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