BioSTEAD is a transdisciplinary initiative to construct green buildings as sustainable development research sites on university campuses. Stead is defined as both (1) a place or locality and, as a transitive verb, (2) to be of service. In this regard, BioSTEAD is a living edifice serving as a safe-to-fail research site for Sustainable Technology, Environmental and Agricultural Development. The core purpose of this initiative is to develop an open-source process for educational institutions around the world to implement climate-specific green building research sites, and to provide an academic environment for sustainable development experimentation and education, thereby serving as a model for locally-adapted regenerative practices. Our beginnings are at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; our inspiration is international.

Click here to read our biostead_manifesto

Inspired by Earthship Biotecture:

BioSTEAD at UMass Amherst


As national leaders of the green campus movement, UMass Amherst encourages our students, faculty and staff to ask how each choice we make can create a better future for the people in our community, the planet we call our home, and the long term health and stability of the educational institution where we live and work every day. Take a walk around campus, and one will likely see the word sustainability in nearly every building. This concept has diffused throughout the student and faculty body, creating a social solidarity that has brought many together from a spectrum of backgrounds. Initiatives such as permaculture, recycling and waste reduction, and sustainability curriculums are fruits of this ideology. These, and other projects, are satisfying the Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee’s mission statements, two of which are:

  • Develop a five to ten year plan to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint based upon current benchmarks
  • Devise a comprehensive and common-sense way to foster environmental stewardship across the entire organization among and within campus departments, both operational and academic

Though these initiatives are inciting positive change, they lend themselves to a certain degree of limitation with regard to the integration of multiple disciplines. Allow us to propose an initiative, one with a precedence of numerous implementations, which has the potential to fulfill the previously stated mission statements, provide food for the campus, and foster collaboration across nearly every college within the university. This is the BioSTEAD Initiative.


Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This characterizes Earthships. An Earthship is a type of passive solar house that is made of both natural and recycled materials, such as earth-filled tires. Earthships are intended to be “off-the-grid ready” homes, with minimal reliance on both public utilities and fossil fuels. Earthships are constructed to use available natural resources, especially energy from the sun, and designed to use thermal mass construction and natural cross ventilation, assisted by thermal draught (stack effect), to regulate indoor temperature. Most designs include a greenhouse, allowing for significant perennial food-production. It is also common in the design to contain and treat sewage. Incepted by Earthship Biotecture, the buildings are built from 45% recycled materials, thus starting the construction of the building with a negative carbon footprint. Discarded materials take the place of new materials that require energy to produce. Also, the utilized discarded materials would have taken energy to dispose or recycle. There is no energy required to reuse existing materials. This further contributes to a negative carbon foot print at the birth of the building. Earthships cost next to nothing to operate annually and are independent of all municipal utilities. It takes full care of its owners and actually enhances the grounds around it due to the botanical cells which contain, treat and reuse the sewage via biological processes resulting in greenery. Thousands of Earthships have been built all over the world in the US, Canada, Mexico, Bolivia, Japan, South Africa, Honduras and Belgium. The practice of designing and constructing Earthships has clear characteristics of sustainability that harmonize with the current initiative on campus.

Campus Impact

The beauty of this project is that most questions that arise, most roles that need to be filled, can be answered and filled by students. Such an initiative would call for students with a passion for Architecture and Regional Planning, Engineering, Environmental Conservation, Agriculture, Public Policy, Resource Economics, Management, and more. All have different disciplines, but what unites them would be the ideology of sustainability. What better way to nourish this ideology than to utilize the Earthship as a learning space? ECO-REPs and other groups could implement the sustainability curriculum in an environmentally friendly classroom built right here on campus. To see our building plans, check out our DESIGNS tab. This project has the potential to not only fulfill our mission statements, but to proliferate the solidarity that currently exists throughout the university in a way distinct from past projects as its call for collaboration and involvement extends to nearly every corner of campus.


Meaning of a crowd-funded, multidisciplinary, cross-generational open-source initiative.

Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising monetary contributions from a large number of people, typically via the internet. One early-stage equity expert described it as “the practice of raising funds from two or more people over the internet towards a common Service, Project, Product, Investment, Cause, and Experience, or SPPICE.”

Multi-Disciplinary [ * = field of study with potential involvement, not immediately seen]

Cross-Generational encouraged involvement from student body, faculty, community, and youth. To be extensible in region (example for other universities and communities in the world) and in time (passed from one graduating class to the next)

Open Source student studies, documents, and designs(architectural, electrical, mechanical, revenue models, cost savings charts, bills, acts etc.) stored in a public repository to allow for open collaboration with other Universities/organizations and encourage community participation.



Earthships cost anywhere from $50,000 to several million dollars, depending on how big and lavish they might be. The average cost per square foot is $75 to build by one’s own efforts and $155 to have it built. A typical Earthship covers 2500 square feet, which is about 5% of an acre of land. This means that it would cost approximately $188,000 to build one’s own Earthship. See our HANDBOOK tab and open up to the Finance section of the document to get more information on the breakdown of costs and our revenue models.


Having one of the most widely known sustainability programs across the nation, UMass Amherst serves as an exemplar for other universities and communities across the world. Through the UMass Earthship Initiative, we can achieve our mission statements and incite real, lasting change.

If you’re interested in learning more, explore the COMMITTEES tab to see who’s part of the family, what they’ve been doing and where you can contribute. Also check out our discussion board and facebook page and feel free to add to the conversation!

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