Building Our Own Zero Carbon Homes

What is a Colloquium?

Matt Anderson (2020)

Film Review

This documentary is about a 20 year old group, “The Natural Building Colloquium,” dedicated to improving and teaching natural building technology, as well as sharing their skills with various Third World countries in crisis.

Members believe industrialized society needs to consume less to help conserve scarce resources, to reduce environmental destruction, and to prevent catastrophic climate change. They point out that humankind lived sustainably without damaging the planet for 250,000 years. It’s only with the rise of civilization they have begun destroying it. They also emphasize the importance of learning and teaching natural building techniques in strengthening community building, as well as providing emergency housing when mainstream culture is in crisis.

There seems to be consensus that “natural” buildings need to be constructed of locally available materials, be they straw bales, cob,* cordwood,** or bags of compact gravel.

Some of the important milestones members describe include 1) the ability to teach anyone to build their own zero carbon home (and avoid a 30-year mortgage) with two weeks of training, 2) the group’s international presence and 3) the participation of younger generations in the movement.

I was most impressed by the development of an organization growing out of the Colloquium called Builders without Borders. The organization has helped Third World communities build natural homes following disasters (such as earthquakes) in Mexico, South Africa, Pakistan, Haiti, and Nepal and on Navajo reservations.


*Cob is a natural building material made from subsoil, water, fibrous organic material (typically straw), and sometimes lime.

**Cordwood is wood that has been cut into lengths of four feet so that it can be stacked (in cords). A cord is a stack of wood that is four feet tall and wide and eight feet long.

The film can be view free at https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/whats-a-colloquium-2020/