Hosting an Environmental Gathering?
-Doing it right by applying permaculture principles!
Observe and Interact:
Have you also attended a number of conferences, courses, meeting and other events where the topic is connected with environment, sustainability ecovillages, permaculture etc? And have you left the event with a feeling that somehow your presence was more part of depleting the natural resources than restoring them, at least during the days of the event?
During the past few years I've been such a participant as well as being a course manager and I'm starting to wonder if I really should attend another event! I do believe it should be possible, however let's make it as harmless as possible for our Mother Earth.
Inspired by David Holmgrens new list of principles I've composed the following little Czech list for the next event I'll attend or arrange. It's likely not perfect, however I hope it will serve to inspire some of you readers and perhaps together we can make it perfect!
Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback:
This ingredient is likely the ingredient with the highest embodied energy. Humans are rather big and difficult to transport and quite often in a rush. We often choose to fly however only a few of us really make up for the pollution caused by flying due to our the impact of our personality [Vandana Shiva, Bill Mollison etc]. The bulk of us really ought to remain grounded.
First of all you ought to judge if it's really not too distant an event considering your mission. Couldn't it be done better regionally, involving only a few neighboring countries?
Perhaps you ought to trust your national delegate more and let her be the only person to participate. Perhaps you are such a delegate and could go by train instead? We all know it's a fine time to relax, perhaps prepare for the event and get focused to tackle the problems and find solutions. And are you sure you did enough before hand? Perhaps much more should have been settled by e-mail or phone, allowing for the time at the event to be more effective and personal? Prepare well and avoid flying and driving. (â€¦and leave your dog at home; it'll much prefer it!)
-OK, since you have to go; did you consider bringing something with you? You'll be surprised how well your wealthy society's left-over's will be received in a less prosperous country, or vice-versa how your local handicraft is appreciated in the rich country, how cheap the organic olives in Portugal is compared to buying them imported in Denmark etc.
Obtain a Yield:
Topic of Event
Is it concise and relevant? Is it yet another annual meeting dealing with statutes and 'bureacrazy'? Couldn't it have been done through an active e-list? Can't you send a proxy for your nominee? Try to focus international meetings around a few specific questions/topics where it's possible to reach an agreement; at least how to delegate the issues to regional meetings.
This chapter is especially relevant for participants. How smart is it to learn/ teach permaculture in the tropics when you live in a temperate climate? Is it really necessary for you to travel from Africa to Europe to learn about natural building? Perhaps you're better off studying it more locally. None the least, before exposing yourself to the event; did you do all what you could in advance? -Or is it really just a cheap vacation for you?
Use and value Diversity:
Really to big of an issue to get into here, however it had to be on the list! Eco-People in general dislike to be facilitated. They simply don't want to conform or stop chattering! The current solution we use in PermaLot is to take turns being 'the bad guy'; the Facilitator. This means that we all experience the difficult role of facilitating and we see which approach works best in the particular group. Even so then it's highly advisable to select the most experienced facilitators among your group prior to the event, as this concern is often where most time (and thereby the embodied energy of the people present) is lost.
Catch and store Energy:
Choosing the location and time
My worst experience was to have to teach a seminar about sustainable lifestyle in a posh conference center. It was December and the interior temperature was about 25 degree with every window standing open. Why were we there? Because the seminar was well-funded by the council of Europe on the precondition that it took place in their center! Have you had similar experiences? Like having an environmental related annual meeting in a toxic mobile home or a building site?
When choosing a place try to judge the effect of the money invested. Even though the hotel in the mountains comes for a good price then it may be too remote, making it a logistical nightmare. Or perhaps the tee-pee camp isn't quite comfortable enough for some of the participants?
Personally I would at any time recommend to try to place the event in an Ecovillage. Several of the large Ecovillages have capacity and experience in catering for large groups. Some of them even grow the organic food offered, and you are fairly sure that the money invested goes into an 'eco-spiral' empowering the community and it's members instead of the multinational hotel chain and it's staff, who may just be waiting to spend the money on the next Coca-Cola and MacDonald burger. (I used to work for these hotels!)
In regards to planning the date of the event, then try to consider your target group. Do they typically have to deal with children and harvest? Do they have a busy programme themselves at the time of your event? Is it really necessary to place your event right in the busiest season? Will it cause added travel expenditure?
..and none the least; will the hosting place be able to focus on the participants of the event if they also have other events going simultaneously? Or perhaps it's positive? Imagine if the GEN-Europe annual meeting was held together with an international permaculture convergence?).
Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services:
Even though some hotel chains offer 'eco-rooms' it may not be so in reality. Perhaps it's a much bigger experience for the participants to be privately hosted? It has the potential to make friends for life, (an experience I've never had with the receptionist of the hotel!). Perhaps camping is O.K, or perhaps you have to consider the formal caste systems of your visitors from India? In PermaLot we have some people loving our tee-pee's and composting toilets, while others (few!) have left early due to these facilities.
What ever you do it's important to communicate the conditions to the visitors before hand, -preferable with picture documentation.
When dealing with a commercial accommodation place then try to go into details before the event: Does the room really need to be cleaned every day and the lined changed every 3rd day? Do you really need the welcome to 'xxx city' package that routinely is given to each participant? Can you turn off the toilet fan, which normally lasts for 30 minutes after each toilet visit??? [The most common complaint at one eco-youth event I managed!].
Design from Patterns to Details:
This seems to be the area most often ignored as the food and accommodation issues is quite often delegated away by the organizers. This is in spite of the fact that food usually is one of the highlights of the event.
How can we talk about permaculture and Ecovillages while we eat food purchased in Tesco and prepared by the nearby commercial catering company? When we do stress it to the hotel management are you then making sure that the soy-meat is GMO free? And do we really need those individual packages of butter/sugar/salt/ pepper etc. Does the take away lunch pack have to be packed in 35 individual bags and foil?
In reality then there is usually large savings to be made on buying organic food in bulk. The local organic farmer will be happy to let you know which produce is seasonally available at the time or perhaps you could have planned ahead and grown and preserved a large part of the food yourself?
In planning for an event then try to make a detailed menu, which contains a majority of nationally (locally) organic ingredients. Perhaps you're able to arrange that participants from far away direct import some of the items? Quite often the only real democratic influence you have in our society is where you're placing your money so be very aware of where the food items are purchased. Another big issue is the question of 'Vegetarian?'.
Most people with a minimum of environmental knowledge will admit to the environmental problems caused by the production of meat. Perhaps you should try to design the menu so the meat is the option rather than the norm? This doesn't mean to omit the meat from the classical menu; it'll only be too evident what's missing! Try instead to compose some delightful vegetarian dishes that will prove that the meat is more of a treat than a need. In doing so I highly recommend the book: "Have your Permaculture and Eat it too!" [Wanted: a similar book from a temperate climate!]. This book also demonstrates how it can be educational to compose your own food, for instance by designing landscapes with vegetables on your pizza!
â€¦So you don't have the capacity to cook? Did you consider that for the three-day meeting it's only 5 main meals (breakfast usually being an easy one). Perhaps there are five different friends who could handle making one meal each? Did you ask your local Ecovillage initiative if they want the job? Contacting the local Hare Krishna group usually leads to a great meal, and even though you may not be a fan of the spiritual focus, then the money are likely going to a better cause than the local restaurant owners purchase of a new Mercedes?
Creatively Use and Respond to Change:
Ok, I think I've made my point now. I'm aware that all of these points are expressed quite 'eco-chauvinistic', however please just view it as an expressions of my accumulated frustrations of participating in flawed events, and thus being part of the problem not the solution.
There are many more points to be added, and in case any of you would like to contribute then please e-mail comments and suggestions to me. I'll add it to the points and have the full list available from our website: www.permalot.org
In case you'd like to learn more about the art of facilitating or permaculture cooking, baking and low impact gathering, then please join us in PermaLot at any of our many courses [see www.permalot.org]
(PS: Don't even consider flying here!!)
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