How to live a low-impact, eco-friendly life

The Crystal Waters eco-village in Queensland has received an award from the UN for demonstrating low-impact and sustainable ways of living. We speak with long-time resident and permaculture expert Morag Gamble to find out about living in an eco-village, and the simple things we can do to reduce our environmental footprint.

The Queensland town of Woodford, an hour north of Brisbane, is famous for its long-running folk festival.

And while music is definitely good for the soul, venture a further 30 minutes north and you’ll find a village that’s good for the soul and the earth.

The Crystal Waters eco-village, established over 30 years ago, is home to around 250 people of all ages and backgrounds, who all share a common purpose – to live a life that is sustainable and has little impact on the world.

Inside an eco-village

The village has a number of businesses and food-producing gardens. Only 14 per cent of the land is owned privately (83 one-acre lots, on which homes have been built from sustainable materials), and the rest is designated common land.

Home to many native flora and fauna, including kangaroos, wallabies, birds and reptiles, Crystal Waters doesn’t allow cats or dogs into the village to preserve the natural wildlife.

There are no pipes in or out of the village, so residents need to collect their own water and deal with wastewater. What they pour down the drains goes into the land that grows their food.

Morag Gamble and her partner Evan have lived at Crystal Waters for more than 20 years. Today, they educate people from across the country and around the world on the practice of permaculture – developing sustainable community food systems, school gardens and kitchen gardens – through the Permaculture Education Institute. They also share permaculture lifestyle tips through their YouTube channel and blog, Our Permaculture Life.

From an early age

Morag’s desire to live a sustainable, low-impact life was established very early on.

“My Dad was really ethical and fair, and he introduced me to permaculture and the idea of good housing and settlement design. There was always a really clear sense of caring for nature and health,” she says.

“Living simply makes sense to us. We don’t need much. As a young couple, it meant freedom and autonomy; we could live with our ethics, be part of a movement for positive change and discover our own authentic life.”

Fast forward 25 years, and Morag and Evan are living debt-free in an ecovillage, and have travelled to more than 22 countries educating people on permaculture.

“Our kids have grown up with permaculture in an ecovillage and have helped us to teach permaculture to other children, in our garden and abroad – in Indonesia, Korea and recently in Africa.

“They have just simply absorbed what it means to live a sustainable life, how to grow food, what different plants are good for, how to live a waste-free life – they didn’t need to learn it.

“They have incredibly curious minds that are fed by this connection to nature and holistic design thinking. They are healthy, and know how to cook from the garden and care for the animals.”

Minimising impact

For Morag and Evan, permaculture education provides their main income, along with permaculture design consulting.

“Our income is much less than the typical household income, but we are independent. Our money goes so much further because we grow a lot of food, consume less, share resources, have no water bill and small power consumption.

“Our power is mostly for home office computers, our small fridge, washing machine and energy-efficient lighting. We’ve designed the house to maximise daylighting and cross-ventilation.”

woman on computer

They have solar power – just a small system – which generates enough for their modest power needs. Morag and Evan use less than half the energy of an average two-person household for their five-person family (and often extra guests).

Being connected to the electricity grid lets them put their surplus power into the power network at  sunny times and draw back when it’s cloudy.

“I think our best savings [come from] designing and orienting our house well for natural light and ventilation, drying clothes with the sun, shading the western side of our house with good landscape design, and our outdoor lifestyle,” she says.

“We were very careful, too, to choose energy-efficient appliances. We only needed a small fridge because we eat a lot of fresh vegies straight from the garden and eggs from our chickens.”

The community worked together to bulk buy solar power systems, making them more affordable, and set out to be energy positive – being a neighbourhood that generates and exports more than it consumes.

Be part of the solution

For Morag, being proactive and taking action is always something that’s come naturally.

“I live by the motto, ‘If you aren’t looking for a solution, then you’re part of the problem’,” she says.

Fortunately, says Morag, there are a number of small things we can do to be part of the solution.

  1. Grow as much as you are able to. Leafy greens and herbs are a good place to start.
  2. Reduce food waste – buy only what you’ll eat, use leftovers, and compost the rest.
  3. Get active – ride or walk instead of driving.
  4. Buy more efficient appliances that use less energy and water when possible.
  5. Dress for the season and use air conditioning as a last resort.
  6. Consume less, repair more, share more – clothes, tools, equipment, backyards, chickens!
  7. If designing or renovating, incorporate good ventilation and natural light.

The biggest step is the first one.

Considering solar?

Not ready to take the plunge and live in an eco-village? It could be time to consider solar.

Learn more