Going Green

Whisky barrel houses in Scotland distill art of sustainable living

Matthew Knight, CNNUpdated 21st June 2017
(CNN) — Much like the liquor that once swilled around inside their wooden casks, the barrel houses at Findhorn ecovillage in Scotland have matured nicely in their surroundings.
Constructed out of giant whisky vats, the homes were the first permanent dwellings to be built at the famous spiritual community which today supports more than 500 residents.
The idea to repurpose the barrels came from Roger Douda, an American resident whose connections with Findhorn stretch back four decades.
"I thought it was a fairly innovative exercise in recycling," explains Douda, who built the first prototype in 1986.
Going Green presenter Nicki Shields travels to Findhorn, a Scottish ecovillage which is home to 500 residents.
"I went to collect some firewwood from a cooperage 10 miles south of Findhorn and they took me aside to this warehouse where they had disassembled six large vats from the Haig and Haig distillery in Fife.
"The question was: what to do with them? The destination was a veneer factory, as I recall. I said thank you but no thank you and then as I was driving away various possibilities entered my mind about how we might use it."

How the plan grew

At the Scottish ecovillage residents employ an ecologically engineered water treatment plant.
The initial plan was to use the barrels to extend the community center, Douda explains, or house a new school based on the educational ethos of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
"Steiner definitely was in favor of organic shapes for kid's education," Douda explains, "but parents had problems with the idea of their kids being educated in whisky vats."
Four more barrel houses followed and today, the 30-acre site has dozens of permanent dwellings on the site of a former caravan park where Findhorn founders Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean moved in 1962.
Once derided for its hippyish tendencies, Findhorn has come of age in recent years as interest in environmentalism has entered the mainstream.
To that end it now attracts thousands of visitors every year, with people coming from around the world to educate themselves in the art of eco-living.
With so many visitors jetting in to find out more about the pioneering ecovillage, FindHorn is looking at ways it can further reduce its carbon footprint.
Sustainability flows through every aspect of life, from the "Living Machine" -- a biological waste water treatment system -- to biomass boilers and wind turbines that supply around 20% of the community's energy needs.
Douda, now 73, admits that his way of life has left him less financially stable than he would like, but enriched spiritually and more connected than ever.
"We are part of what's called the Global Ecovillage Network which comprises of several thousand comparable initiatives around the world," he says.
"When we bought the caravan park the object was to create a place which would live its life in harmony with the planet as a whole.
"In that respect, I think we have done marvelous things, particularly with the Living Machine and the wind park. We are ahead of the game ecologically speaking."