Robert Gillman first defined an ecovillage as being a settlement which is:
- human-scale i.e. operating at a scale in which all the people involved can know and be known by others in the community- typically up to 500 people;
- a full-featured settlement- in which all the functions of normal living (a place to live, make things, enjoy leisure and social connection, the provision of food and commerce) are present in balance and proportion. The ecovillage is not seeking to be entirely self sufficient. It will offer employment to many residents, but many will also work in other towns. There is good connection both with other ecovillages and with the surrounding area;
- a place human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world. One defining feature of ecovillages is a profound care for the earth. Humans are seems as taking their place with other forms of life. They do not seek to dominate nature but to find a place within it;
- supportive of healthy human development- seeking balance and integration of physical, emotional and spiritual needs both for the individuals and for the community as a whole;
- able to be continued into the indefinite future- making conscious decisions to support the community as sustainably as possible in the context of the local bioregion including the use of renewable forms of energy, careful water and waste management systems, energy efficient buildings, producing much of it's own organic food, often using consensus decision making processes and respecting diversity. Many are designed and maintained using permaculture principles eg Crystal Waters in Queensland Australia, and Institute of Permaculture and Ecovillage of the Cerrado in Brazil.