SUSTAINABILTY a 20year Project.

Sustainability,   20 years of the ‘LE VIVRAY’ Project, Normandy, France.

This book is written for my 3 boys and family and good friends. However, things have really changed in the last few years, and many people are constantly asking us many questions about our activities here. So this book will join other ‘How to make’ books that are published here by Bryan Microengineering.

The Project.

Over the past 20 years we have seen many changes in the issues surrounding our planets health and Future. When we started here at ‘Le Vivray’ in 2002, we knew we had the opportunity to start from a clean plate, as the land and old buildings, hand made local red brick and oak framed barns, were basic and had only received limited emergency maintenance for the past 50 years or so. Therefore, we had the opportunity to design and implement sustainability strategies at the project’s creation.

We wanted to live and walk lightly on this planet and we could use our skills to help others in the future.

We were older parents of a young family, however being a slightly older dad, I was fortunate to know many good friends that were, farmers, engineers, builders, surveyors, architects, electricians, master masons, true bricklayers, master joiners and many more professions and good friends who have offered free help and advice over the years. And yes, most of them thought that we were ‘mad as hatters’ taking on such a large and complicated project.

Planning was important.   The first year was assessing our information and seeing what was achievable without throwing buckets of money at everything. What did we want as a family from this adventure? We certainly did not want to retreat into a cave mentality, but yet we wanted modern convivences of a modern home, with light and warmth and comfort of a modern home. So often before I had lived in large beautiful houses where in the winter, “One gets sunburnt from the front and frostbite to the rear”.

Firstly, what was the condition of all the seven buildings here at ‘Le Vivray’, what was worth saving and what new buildings were required. What was the soil and land conditions what was growable?

The first year was assessing our information and seeing what was achievable without throwing buckets of money at everything, and doing structural emergency repairs to the buildings we have and emergency repairs to roofs etc.  Our very grateful thanks to Michael and Julie Coney, Lincolnshire Farmers and Lincolnshire Long wool sheep specialist, for their advice on soil and land conditions and their growing expertise and animal husbandry. On looking and feeling a soil sample then a sub soil sample. Michael said, ”Crikey Les, that’s green Clay, it has rotting down foliage within the clay itself”. With only a top soil of about 150mm, “Hmm root crops will be a problem”.

The first day we were legal owners here, I dug test pits all over the place, and in the evenings, we used a new-fangled Laser level and very accurate sighting compass to survey all our 3.5 hectares of land.  From these masses of hand written down numbers I drew up tech drawings of land heights and gradients and actual contours that were accurate within 20mm . These would be very important for our Sewerage system and Grey water system.

So in 2003 a basic plan came together:-    

All buildings to become Passive House standard of Insulation.

All of ‘Le Vivray’ to be powered by our own generated renewable energy.

To heat the main dwelling with a wood burning stove, with wood sourced from our own grown wood supply, fast growing field hedges and our constantly replanted wood, and also use underfloor electric heating.

All building to be restored/rebuilt using locally sourced materials, and these materials to be accessed on their sustainability credentials.

All works here to be 3 main characteristics, Keep it Simple, Make it Robust, and Keep it Cost Effective.

To have our own approved Sewerage system that allows for expansion.

To have a Grey water system, where each bathroom would have 2 waste water systems and the non WC/Toilet water, and all rain water from roofs would be harvested and arrive at a 3 stage Reed bed system and a large storage pond containing fish.  This would thereby utilise the old lavoiur/washing clothes pond and small spring source which we could then pump up to the walled garden.


Install a new apple tree orchard where the original once was.

Build a new walled garden.  Reason, local farmers were mostly renting the surrounding fields so keeping the fences well maintained for their cow heard was not a priority. Many mornings we would awake to cows in our old small garden munching at the vegetable plot.

For our later years in life, plan and design our out buildings so eventually they could be used and utilised for courses on ‘Horology’ ie ‘make a clock’, and Renewable energy ‘How to make’, ‘Sustainability skills, ie Harvest and make cider weekends’, Coral and music, composing and singing courses, in the Sheep/lecture Theatre. And using our other buildings as temporary good quality accommodation and the little luxuries like a true ECO Swimming Pool.  

Build and install a true ECO salt swimming pool, that we power from our RE, and not to use harmful chemicals.

Design and manufacture as much as we can from raw materials here on site.

What is Sustainability.

Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and the capacity of human society to continue indefinitely within Earth’s natural cycles.

However, things have changed in 20 years, and now a more formal structure is arising that now tends to be towards Academia and large international corporations. And what seems to be emerging is this……… Sustainability, the quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time:

And…….. Sustainability is most often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. It has three main pillars: economic, environmental, and social. These three pillars are informally referred to as people, planet and profits. 

 And here we have a modern business dilemma as the business world sees GROWTH at all times by any means.  And what I see so far in 2021 is a hell of lot of HOT AIR and so-called sustainability products that are just twaddle and hype.

On the other hand some organisations see a differing solution by being very stark and gloom and doom out pouring’s, ie:-.

Being humans' capacity to survive within Earth's natural cycles, sustainability is important because it is the only alternative to human extinction.

Sustainability can be achieved by meeting human needs within ecological constraints, i.e. by stopping our contribution to the 4 root causes of un-sustainability.

This scientific consensus made it possible for the group of scientists to look at the things that we (humans) do to interfere with these natural cycles. They found four root causes of un-sustainability:

  1. We extract large flows of materials from the Earth’s crust.
  2. We create an accumulation of substances produced by society.
  3. We physically inhibit nature’s ability to run its cycles and…
  4. We create barriers to people meeting their basic needs worldwide.

 There is no quick solution to which is correct and which will lead, but at least they are talking positively. But the modern business model and the way commercial ventures and finance work will have to change.

 After 20 years on the Le Vivray Project I believe that there is no magic single bullet that will correct everything overnight, but there are thousands and thousands of little magic bullets that when all added together can give true sustainability that will help.

Many times, I have been told by so called Renewable energy equipment manufacturers, “No sorry, your stuff lasts to long, its just to simple so there is no added value for us to make good profits”.


The below is the roughed ot Chapters of the New Sustainability Book that we will be publishing.