What if we could have a sustainable lifestyle in a big city like Paris? If we could grow and cook our own food, make our hygiene products and sharply reduce our waste? If we could consume less and share more? And what if we could do all this while keeping our jobs and our modern lives? Quoi?
Willing to be part of the solution for our global problems, two French guys working on environmental issues decided to set up a sustainable cohousing (an éco-colocation, in French) in the Parisian region. The goal? Be as ecological as possible. For that, Edouard Marchal, 26, and Charles Adrien Louis, 31, wrote down a charter with the principles of the house and spread it through L’Auberge de la Solidarité, a network on solidarity and sustainable development. Six people got inspired and they all moved together in June 2015 to a building in Bourg-la-Reine, less than 10 km of Paris.
It was the beginning of Maison Bleue (blue house, in French). Today the 300 m2-house has 13 inhabitants – 10 French, 1 Spanish, 1 Burkinabé and 1 American – open to challenge their habits in order to lower their ecological footprints. In their 20s and 30s, they work mainly for associations and startups on sustainable development.
One of Maison Bleue’s main goals is to be a zero waste house. And they’re doing quite good, as they produce 7 kg of non-recyclable waste per person per year, versus an average of 354 kg in France. How do they do that? Alors, all starts with what comes into the house and how (the first “R” of waste management – R-e-d-u-c-e!).
They go shopping with their own containers and bags, buy in bulk when they don’t make the items themselves and say a lot of “NO”s to plastic stuff. The roommates compost their organic waste and give their leftovers for Rocks and Rouky, two chickens that live in their backyard. Even the animals themselves are, in a certain way, “recycled”. Maison Bleue has adopted the laying hens that were too old to continue laying eggs in a commercial scale.
Food is also a big part of the deal at this cohousing, being as organic, local and fait maison as possible (and, of course, less packaged). The crew grow a kitchen garden, get free eggs from their backyard and shop collectively on a local organic grocery store, where they have a bill that can be paid at the end of the month. They stopped going to supermarkets one year ago as a way to encourage responsible local businesses. Preparing meals (mainly vegetarian) and eating together is also an important ritual for Maison Bleue’s habitants, when they get to spend more time together.
The house name refers to a famous French song from the 70’s about a blue house in which the singer Maxime Le Forestier lived in San Francisco in a hippie fashion. “When we presented our project to the owner of the building, she said: ‘it reminds maison bleue from San Franciso song’. We kept the name”, remembers Edouard.
Regardless of all this engagement, the roommates aren’t radicals. Edouard says:
“The idea is to change our habits together, to challenge our way of life. But if someone doesn’t want to stop eating meat or a certain cookie, for example, it’s ok. We aren’t on a policy of radically stop all food that isn’t in accordance with a charter. We’re free to do what we want to”.
The endeavor to be green also covers the energy used in the house. Maison Bleue is powered by Enercoop, a group of cooperatives relying 100% on renewable sources, and saving energy is part of the game. This winter they turned off the refrigerator and replaced it for a wardrobe outside. “We would like to isolate the house to turn the heater off, but as we don’t own the place we cannot break the walls and improve isolation… Nevertheless, we use a lot of blankets”, says Edouard.
DIY enthusiasts, Maison Bleue’s crew fabricate some personal care and cleaning products. They manage to make their soaps and deodorant, for example. Homemade dishwasher detergent? They tried but gave up after realising the dishes remained oily. Edouard says:
“We want to build things and make by ourselves, to pick up objects and materials on the streets to retransform them. We don’t want to buy new stuff”.
He is also proud to tell that all house’s furniture was found on the streets. The only exception is the draught beer machine. But for that, there are many excuses… less waste is one of them.
A growing movement
Since the setup of Maison Bleue, the house has inspired the emergence of other ecological shared houses in France. Using Maison Bleue as one of the references, the French association Colibris launched in 2016 a guide on how to set a eco cohousing. The number of éco-colocations in the country is hard to determine. But there’s room for growth. According to the guide, one person out of six in France states to live or have lived in a shared house and the demand for this kind of habitation is mounting.
“After we founded Maison Bleue, we realized that there were a lot of eco cohousing or in transition here”, tells Edouard. So the roommates started to develop a network of éco-colocations under a project called Ekolok to share best practices and inspire more people to live in a greener way. “We promote meetings with other cohousings, people come to visit our place, we go visit theirs”. Maison Bleue has also a blog and a Facebook page to share their experience and inspire other people. “But we don’t have much time to maintain such pages, neither the will of communicating on all we do. At the end of the day this remains a house”, tells Edouard.
The real challenge
In this kind of laboratory of living, the most challenging aspect is not reducing waste nor eating sustainably, which, in Edouard’s point of view, are simple and technical, having even a methodology for these.
“Living together is much more complicated and we cannot learn about, we have to live it”.
For Edouard, this activity demands tons of energy and a will to understand the others without moral judgements. “It’s the hardest and most important aspect of this experience since we cannot do anything without the human. Reducing waste production, lowering emissions… nothing works if the human doesn’t work”, he says.
But such challenge doesn’t discourage him and his roommates. Actually, they want to go deeper and launch a kind of Maison Bleue reloaded. This time at the countryside. With a few members of Maison Bleue, Edouard is planning to buy a land, where they could grow food, work remotely and raise their kids together. And all of that while trying to find ways to live in harmony with the environment and the other human beings. Long life for Maison Bleue 2.0!