A greater focus on grass-roots action and ‘green localism’ could re-engage a public that is sometimes disinterested and suspicious of environmental issues.
The notion of ‘decentralisation’ is not a new concept and has been at the heart of the environmental movement reflecting its commitment to localism balanced by global responsibility.
Empowering community groups and strengthening community bonds could deliver multiple social and environmental benefits. People could be encouraged to take action to tackle issues that are local priorities and within their immediate sphere of influence.
There are already many groups and projects that are ‘acting locally and thinking globally’ such as cooperatives, transition towns and neighbourhood schemes. One such initiative is the York Green Neighbourhood Challenge that was undertaken by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York and the City of York Council (UK).
The York Green Neighbourhood Challenge developed a targeted social marketing approach to engage selected areas of the City of York in Yorkshire and work with residents to reduce their carbon emissions.
Using national data on household expenditure and green attitudes as well as data on local infrastructure (e.g. proximity to local services, potential of housing stock for energy conservation and access to transport links), the initiative targeted neighbourhoods which had the greatest potential for behavioural change.
These were York neighbourhoods where households considered themselves to be ‘green’ but had a high carbon footprint.
Six teams from the targeted areas were recruited: three neighbourhoods, two primary schools and one church. Over a six-month period each team was supported by a green mentor. Team members received expert advice on home energy, recycling, travel and other action they could take to meet their target of a 10 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.
The participants who successfully completed the challenge achieved an estimated average carbon footprint reduction of 2.0 tonnes of CO2e a year. This is a total reduction of 11 per cent – which equates to an estimated total emission reduction of 98 tonnes of CO2e a year.
The largest reduction was seen in the area of shopping and home energy use.
The initiative demonstrated the benefits of taking a targeted approach in reducing household carbon emission. With support and encouragement residents can saved money, met new people and reduced their environmental impact.
The York Green Neighbourhood Challenge was effective in achieving a statistically significant reduction in the carbon footprint of households. The initiative has provided a legacy of a tried and test model of engagement. It helped to foster community spirit by giving a reason for neighbours to work together. Two of the winning teams have merged to establish one large local community group which is continuing to promote local neighbourhood change.
The ‘York model’ has now been adopted sub-regionally. The North Yorkshire Green Neighbourhood Challenge will work with community teams in seven local authorities in 2011.
People are disillusioned with the broken promises of politicians and the inertia of government in implementing the measures that can guarantee a transition to a low carbon society. A age of green localism will empower individuals to take action to create change at the local level. For many years a handful of doorstep champions have campaigned locally and raised local awareness, there is now a need for more sections of the community to get involved and to help improve the local quality of life and increase feelings of wellbeing and happiness.
More projects such as the York Green Neighbourhood Challenge are needed to encourage and foster local activism. By working in partnership with local authorities and businesses local groups could contribute to building community resilience by becoming more self-sufficient. This would enable local communities to tackle climate change, improve health and well being, secure a healthy natural environment and make their neighbourhoods safer and more cohesive.
© Gary Haq 2011