The TH Interview: Ian Roderick of Chew Magna Go Zero (Part 2)

On Tuesday, we posted the first part of an interview with Ian Roderick of Go Zero, a community intiative based in the village of Chew Magna in South West England. We heard how villagers teamed up to envision a zero waste village, grouping themselves together to address waste and recycling, people and consumption, transport and energy, and the converging world. Specific initiatives included publishing a local food guide, holding a carbon makeover day, and setting up a spin-off company to look at rural mobility issues. In this second part of the interview, we learn how the group's success attracted national media attention, and how they are inspiring other villages to follow in their footsteps. We also learn about an exciting and ambitious initiative that is emerging from the group's international work:

The groups initial success in mobilising the community in such a short space of time started attracting attention from the media — first local and then national. Both the Independent and Guardian newspapers ran pieces on the group, and television crews started showing an interest. While this exposure was, in many ways, good for the group, Ian welcomes the fact that this interest has since died down a little:

" we were inundated. It was good, but the trouble was it was building up hype and excitement, and that's not sustainable. We've come over that and we are in a steady state of progress. We are all aware that this is a 20 year process, if we have 20 years. You can't change a village in a year or two. This place is stuffed with SUVs We've got to accept where we are, imagine where we want to be, and plot a path towards that goal."It would be wrong to assume, however, that 'a steady state of progress' implies, in any way, a slowing down. The group has been very active in spreading the sustainability message recently, not just in the village itself, but around surrounding communities also. Ian estimates that he is giving 4 or 5 talks in the next month alone to other villages interested in replicating their success. Already the village of Colerne, near Bath, has set up a similar organisation calling itself Ecolerne. Ian is clearly excited by the prospect of other villages following their lead, though he is wary of others mimicking Go Zero too closely. He encourages groups to work within their own unique circumstances to find a route that is right for them:

"I tell them 'This is what we did, this is how we did it. You can't do the same, because you're not the same village, but why not start something similar?' and people have taken the idea and charged away with it. They [Ecolerne] have got lot's of events happening. Lots of other villages around here are doing the same."
Go Zero's sights are not just set on the surrounding countryside. The international focus brought in by the converging world group has also led to a global vision. Originally the group set up a village offset fund, asking housholds to calculate their ecological footprint and donate funds to carbon offset projects in India. Links were set up with an organisation called Social Change and Development (SCAD) in the Tamil Nadu region, and Go Zero looked at tree planting projects and purchasing a wind turbine to provide clean energy for a village over there, whilst offsetting emissions created in the UK. However, as Ian relates, John Pontin's involvement again led to a much larger vision: "That was the original idea, just getting one turbine, but nothing's ever simple with John!" Out of Go Zero, members of the group are now forming a separate national charity which is soon to be launched, called "the Converging World. The charity will set up large-scale windfarms in India. The scale is ambitious — Ian is talking in terms of as many as 600 turbines, of between 250 and 500kw each. The group will ask for donations to fund the turbines, which will allow villagers clean energy and a source of income, whilst the Converging World charity takes the carbon saved back to the UK and sell it on the offsets market, and then uses the income from those offsets to fund carbon reduction schemes in the UK:

"I think that this scheme answers most of the criticisms of offset funds. We are addressing emissions here in the West, but at the same time we we are channelling money into the poorest parts of the world allowing them to rise up sustainably whilst we contract down. The perfect example of contraction and convergence."

Clearly then, Go Zero is spawning change that goes way beyond Chew Magna's parish boundaries. But crucially Ian doesn't think there is anything special about Chew Magna that would mean communities elsewhere couldn't set up similarly ambitious schemes. He confesses that they may be a little way ahead of the game, and points out that they were blessed with a number of skilled people with an interest in the subject but, he argues, Chew Magna is also a place where action is most needed:

"We are a very rich community. I can point to people with three houses, three cars etc. To me this is why this is more valid here than anywhere else. We are great consumers. We need to contract more than almost anywhere else. But there is certainly no blame. We have this mantra: 'No blame, can do, and patience.'"

Ian is adamant that other communities can, and must, start to tackle their own impacts. He envisions a world in ten years time where major structural changes have been made to the way the village, the region, the country, and hopefully the world is run. In coclusion, in true TreeHugger fashion, we asked Ian if there was one thing that everyone should do to make the world a better place, what that would be. His answer was unequivocal:

"I'd like everyone to have a ten year plan of how we can reduce our carbon emissions by 60%. That is the challenge we face."

With organisations like Go Zero around, coming up with such a plan seems just a little less daunting.

[Interview conducted by: Sami Grover]

Tags: Recycling | TH Interview | Zero Waste