An Earthy Proposition
There are many ways to create a smaller footprint on the environment. One way is to use local natural materials. The options in the country and pastoral areas are different from those of urban and suburban centres. The crossover areas between the suburbs and open countryside can be very flexible in just what sort of building you might construct, while in the city there may be problems with the more exotic of environmentally friendly dwellings and commercial buildings.
One such dwelling is a low impact woodland home built by Simon Dale*, family, friends, and passers by in Wales. This home built slightly into a hillside and constructed of stone and mud from the digging required for the structure; spare wood from the surrounding woodland (thinnings); bales of straw in floor, walls, and roof for insulation; a mud and turf roof (with a sheet of plastic); lime plaster; and much else salvaged from rubbish piles around. They use the mass of stone and plaster surrounding the woodburner to absorb heat, retain it and slowly release it and the fridge is cooled by natural cool air coming through the foundation. I could go on, but nearly every feature of the house is equally "green".
The house used little specialized labour to build and materials were very inexpensive - labour being the most expensive part. From the pictures it looks comfortable. You can find out much about this home on their website about "A Low Impact Woodland Home".
I have seen other projects more suited to more conservative tastes using "rammed earth" construction or straw walls. The rammed earth construction takes local soil and mixes it with a very small amount of cement then rams it with packing machines until it is hard as concrete. It is rather beautiful in a rustic fashion. There is one company that is doing this sort of construction and putting Styrofoam (tm) insulation in the centre of the walls. I believe they call it "SIRE" for Styrofoam(tm) Insulated Rammed Earth construction.
The straw walls, from what I understand consist of building walls with bales of straw and placing a mesh of metal on either side and essentially sewing the mesh on either side together by passing an arrow sized "needle" back and forth through the straw with rope sized thread. they then plaster the outside with a few coats of a plaster-cement mix. The walls breath but are very insulative. The SIRE walls also are very insulative.
Buildings are also using heat pumps for heating and air conditioning using the inherant heat of the earth as the energy source for the heat pump's workings and energy sink for cooling rather than the air. Some suburban plans call for grey water treatment at the home through the yard into marshes incorporated into the suburb designs.
Older buildings are being retrofitted with the heat pumps and improved insulation as well as systems to allow for fresh air from outside to be taken in without chilling the building in winter or heating it in summer.
There are so many other things I could mention, but that woodland home, nearly making no visual impact in the woodland is inspirational.
* I believe the name is Simon Dale, I extrapolated that from his email address, I couldn't find mention in the web site.