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Articles by Elizabeth Sawin

Elizabeth Sawin is a mother, biologist, and systems analyst. A member of Cobb Hill Cohousing, she lives on an organic farm in Hartland, Vt. She works at the Sustainability Institute, a think-do tank founded by Donella Meadows.

Featured Article

Some years ago, I was part of a group that set out to create a community where we could work toward living with less impact on the environment. One of the first steps we took was to write down a list of principles to guide us as we worked to turn our vision into reality. At the top of the list were “community” and “sustainability.” (The others, if you’re curious, were “unity,” “beauty,” and “equity.”)

The village people: Cobb Hill community members.

Photo: Cobb Hill Cohousing.

As I was one of the chief drafters of these principles, I took them very seriously. When newcomers wanted to know what we were up to, I would explain our principles one by one. Community, I used to say, has to do with how we treat each other. Sustainability has to do with how we treat the Earth.

Now, seven years later, we have moved beyond words on a page to a real place that we call Cobb Hill. Here, 22 families share a farm, common meals, childcare, music, a wood-burning heating system, cheese-making, syrup-making, haymaking, and, now and then, quiet cups of tea. Now that... Read more

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  • What we don’t know about the toxic chemicals in our bodies

    Scientists call the accumulation of chemical contaminants (such as PCBs, mercury, and pesticides) within a person’s body the “body burden.” Body burden is just a number, a concentration in parts per billion or micrograms per liter. But the term calls forth an image, too, of a body bent over and struggling beneath a heavy load. […]

  • On staying sane in a mad world

    A Czech friend of mine sent me an email during the recent NATO summit in Prague as American fighter jets stood by and riot police filled the streets. “Sometimes,” she wrote, “I feel as though the world has gone mad.” Her words spoke my own thoughts so clearly it was as though I were reading […]

  • It’s time to end the race to the bottom

    Here’s a simple game that makes a not-so-simple point. Stand in a line, with several friends. Each of you hold your right index finger out in front of your body. Now place a long stick across all of your fingers, balanced upon them. Your collective goal is to lower the stick to the ground. There […]

  • Altering the market to promote sustainable farming

    The Aug. 16 issue of Science magazine features an ominous headline: “Dead Zone Grows.” To the right of the headline is a map of the Gulf of Mexico with an irregular green stripe hugging the shoreline. This is the Dead Zone, an area of the gulf where oxygen levels are so low that most marine […]