Community action

Community action is where people come together on a specific project to benefit the locality where they live.

Why community action is important for the environment

Environmental action can occur at different levels: 

  1. Individual – what each of us can do in our everyday lives; consuming less, swapping to renewable energy, cutting down on food waste, flying less, cultivating wilder areas in the garden and recycling.
  2. Community – groups of like-minded people coming together on a project.  For example, installing solar PV on community buildings, local vegetable/flower growing, and repair cáfes.
  3. Government – driving change through policy, for instance, outlawing new fossil fuel car sales from 2030 or providing finance for low-carbon heating to meet net-zero ambitions.

All levels are valuable.  Government policy can speed up change as it affects everyone.  However, sometimes they can be behind the curve and often be reactive.  In the case of the climate emergency, time is of the essence, and we cannot wait until we’ve hit 1.5°C before making substantive changes; the consequences will be dire.

Why get involved in community action

As we individuals become informed of the climate reality, we want to be getting on with the changes needed, even if the policies are not there yet.  We can make a difference in our day-to-day activities, and it can give us a sense of doing our bit. 

Sometimes though, one might wonder, why does it matter when governments allow fossil fuel business to continue seemingly business-as-usual.  It matters because all our individual actions add up.  And herein lies the power of people when they come together on a common goal – they can get things done and influence government policy. 

There are also the rewards of working with others to make the place where you live better.  Generally, people benefit from being in groups and part of some shared identity, and in mitigating climate change, collaboration is vital.  So, if we are motivated to do a bit more and have the time, community action is a place to elevate our impact and make us feel good too. 

many hands involved in community action

Types of community projects

In my podcast conversation with Ric Casale, Co-founder of Carbon Copy, Ric talks about sharing big-thinking local climate stories from around the UK.  The charity set up a self-publishing platform through their website, where community groups can showcase their activities, highlighting successes and experiences.  The aim is to inspire people and gain ideas they can copy in their community.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel, as many initiatives are readily available for transplanting.  Here are the categories they use to distinguish projects, with an example of each:

  • Biodiversity and nature – a collaboration between local government and other organisations, has rewilded a golf course prone to flooding in Porthkerry Country Park, Barry, South Wales.  They have seen an increase in biodiversity and uptake in educational experiences from local schools. 
  • Built environment – Cornwall Council, in partnership with the South West Net-Zero Hub, gained funding for a Social Housing Retrofit Accelerator programme, providing solar PV’s, reducing carbon emissions and energy costs to residents.
  • Circular economy – the Warp It organisation facilitates the reuse of office equipment, enabling the clearing of unwanted resources; it keeps products in use, reduces waste, and saves time, money, and space.
  • Energy – Project Vanguard has introduced refuse collection vehicles that run on green hydrogen, cutting carbon emissions and improving air quality within Cheshire.
  • Finance – West Berkshire Council launched the UK’s first Community Municipal Investment (CMI), enabling local residents to invest in green projects, such as roof-based solar, tree planting and upgrading street lighting.
  • Land use, food and agriculture – Ards allotments developed from farmland for local community food growing, reducing pesticide/plastic use and encouraging wildlife in producing food.
  • Transport – Leeds City Council have set up a scheme whereby residents can access e-bikes free for five weeks.  The aim is to encourage commuters to switch from cars to bikes to reduce emissions and congestion in the city centre and improve air quality, health and wellbeing.

Finding your project and your tribe

There are almost one thousand stories on the Carbon Copy website, so it’s definitely a place where you can find a project to resonate with your ambitions; there is a range of ideas and advice on offer.

So, if you’re thinking, yup, I want to do more, I have the time, then perhaps, first think about what type of project would suit you.  What can you contribute, what are you good at (you don’t need to be an expert) and more importantly, what role would you find the most enjoyable?  Discover what’s already going on in your community; perhaps start talking to people in these groups.  If there isn’t a project you want to get involved with, set one up and recruit like-minded folks.  Social media, local papers and notice boards can be a helpful way to connect to projects and people. 

We’re all in this together, and the possibilities of making a difference are numerous.  Find one that works for you and unleash the power of community.