By Mathilde Golla, Le Figaro, France
“Small is beautiful” would be an ideal slogan for the village of Langouët in Brittany, northern France. This community of 600 inhabitants, located near Rennes, is well on the way to energy autonomy and is aiming for food self-sufficiency, too. Over the past 20 years, Langouët has been developing a whole host of green projects, designed to meet these objectives: since 2004, a canteen that serves 100% organic and local produce; passive social housing (no active heating used, or very little); a hamlet of “kitchen-garden houses”; a garden used for teaching permaculture; a community café; a solar power plant; an activity hub focused on the social and solidarity economy; a shared electric car… Daniel Cueff, who has been mayor of Langouët since 1999, has been the driving force behind the transition.
Cueff, who admitted he ended up chief administrator of Langouët “a bit by accident”, can rely on the commitment of the residents to get these projects off the ground – to such an extent that, even in a context of shrinking public coffers, the village was able to count on its residents to fund its experiments.
“Anything we can do locally, we go for it!” Cueff said. So why shouldn’t that apply to funding? Mission accomplished! This year, the town council borrowed 25,000 euros (USD 29,642) from locals. The initiative was even a victim of its own success: the funds were raised in just two days, from a handful of residents. Admittedly, this wasn’t the first time that Langouët’s council had attempted such a feat. In 2016, they had already taken a loan of 40,000 euros from the villagers to finance part of the village’s redevelopment. In both cases, the council’s bankers were able to lend between 200 and 2,000 euros at a two percent gross interest rate per year over a six-year period.
The second loan will be used to create a communal learning garden where villagers can study permaculture, which focuses on gentle and natural agricultural methods. “Through this project we also want to create intergenerational bonds; the elders will be able to teach their cultivation techniques to the new arrivals,” Cueff explained. His dream is to see every one of the villagers get involved in the projects. “I wanted to contribute to the development of the village and to invest in making a reality the numerous ideas that have come out of our citizens’ workshops,” Hélène, a Langouët resident who lent 2,000 euros said. “The project proposals do interest us as well; we would definitely like to live in a passive house,” the Brittany native added, while getting out of the village’s shared electric car.
From a very early stage, the local council has been active in building sustainable social housing. Langouët boasts two hamlets composed of energy-efficient wooden houses that are equipped with solar panels, built in 2005 and 2011. Cueff has been involved in eco-activism from a young age. “We’re working towards a social ecology model,” he explained, gesturing towards the 15-or-so wooden houses, located at the entrance of the village and nestled against a backdrop of greenery. “Our local council buys land that we make viable and resell at a low cost so that sustainable housing can be built at an affordable price.” Each of the homeowners did 30 days’ work on the building site, assisted by Compagnons Bâtisseurs(Building companions), a nonprofit that fights for decent housing solutions. “It’s a way of reducing the cost of housing, but it also enables us to get to know our homes, and our neighbors, a lot faster,” explained Sébastien Longechaud, owner of one of the houses, which are adorned with brightly colored shutters and topped with large solar panels. “We are sensitive to environmental issues and we chose to come and live in Langouët, in one of these wooden houses,” another homeowner, Jérôme Gimenez, said. “Our energy bill is low, around 200 euros per year for an 80-sq. meter property,” he added.
The local council wants to take things even further by building a hamlet of “Triple Zero” houses (Zero energy, Zero carbon, Zero waste). Designed by a research laboratory, a first prototype named BioClim House was unveiled this spring and currently presides over a vast plot of land at the entrance of the village. Each house will host a greenhouse on its roof for growing vegetables using permaculture techniques, or to produce energy. Langouët could soon come closer to its dream of food self-sufficiency, thanks to these “kitchen-garden houses”, along with the direct farm sales shop, which links up with producers of organic chickens.
Langouët is still a hub of ideas for new projects. “We’re aiming for energy autonomy within the next ten years, thanks to solar panels and trackers (pivoting structures that ensure solar panels are oriented towards the sun, thus increasing their productivity),” the mayor said. He discusses plans with neighboring local authorities, so he can “take inspiration from what’s being done elsewhere.”
Unsurprisingly, the village has gained a solid reputation for being a pioneer in the green transition. As a result, inquiries from would-be residents are flooding in. “A resident of Florida, United States, wants to come back to France and asked us if any houses were available,” Langouët’s mayor said proudly. But not every demand can be met. Future residents “will be chosen according to their level of willingness to get involved in the project,” Cueff explained. Those who wish to make this little Breton village their home will need to prove their green credentials!
This article was written for Impact Journalism Day 2018, a collaborative programme initiated by Sparknews gathering over 50 prestigious media outlets worldwide whose combined readership reach out to 100 million readers. On Impact Journalism Day (16 June), these outlets published stories about innovative solutions that help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Discover all Impact Journalism Day stories at http://impactjournalismday.com/read-our-stories/