A Guide to Sustainable Change

Ashton Hayes is a 1000-person community in England. Ten years ago, it set out to become carbon neutral. Nowadays it provides for one of the few pieces of positive environmental news of the year.

The small village near Liverpool achieves what politicians around the world fail to do: it mobilises the community to change their environmental behaviour and succeeds. What can we learn from it?

When Ashton Hayes resident and former Journalist Garry Charnock first proposed to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions, more than half the town’s population was immediately on board. Most of the rest followed over the years.

The villagers’ reforms range from simple changes like wearing a jumper instead of turning on the heater to more drastic solutions like fundraising for solar panels and their town-wide installations. They encourage each other to fly less and carpool. But first, they did something much more important.

Ashton Hayes residents changed their discourse around climate change by making it a community project. There were no politicians, no finger-wagging, and no doomsday-campaigning involved. Leaving out these aspects, the carbon neutrality project turned out to be fun. The engagement in the project drew the community closer together and improved the overall neighbourly climate – and to the planet’s. In the last 10 years Ashton Hayes cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 40%.

The Grassroots or Community Organizing theory works through collective action by members of the community who work on changing problems affecting their lives (Stachowiak, 2013). In the case of Ashton Hayes and its residents, implementing change themselves was the main contributor to its success. This shifting context, from a global to a communal one, made change visible and put the power right back to where it belongs: in the lap of engaged citizens.

As the campaign lost its global social complexity, the reforms and strategies proved much easier to be implemented. There were no higher authorities to overcome, no political parties stirring the change in a self-benefitting way or building up barriers and the empowered community functioned as its own catalyst (Krznaric, 2007).

It could be argued, that being the single most pressing issue of our times, community changes are just a drop in the ocean. But with increasing awareness of the Ashton Hayes case came copycats, success stories, and desperately needed in 2016: bright news in a sea of despair.



Stachowiak, S. (2013) Pathways for Change, Centre for Evaluation Innovation

Krznaric, R (2007) How Change Happens, Oxfam GB report

6 thoughts on “A Guide to Sustainable Change

  1. Thanks for this case study – I agree that these kind of community-level changes are often incredibly powerful. I was recently in a village up in Derbyshire and was struck by the level of community cohesion there – a far cry from London! I’m sure the cohesion of smaller communities is a great starting point when thinking about incremental steps to ‘global’ change; as you say, when one group has the courage to step out and model something tangible, others will follow suit. As long as it’s not limited to insular or tokenistic activities (‘doing our bit’) these localised initiatives seem like a great thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with the comment above and enjoyed reading this post. It is so uplifting and wonderful to read that change-endeavours still stand a chance these days. What I consider the most impressive things about this initiative is that first, it came from within. The idea was more or less raised by the community itself which has, I assume, scarcity value. Secondly, I think what makes it even more powerful is that the citizens do not only empower others to foster change (i.e. by spending money). Instead they started changing themselves and their behaviours, which shows a lot of committment and is, I guess, one of the reasons why achieving change is so difficult: because people aren’t willing to spare something in their lifes, or change their spots for the greater good. Very impressive initiative!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this enlightening and interesting post.

    It made me think about the idea of ’Eco-Village’, (Eco-Aldea in Spanish) which have become very popular in Colombia in the last years.

    The reason why Eco-Villages take a step forward in providing climate and social change solutions is because they also include ideas like ‘cooperation’, ‘shared labour’, necessary in every society. Here’s an interesting article that talks more in depth about this that you might find interesting.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

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