ITHACA, N.Y. — EcoVillage at Ithaca is a “living, learning laboratory” when it comes to living sustainably. The green community has served as a practical example of the triumphs and challenges of sustainable life, to the benefit of students in the region, as well as people all over the globe.

About 240 people of all ages live in one of EcoVillage at Ithaca’s three communities, located on Rachel Carson Way in Ithaca. EcoVillage at Ithaca, which was founded more than 20 years ago, focuses on green, energy-efficient buildings, dense housing, strong social communities and local food production, among other sustainable initiatives.

Recently the educational arm of the community, Learn@EcoVillage, and Cornell University received a Town-Gown Award for several partnerships. One partnership that was highlighted is working with faculty in the department of communication to help students learn how to communicate environmental issues.

Liz Walker, who co-founded Ithaca’s EcoVillage more than 20 years ago, said she loves working with students because they come with a fresh outlook, and also get inspired to apply what they learn from the sustainable community elsewhere.

“It’s absolutely critical at this stage in our history as human beings to pay attention to what we are doing to the Earth and its atmosphere, and I think we as a species need to change our ways and learn how to take care of the Earth and so one of the things we’re aiming to do with EcoVillage at Ithaca is experiment with how we can live with a lower carbon footprint, and yet have very high quality of life,” Walker said.

With a grant from Engaged Cornell, a communications intern will work with EcoVillage in the summer to upgrade their website, social media, create brochures and other things, Walker said.

Lauren Chambliss, who is on the advisory board for Learn@EcoVillage, senior lecturer at Cornell and communications director for the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, said often students learn about topics like sustainability, energy systems and social equity, but do not get to see them in action.

“Often students don’t get a chance to see how they actually work on the ground and learn the pitfalls and the advantages, what’s doable and what are the trade-offs between cost and energy efficiency, things like that,” Chambliss said. “And EcoVillage is the perfect kind of living, learning laboratory for people of all ages, but particularly students to see an effort to quote: ‘live lightly on the Earth.’”

In back, interim president Hunter R. Rawlings III, then from left: Lauren Chambliss, David Kay from Learn@EcoVillage, Liz Walker, director of Learn@EcoVillage and Cornell Vice Provost Judy Appleton. Cornell University/Provided Photo
In back, interim president Hunter R. Rawlings III, then from left: Lauren Chambliss, David Kay from Learn@EcoVillage, Liz Walker, director of Learn@EcoVillage and
Cornell Vice Provost Judy Appleton. Cornell University/Provided Photo

Learn@EcoVillageIthaca is the non-profit education arm of EcoVillage at Ithaca, and is a project of the Center for Transformative Action. Tours, programs and educational initiatives are run though Learn@EcoVillage, which serves anyone from beginning farmers to college students to green building professionals.

The partnership between EcoVillage at Ithaca and Cornell University has been mutually beneficial. Tour groups frequently come through the community, with a varying areas of focus like human ecology, energy or planning and infrastructure.

“It’s just wonderful to work with young people who are excited about how they can help to impact the world to be a better place, and it’s very refreshing,” Walker said.

EcoVillage at Ithaca is considered one of the most successful in the world, Chambliss said. Though the community hasn’t been without struggles, it has been held up as a model of how it works, she said. In the past two years, EcoVillage at Ithaca has been featured in National Geographic, PBS Online and Bloomberg Businessweek, as well as some international publications.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for students, both here at Cornell, but also for regional architects and builders to see how it actually works and the decisions you have to make and the trade offs and what’s possible,” Chambliss said.

EcoVillage at Ithaca provides a look at what is possible on a small enough scale where they can experiment and be agile, Walker said. The community also benefits from having a research university and curious students.

“It’s really helpful to have a practical, real-life example, real-world example, on the ground of people living their lives, and on the other hand it’s really powerful to have that be measured and reflected in research so that’s where I think we mutually benefit each other,” Walker said.

This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting partnerships between the community and Cornell University that were recognized at the annual Town-Gown Awards on Nov. 19. Read the previous story about the partnership between the Cancer Resource Center and Translator Interpreter Program at Cornell here.

Featured photo provided by Karim Rizkallah.

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.