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The Gap Year Blog

Could the Ideals of a Small Icelandic Eco-Village be Implemented in Cities?

15 Feb 2019 13:10 PM

Photo Credit: Flickr. 

Edited with Permission by Frontier

Solheimar, the world’s first fully sustainable village was established in 1930 by driven young Sesselja Sigmundsdottir. Located in South-West Iceland, Solheimar has a distinctive advantage to other eco-villages around the world. This can be largely accredited to the hot spring on site in Solheimar. Hot springs, known as geysirs in Iceland, are a natural phenomenon that occur due to the high volcanic activity just beneath Iceland’s surface. Magma heats ground water and causes steam to become trapped in air pockets. Once enough pressure is built, the boiling ground water is shot high into the air. The advantage here is that geothermal energy can be harvested from this natural process. This is what is done by the citizens of Solheimar, and therefore they are able to create heat and energy from a sustainable source.  

Before Sessejla founded Solheimar, she attended her studies in Germany and Switzerland, where she became introduced to the modern beliefs of Austrian Philosopher Rudolf Steiner. He founded the philosophy of Anthroposophy, a modern spiritual belief that emphasizes the importance of each individual’s freedom. Sessejla shared this opinion and coupled with her Christian beliefs to help those in need, she became inspired to found Solheimar. Her dream was to create a place where individualism, sustainable living, and caring for those with disabilities was valued above all else.

When Solheimar was founded there were no buildings. Sessejla and her family lived in tents until the first child with learning disabilities arrived in 1932. Since then the village has developed quite a bit. Although still small with a population of 100 people, the village today is thriving and peppered with several sustainable local businesses, workshops, and work places. The largest franchise present in Solheimar is Sunna, Iceland’s biggest fresh fruit and vegetable distributor. Their other stores include a bakery, a café, and a small grocery store; all organic and hand harvested in Solheimar of course. Due to the constant cold, wet weather in Iceland, the village has a greenhouse where all the fresh produce is grown and a chicken pen where eggs can be laid. Because they are capable of harvesting their own energy and can produce all they need on their own in the village, they are creating no carbon footprint, attributing to their 100% sustainability. 

Photo Credit: Visit South Iceland.

To accommodate volunteers and tourists they also have a guesthouse, a forestry centre, and arboretum, an art gallery, and several workshops. Here you would find yourself getting back to the basics making candles, soap, weaving carpets, and carving wood. These stores and workshops produce everything the villagers need and provide enough to support tourists and volunteers who come to visit. If you looking to visit this incredible village be warned however, that the guesthouse can only house a small number of outsiders so you must book well in advance. There are several sustainability projects run in Solheimar that are available to visitors and volunteers. These include helping the citizens collect their year’s harvests, harnessing geothermal energy from the hot springs, recycling, and producing organic horticulture in their greenhouses. 

Solheimar represents a model simplistic life where citizens have the rare opportunity to live in symbiosis with nature; not participating in activities that inflict negative externalities upon the environment. In the mind of an environmentalist this can be considered the idealistic lifestyle. It would be impossible to replicate this lifestyle globally however, as we begin to face issues such as over population and urbanization. 

There are ways however, that large cities can implement elements of this ‘simple life’. The fundamental ways Solheimar achieves its emissions free goals can be used in large cities to reduce emissions and thus its environmental footprint. The first and arguably the most influential would be to switch reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources for energy production. Aside from producing far fewer greenhouse gases, renewable energy sources are also much more abundant and cannot be depleted, providing large cities with a sustainable source of energy for generations to come. Furthermore, renewable energy sources are becoming less expensive as they become more widely used and fossil fuel prices are increasing as they become scarcer, creating another incentive for cities to switch their reliance. There would be concern amongst those working in the fossil fuels industry, that their jobs would become obsolete, however a switch to renewables would produce several job opportunities to counter this. Solar panels, water and wind turbines all need maintenance thus creating numerous jobs. Additionally, as the use of renewables becomes more widespread pre-existing companies and new ones will require more employees as well. 

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Reducing or ceasing the importation and exportation of goods internationally would also make a recognizable difference. In Solheimar they grow and harvest their food on site. A switch to locally imported food would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases generated in its transportation as it would travel on road for shorter distances rather than by flight or other means. Large cities are the primary producers of greenhouse gas emissions meaning they have the potential to make a significant difference. The implementation of these two strategies would insight major changes and could hopefully initiate movement into a sustainable future.

By Rose Rojkjaer - Digital Marketing Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!