Äerdschëff vs. Earthship – Six Fundamental Differences

One might wonder why this project is called Äerdschëff, the Luxembourgish form of the word earthship. Without a doubt, the Äerdschëff is directly inspired by Michael Reynolds’s brainchild. Working in New Mexico since the early 1970s, Reynolds’s ambition has been to help humankind out of the ecological devastation that was, and still is, underway. The earthship was designed to be fully self-sufficient: an off-grid home that provides for both energy and food for its inhabitants. Equipped with solar panels, rainwater harvesting, a convection ventilation system and a plumbing design that recirculates grey water in planters and treats sewage on site, Biotecture, Reynolds’s company, claims the earthship’s Global Model works in any climate and terrain. Furthermore, it is built using waste materials such as cans, glass bottles and tires, thus reducing the burden on landfills.

What then could the Äerdschëff possibly do that an Earthship does not? For CELL – Centre for Ecological Learning Luxembourg, the organisation that is stewarding the project, it is not so much about opposing the Äerdschëff to the earthship, but adapting it to different realities and updating certain aspects of it.

An Äerdschëff adds a more holistic approach to the design of the building but also its surroundings, people and the environment. Below are the six particular aspects that characterise the Äerdschëff:

  1. Energy: Where an Earthship requires propane gas for cooking, the Äerdschëff will produce biogas with organic waste instead. The Äerdschëff systems balance quality and simplicity for low-maintenance and low-impact energy usage. The Äerdschëff design includes the direct enhancement of its ecosystem environment.
  2. Building materials: As mentioned above, earthships are built using waste material, whereas the Aerdscheff prioritises both local skills and materials, keeping in mind the materials’ grey energy (energy used in manufacture and transport of the materials), their durability, life cycle (closed loops or circular economy components), non-toxicity, resilience to climate change, and cost. Thus, the Äerdschëff project aims at contributing to the political discussion around construction materials and passive houses in Luxembourg.
  3. Research and learning: due to its grassroots nature and setting within a non-profit in collaboration with public and private institutions, the Äerdschëff concept evolves with a governance that enables collective decision-making processes based on permaculture ethics. The lessons are documented in an open-source way. Äerdschëff seeks to attract people regardless of social class or background to acquire new skills in a participatory way.
  4. Society and ownership: The earthship concept is owned by a single company, Biotecture, whereas the Aerdscheff is the fruit of cross-sectorial partnerships with local companies, individuals, as well as research and educational stakeholders. Äerdschëff will be owned by the common good.
  5. Financial autonomy: An earthship is built in one shot as a home, and any maintenance or reparations beyond that need to be provided for by an external source of income. The long-term financial autonomy of the Äerdschëff is based on a permaculture-based business model which is part and parcel of its design.
  6. Climate: Unfortunately, Luxembourg does not get the sunshine that New Mexico gets year-round. The Äerdschëff is designed for the Luxembourgish climatic conditions and is replicable in our region. The Äerdschëff includes design adaptations that take this into account.

The earthship is a brilliant invention, used as a product being sold to those who can afford it, or being funded in so-called humanitarian contexts. The Äerdschëff combines ecological and social aspects to foster social justice and improve the health of the ecosocial system at large. It is not just a building, but a hub for educational and economic activities relevant to a low-impact transition for human flourishing. CELL – Centre for Ecological Learning Luxembourg strongly believes that any system that fosters inequality destroys ecosystems, therefore low-impact living is inextricably tied to social justice, i.e. a true culture of solidarity and engagement, across historical gender, class and racial divides.

Read our charter here.

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