Starting a greener living initiative in your community
Welcome to the first of our posts looking at the vital role community groups can play in supporting greener living. Over the next year we’ll be covering a range of topics on how to set up and run community-led programmes to reduce carbon footprints but we’re going to start by looking at the things you need think about to get a greener living initiative going in your community.
a bit of background
We’re assuming that you believe that the threat of climate change is real, that humans are at least in part responsible for climate change, and that you are persuaded that we need to take action to reduce our impact on climate change. But just in case you want a bit more information on any of these areas, there are some useful background resources to read and recommend to others in your community: the Met Office has a useful section of its website dedicated to information about climate change and the Royal Society has also published an excellent report that looks at all the evidence, called Climate Change: A Summary of the Science. It is also worth taking a look at The Truth About Climate Change, where David Attenborough explains what convinced him that climate change was real and man-made. And finally, there’s another compelling video that goes under the somewhat alarmist title The Most Terrifying Video You Will Ever See that poses the question “What’s the worst that could happen?”
So, having got that sorted, let’s get stuck in…
importance of the domestic sector
The residential sector is a major user of energy in this country, so has a key part to play if we are going to reach our national carbon reduction targets. The energy used to light, heat and power the UK’s 25 million homes accounts for around 27% of the total UK greenhouse gases, and is the single biggest user of electricity in the country. There are also greenhouse gas emissions resulting from our transport, plus the greenhouse gases produced by the government, power companies and corporations in order to provide all the goods and services we need for education, health care, clothes and food, and the many other items that we don’t need but desire.
As consumers, therefore, we are directly – or indirectly – responsible for much of the country’s greenhouse emissions. Community groups have a vital role in helping people understand the part they play in this, and the ability to take immediate positive action in many areas of our lives. But making significant and sustained reduction in our carbon footprints isn’t easy. Community groups can be the catalyst for change, as a trusted source of practical information and encouragement, and so turn best intentions into practical action.
tackling climate change
Multiple strategies are required if we are going to have any chance of reaching the Government’s target of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. These primarily include the need for a legislative framework that enables and enforces more environmentally-friendly practice; and the private sector taking responsibility for, and reducing, the impact of manufacturing and use of goods and services on the environment. And crucially, as individuals, we need to demand better practices from those whose services we use, and take personal action to live more sustainably.
“Many little people doing many little things in many little places can change the face of the world.”
If climate change is caused by the cumulative effect of everything we do in our daily lives, it’s going to require us all to make many little, and big, changes to counteract it.
Although there is still a vocal minority of climate change deniers, time and again the reasons given by householders for not doing more to reduce their carbon footprints are because they are overwhelmed by information and messages, feel they lack the expertise and time to sort out the priorities, and face difficulty in translating best intentions into action. This is where community groups can make such a difference.
In our experience of working with local communities on supporting greener living, people need help to access trusted expert advice, and to focus their attention on the important issues. They need to be personally asked to get on board by people they know and trust. Community groups can help provide this catalyst, using their role within a community to have those crucial one-to-one conversations to get people started, and then sustain action.
Galvanising individuals into action isn’t the sole responsibility of community groups, but there is nothing like a face-to-face conversation with a friend or neighbour to help people realise that taking action against climate change is something that “people like us” are doing.
When faced with a whole community’s load of carbon-habits to tackle, it can be pretty overwhelming – and there are only so many hours in the day, so here are some tips to help you get started:
who is your target group?
You can’t work with everyone at once as you’ll have limited time and resources, so select a target group to start with. You might select a group on the basis of their willingness and ability to act. In the diagram below for example, you will see that DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) segments people into seven different groups. Focusing on those people in the top right hand quadrant is a good way of identifying people who are both willing and able to act, and a final nudge from you might be all that’s needed to turn their best intentions into action.
Getting some early successes under your belt to inspire and motivate others to do more is important, so starting with those in your community who are already interested and engaged in the issue shouldn’t be seen as taking the easy option. Alternatively, you might want to focus on a group where you feel it will make the greatest difference, for example working with people with the biggest carbon footprints, or those experiencing fuel poverty. Remember that not everyone will want to, or be able to participate. Don’t worry, as you can’t work with everyone, at least not to start with, but it’s worth inviting feedback about what would enable people to get more involved, and what might be stopping them.
what are you offering?
You don’t need to start from scratch when planning activities and programmes, as there are lots of resources you can use (see our resource library) that we will introduce in future blogs. However, there are a few principles we’ve found useful to bear in mind when supporting greener living in our communities:
- It’s about helping people to access information and take action; signposting and encouragement; and creating a range of opportunities for people to get involved, based on their own interests, resources and time available.
- It’s not about doing things for people, or taking on people’s problems.
When communicating the opportunities with people, focus on the benefits they’ll receive, such as meeting neighbours or saving money, rather than what it is you’ll want from them.
why might people get on board?
The way we act in the way we do is down to a mix of both rational and emotional reasons. Individuals will have many and varied motives for wanting to get involved with a greener living community initiative as this survey of householders in West Oxford shows.
© Low Carbon West Oxford, Power to Make it Possible (2010)
When planning your programme you’ll need to think how you can appeal to all these different motives, rather than focusing on those that appeal to you.
what do you want them to do?
Are you planning a one-off event involving lots of people, or a long-term programme aiming for sustained and significant changes in the carbon footprint of a smaller group?
We’ll be looking at suggestions for activities and programmes in our later blogs. It may sound obvious, but being clear about what you want people to do is important as it helps you:
- Identify your resource needs and decide what’s realistic with your existing resources.
- Identify relevant audiences for the activity – for example, everyone can make behaviour changes to cut their carbon footprint, but not everyone is in a position to make major structural changes to their homes.
- Spell out to potential participants what they would be letting themselves in for.
Ultimately different people will get involved in different sorts of activities. There’s no one size fits all solution, so you need to decide on your priorities.
At times, we have found that trying to encourage greener living in your community can feel like trying to empty a bathtub with a teaspoon. Greener living isn’t about quick fixes and the actions of one or two people. It’s about discovering where you can act effectively, and pushing for the changes that can help others act in significant ways too.
As community groups we have a vital role to play in encouraging people to start to take action, and then to continue and build on those actions. It’s about working together to create a social norm – that values lower carbon living and communities working together to celebrate each others’ efforts to tread more lightly on the planet. We’d love to hear about the challenges you’ve faced in galvanising action in your community, and also like you to share your successes to inspire others. So, please get posting your comments below. Next month we’ll be looking at the importance of setting goals and measuring your impact.
Saskya Huggins & Jo Hamilton