Sustainability at Twin Oaks: The Wave of the Present

by Valerie Renwick-Porter

As one of the communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, Twin Oaks has a commitment to “acting to conserve natural resources for present and future generations, while striving continually to improve ecological awareness and practice”. Although this part of our mission statement was crafted before the word became popular, today this might be called “sustainability”.


Like most communities, Twin Oaks is a mix of radical/progressive ideas and practices, and leftover-from-the-mainstream, habitual, perhaps-less-healthy ideas and practices. We value each move we make towards becoming a more sustainable community, and the process is ever-evolving. Our “Go Greener” group meets regularly to work on developing more ecological approaches to various aspects of life at Twin Oaks. One of our longest term members (28 years) has been an ardent supporter and builder of alternative energy systems in the community, including some of the systems featured here.


Our practice of income-sharing includes cooperative ownership of various resources including a fleet of 18 vehicles for use by our 85 adult members. No one has a private car. When a member needs a vehicle, they head straight for our vehicle board and sign-out logbook. Each night one member looks at the requests for the following day, and assigns each person one of our vehicles for use during the time they have requested. We encourage carpooling with financial rewards. We have our own community mechanic, who keeps the cars in good shape so they emit a minimum of pollution.


Each building we build is more ecologically sound than the previous one. Our newest residence has nine bedrooms, two living rooms and a bathroom completely off-the-grid. (the author, in the photo, helps to install the photovoltaic panels on the roof). The “eco-residence”, as we call it, also incorporates various passive solar features including skylights, sun tubes, and south—facing orientation with solar clearing. Other features include recycled cellulose super-insulation, retractable window insulation and compact fluorescent lighting. Over half of our buildings have solar hot water panels to pre-heat hot water for domestic and commercial use. (including our tofu business which uses hot water in the tofu-making process)

Responsible use of our water supply is important to us. We have installed low flow toilets throughout the community, as well as several specially-designed toilets, which first divert the fresh water flowing in to a hand-washing station on the back of the toilet. We also have a composting toilet, designed according to permaculture principles.

We choose to heat most of our buildings with wood heat. Firewood is from two sources: scrap wood produced from our sawmill business, and trees harvested from our own 450 acres, including trees with storm damage, dead trees, and culled select trees as part of a healthy forest management program.


A young tree is planted in the yard of the eco-residence. In addition to providing fruit for the residents, the tree was ritually planted in a ceremony welcoming a new child to the community. Such community gatherings help create a feeling of interpersonal community sustainability.


This year, Twin Oaks is offering a Sustainability Internship, as part of our efforts model a society based on ecological, cultural, social, and economic sustainability.


Sustainability Interns will help create a fleet of vehicles without motors (human-powered transportation of goods and people); will work on creating a garden meant to provide a self-sufficient level of produce year-round; will modify, repair and create passive and active solar-powered electrical, heating, and water heating systems; will be encouraged to experiment with alternative and primitivist building techniques; and will participate in creating rituals which foster connection among community members.