether these types of communities could be used as
a framework for future development on a larger, more mainstream scale. However, it can
be concluded that currently the structures of Texas’ cities’ laws and enforcement tactics
are not conducive to a productive, self-sufficient community within its bounds. In addition,
rural settings offer difficulties with access to income, additional food, education,
entertainment, and miscellaneous resources. Producing enough renewable energy on site
to serve an entire community’s needs off-the-grid has not yet been achieved by any EIC
studied. Therefore, this study was not able to confidently support the conclusion that EICs
can be used as a framework for future environmentally responsible design on a larger
scale. Lastly, this “pilot study” provides an approach future scholars can apply for assessing
environmentally responsible design.
Category Communities Scores
Restorative 6, 3, 1 33, 30, 29
Sustainable 7, 8, 5, 4 24, 23, 22, 21
Green 2, 9 20, 16
EIC 6 is located in suburban Arlington. They ranked highest
because of their inventive housing styles (pictured left), there
ability to produce no landfill trash, and reduction of energy
The first picture on the left is a partially buried vehicle. There is
an entrance in the rear and serves as a living space for a
community member. Beneath, a cob cottage with salvaged
wood houses another community member. The final picture is
a rocket stove - a wood-burning stove made from cob – and is
used, along with a wood-burning grill, to cook all the food for
the community. Images obtained with permission from
EIC 3, in rural Campbell, uses rainwater harvesting for
agricultural irrigation and have built structures from
compressed earth blocks (similar to adobe). Energy is
generated on site through solar and wind; this is the only EIC
that uses both renewable energies.
Furthermore, they are also the only EIC to barter as a means of
waste reduction and avoidance.
EIC 1 is located in Bedias, and they used papercrete (re-pulped
paper with clay or concrete) for construction of structures,
earthen floors, and mulch pits for cooling
and heating their homes.
Thank you to Dr. Colleen C. Hiner for aiding me through this process as my advisor for this
thesis. Additional thanks to Dr. Weaver and Dr. Huebner for serving as committee
members. Your time and energy are much appreciated.