Carbon Copy & Community Pioneers

by Andy Knott

Carbon Copy & Community Pioneers

“Everyone must learn to love change,” according to management guru Tom Peters. One reason he could make a career out of pushing this idea is because, let’s be honest, most of us really don’t.  And that’s a real challenge.  As the four panellists taking part in our recent Carbon Copy and Community Pioneers webinar make clear: if we want to have everyone participate in tackling the climate and environment emergency, we need to make it easy and attractive for them to get involved.

Kana Alam, Community Fridge Network Manager at Hubbub, talks about their surplus food distribution programme called Food Connect, created to tackle the drastic problem of food waste.  “If it was a country, it would be the third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world,” she points out, “but in spite of increasing awareness of food waste, there are still only very few ways that perishable surplus food can be redistributed.”  Hubbub have over 100 Community fridges, distributing in one year the equivalent of 1.9 million meals.  A familiar but vital insight is the variety of co-benefits that are grow out of climate and environment action – in this case, fostering community spirit, sharing clothes, books, cooking utensils, education about budgeting, planning meals better, how to grow your own food.  A lot of the community fridges are linked with community kitchens, community gardens, or a co-operative that helps to solve other local social issues.

“A family of four could save up to £800 a year if they avoided food waste,” explains Kana. “We want to make environmental action desirable, which means creating campaigns that are fun, and positive, and really practical.”

Joining up with a community energy scheme is a form of climate action that everyone can be a part of, urges panellist Neil Grant, a volunteer director of North Kensington Community Energy (NKCE), and part of the network of community energy schemes supported by Repowering London.

“There are three simple steps.  First, interested members of the community pool their investment to buy solar panels, which are owned by the community.  Then NKCE install the panels on buildings in the local area and sell clean, renewable solar energy to those buildings.  So that’s doing two things – first, it’s tackling climate change by generating clean electricity, and secondly it turns a profit.  We use that money in two ways: first we repay investors, who get back all the money they put in plus 3% annual interest, over the life of the project.  Then we all agree how to use the rest of the money to support charities and other causes in the local community.

“We often hear that tackling climate change is going to require everyone to be involved.  And that’s true.  For just £50, you can own some solar panels, generate a financial return, and be part of providing a solution to the climate crisis.”

And what about those co-benefits?  “Climate change is just one of the issues facing our local communities,” explains Neil.  “We’re also bringing local people together.  We’re providing funds to support other local projects – youth work, community gardens, art projects.”

Talking about their highly successful Zero Waste Leeds project, Rob Greenland of Social Business Brokers CIC says: “We’re building a movement to help Leeds become a Zero Waste City by 2030, engaging as many people and organisations as we can.”

Rob’s current favourite project is the Leeds School Uniform campaign set up over this summer.  “We encourage parents, community groups and schools across Leeds to set up local school uniform swaps, mostly done online.  Our approach is – whoever’s interested, we support and promote them.  We don’t do it ourselves.”

Another of their projects is Leeds Fashion Futures.  “Clothing is something we all wear,” observes Rob, “and it’s an area that has massive environmental impact - 4,000 tonnes of clothes end up in black bins in Leeds every year. Such a waste of textiles.”

Victoria Wells of Grow Batheaston, talks about how they got started. “As a small group of Batheaston residents, we saw a need to do something and encourage people to grow more for themselves at home, reduce food poverty, cook local organic produce and reduce food miles.

“We gave out about 35 seed boxes to people at home, during lockdown - ten of them to people who had never grown food at home before!  Our goal is to grow connections in the community between different areas and age groups, sharing skills, and encouraging physical and mental health, maybe eventually creating jobs.”

One secret of Grow Batheaston’s success is co-operation: “We’re working together from the ground up with an external partner; forming a community organisation; local councillors; a local housing association, local school, church, Bathscape, Waterscape, Blooming Whiteway; watching and listening to webinars.  There are so many ways we can learn from others,” says Victoria.

“Last weekend, we planted an orchard in torrential rain,” she laughs. “We’re very lucky, we’ve been able to do it on a very limited budget.  We were given trees by the local school, then word got around and we were given more trees from the community. Now we’re thinking about setting up a community shop.”

Ric Casale, the session moderator, raises the obvious but uncomfortable question with Rob Greenland: “If Kana’s right that we have to get everyone engaged with the journey to carbon zero, we need to be talking to the people who are LEAST likely to get involved in climate action, not just ‘the usual suspects’.  How do we achieve that?”

“It’s a real challenge, isn’t it?” admits Rob. “One of the good things about the school uniform project was that it brought in people who weren’t that interested in the environmental aspect of it - they were just families who needed uniform.  We were a practical way for them to get uniforms, and on the back of that we could start a conversation about avoiding waste. If you can find programmes which achieve some kind of social impact as well as the environmental one, that’s when you can start to engage different kinds of people.  You don’t have to lead with the environmental message.”

In listening to our guest speakers, it’s apparent that they’re not simply ‘thinking outside the box’ (Tom Peters again) – they’re thinking as if there is no box at all. Ultimately, everyone needs to take environmental action even if they do not think of themselves as ‘environmentalists’. For more fascinating commentary from these community pioneers, please listen to the full event.

A session in the Cambridge Zero Climate Change Festival “Let’s work together for a Zero-Carbon World”, hosted by Ric Casale, co-founder of Carbon Copy.

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