Conservation Outdoors

Climate City: The Earthships Have Landed

Lisa McDonald, left, founder and director of Kindness Empire and Sweet Bear Rescue Farm

By Joshua Blanco

In the late 1980s, architect Michael Reynolds brought his vision for a sustainable future to life. The Earthship, as he called it, was built to allow people to live off the grid in a space designed to meet their essential needs. Despite the ingenuity behind his idea, the Earthship remains a foreign concept to many.

At least for now.

As Earthships become more popular around the world, more people are beginning to realize the benefits of a self-sustainable lifestyle. Lisa McDonald, founder and director of Kindness Empire and Sweet Bear Rescue Farm, is one of them. Through the work of her nonprofit, McDonald has witnessed firsthand the hardships people endure in poverty-stricken nations. Recalling her trip to Uganda in 2019, McDonald describes how she was “fundamentally triggered by how unfair the world of housing is for the majority of people on the planet.” But inspiration struck when she stumbled across a simple and seemingly ingenious idea: build more Earthships.

Despite never having seen one, McDonald knew a lot about their potential. Built to meet six basic needs—energy, garbage management, sewage treatment, shelter, clean water and food—the small structures are assembled from repurposed materials and rely exclusively on natural resources, ideal for areas where there isn’t much else.

Lisa McDonald, left, founder and director of Kindness Empire and Sweet Bear Rescue Farm

Enrolled in the Earthship Biotecture Academy, McDonald is currently working in Haiti to bring these structures to life as part of her program. “People either know about Earthships and love them, or they have no idea what I’m talking about,” she says. “The Haitian project should really bridge that gap.”

As McDonald puts it, the field study is not just about building Earthships. It’s about empowering communities and sharing this knowledge so that they can use the technology to improve their lives. And even though she’ll have to complete another field study after she returns from Haiti, she’s already making plans to get the ball rolling. “I think going through this program has the potential to help hundreds of people in various places around the world,” she says. “It’s like I’m jumping on a moving train that already has all this momentum going.”

This summer she plans on building an Earthship on the Sweet Bear Rescue Farm property located in East Flat Rock, using it as an educational resource and renting it out as an Airbnb. She also hopes to partner with local environmental organizations to bring the region’s eco-tourism to the next level. “I don’t know of an Earthship that’s gone up anywhere that wasn’t insanely successful,” she says. “I think without a doubt it will be a huge success here too. They’re very beloved.”

Basic models come with everything an individual needs to live. Of course, there are pricier options for those who don’t want to sacrifice luxury for self-sufficiency, making it a popular option regardless of income. “It’s just so fascinating how adaptable they are based on human needs, climate and available materials,” McDonald says. “I can’t wait to pioneer that in this state.”

To find more information on Earthships, go to For those interested in partnering with her nonprofit, contact Lisa McDonald at Use or Venmo/kindnessempire to make a donation.

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