Key Points:

The push to make things "bigger, better, faster" is not only driving the planet to ruin - it's making us unhappy, according to a visiting expert on eco-towns.

Naresh Giangrande is on a world tour teaching people how to live slower, less wasteful lives, reducing their carbon footprint in the process.

He says people in towns like his home of Totnes, England, get more out of life than their counterparts in ordinary cities.

Mr Giangrande is part of Transition Towns - a network of towns and suburbs dedicated to preparing for climate change and the end of cheap oil.

At the heart of the model is a belief that even yawn-worthy chores can be fulfilling when they are done as a group. "In Totnes we have sock darning evenings and it's actually very fun to do it. Whereas if you do it on your own sitting in front of the telly it's not so fun," said Mr Giangrande.

Far from feeling hard done by, people in Transition Towns believe life is richer and more enjoyable when you grow more of your own food, use less fuel and find new ways to co-operate with neighbours.

Mr Giangrande - who helped start the first Transition Town in Totnes - said Auckland's Earthsong village in Waitakere was an excellent example of how New Zealanders could live more sustainably.

Earthsong's 32 families grow much of their own food on 1.6ha of land, and collect rainwater on their roofs which can be heated with solar panels.

Mr Giangrande said a 400sq m plot was enough to grow 80-90 per cent of a family of four's food in summer, and 50 per cent of their food in winter. "The average Kiwi probably has that much land," he said.

"You're not going to get your staples, your meat and your grains, but a lot of fruit and vegetables you can grow on a small piece of land."

Recent Transition Towns workshops sold out in Canada, with sessions in San Francisco creating a 100-person waiting list. New Zealand, where Mr Giangrande spoke last month, has dozens of fledgling Transitions Towns - including Grey Lynn, Kingsland, Torbay, Feilding and Whakatane.

Mr Giangrande attributes the rise in popularity to issues like peak oil - the point at which global oil production begins to decline - and climate change becoming mainstream.

"People get it much more quickly. Today [speaking to staff at Waitakere City Council] I hardly spent any time talking about peak oil or climate change. People have heard that now."

His two-day sessions, which he runs with fellow trainer Sophy Banks, pull together expert advice in areas such as growing food and finding sustainable transport to help people who want to start a Transition Town.

Mr Giangrande said that aside from the teamwork factor, spending more time working outside growing food was good for the spirit. "All the evidence around the industrial world is once people reach a certain level of affluence, anything extra doesn't change anything ... we're getting negative happiness growth for every increase in GDP," he said.

"By responding [to environmental challenges] in a positive way, we believe we can create something that's better than what we have."