How to Go Green: In the Community

Sustainable living has certainly become a buzz phrase. More and more people are looking at ways to reduce their ecological footprint: driving less, eating less meat, wearing sustainable fashions. As individuals, we are increasingly aware of the impact we have on the planet and our fellow humans. But is greening our own lifestyle enough?

By taking the concept of sustainable living beyond the narrow, individualistic approach, we can learn to see our interconnectedness to our environment and its inhabitants. By getting involved in our communities, by talking to our neighbors, by supporting local groups, and by re-imagining where we live, we can green not only our own lifestyles, but our streets, neighborhoods, towns, cities and, ultimately, our societies. Who knows, we may even make friends doing it.


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Top Green Community Tips



  1. Reconnect
    To help green your community, you first need to be part of it. Start talking to your neighbors, find out what's going on around you, and get involved. It sounds obvious, but busy days often don't include time for keeping in touch with the community.

  2. Buy local
    Not only does shopping locally reduce food miles, it also keeps resources circulating in the community. Plus, it's a great way to get to know your neighbors. When did you last chat with the person who grew your tomatoes? Sites like Local Harvest in the US or Big Barn in the UK can help you locate suppliers, and farmers markets are increasing in number all the time. There may even be a city farm or community garden in your neighborhood. If there isn't, you might consider sparking one.

  3. Rethink travel
    Limiting car use can be an great way of reducing your individual carbon footprint, but it doesn't end there. When we walk, cycle, or take the train or bus, we also help make it easier for others to do the same, and it can be a great way of meeting people. It's much easier to catch a stranger's eye and say "hey" when you are not surrounded by a ton of metal and moving at 70 mph. More tips on redefining travel can be found here. You can even help others by setting up projects that support alternatives -- could you set up a car club or a walking bus to get the kids to school?

  4. Spread the word
    People are increasingly curious about living 'green.' If you bike to work, compost, or buy organic, tell people why. If people are interested in trying it themselves, show them how. You could even take it a step further and organize educational evenings such as film screenings, workshops, or discussion groups. Or follow the lead of this project and start asking questions in your town -- if you can get people thinking about their impact, they're more likely to start looking for answers. Remember though, there's a fine line between talking and preaching, so know when it's time to drop it and get back to talking about baseball.

  5. Join in
    It can be lonely going it alone. Why not find out about environmental groups in your area? Many national conservation groups have local chapters -- the Sierra Club's website offers a local 'zoomer' for US residents to find out what's going on in their area. Increasingly, there are specialist local groups dedicating themselves to specific aspects of sustainability, like this owner's club for electric vehicles in Bristol, UK . But you shouldn't just think in terms of green clubs. As sustainability goes mainstream, more and more local organizations are including environmentalism as part of their focus. The Evangelical Climate Initiative is a prime example. So if you're a member of a faith group, a parent-teacher committee, or even a sports club, why not look at steps that you can take together. From energy efficiency measures to local community action, there are countless ways to get your fellow club or congregation members involved.

  6. Plan for change
    We are never going to achieve our goals if we don't know what they are. If you can create an alternative vision or plan for your community it becomes much easier to inspire action. Check out these UK villagers' 25 year plan to reforest their valley to protect against future flooding, this North Carolina project offering collaborative planning for walkable communities, or this community's attempts to become the greenest village in Britain.

  7. Get political
    National and international politics can be frustrating. How can you influence the massive institutions that wield the power? Local politics can be much less intimidating. It's a whole lot easier to make connections, exert pressure, and get involved when you live among the people you are trying to influence. Whether you're campaigning against unwelcome development, like these LA residents campaigning to save their city farm, or seeking to influence local policy in a more positive direction, like these Portland citizens helping their city government plan for an oil-free future, it is vital that you make your voice heard. And don't forget that environmental ills often fall disproportionately on the poor and marginalized. Check out environmental justice organizations like Environmental Community Action for ways to make your community better, greener, and fairer.

  8. Spread the love (and unwanted electronics)
    So you don't want that item of clothing, record, book, or printer anymore? The chances are good that someone else does. Obviously there is the usual route of donating items to your local thrift store or charity shop, but there are also resources like the trusty Freecycle, Craigslist, or Really, Really Free Markets that help match demand with the supply. If there isn't such a group in your community, there should be.

  9. Healthy competition
    Cooperation is great, but it's not the only way. A little friendly rivalry can get a lot done to spark community action. Sites like 18Seconds.org are playing a key role in pitting town against town in the battle to get greener. If you can't get your neighbors to change in order to save the polar bears, maybe they'll change to "beat those losers from down the road!" Keep it legal though, please...

  10. The revolution will be televised
    Just as local politics can be easier to influence than national, so can the local media. Regional newspapers, radio, and TV are always looking for interesting community-related stories, and as we noted here, it can be relatively easy to put a green spin on things. If local media outlets are unresponsive, it's no holds barred on the internet, so get cracking.


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Green Community: By the Numbers



  • 5.5: The number of global hectares currently required to support the average resident of Solihull in the UK. This could be reduced to 3 if all the recommendations in this report [PDF] were followed through at the national, local, and individual level.

  • 25,000: The number of tons of garbage that is collected in the city of New York each day, and over 1.2 billion gallons of water are drawn daily from reservoirs that are over 100 miles from the city.

  • 101: The number of communities listed on the Transition Towns website as of November 2008. These groups are actively engaged in planning a future for their community beyond fossil fuels.

  • 40 percent: Percentage of members of Zipcar, a car sharing club, ultimately decide against owning a car. They also drive up to 50 percent less than they would otherwise.

  • 11,000: The number of sustainable villages in Sri Lanka that are joined together under the umbrella organization of Sarvodaya. These are in turn linked to thousands of others worldwide via the Global Ecovillage Network.


Sources: World Wildlife Fund, Transition Towns, ZipCar, Sarvodaya
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Green Community: From the Archives


Dig deeper into these articles on green communities from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

Joining a community-supported agriculture co-op is a great way to connect with your community, and learn more about where your food comes from.

Take the next step and start your own community garden.

Step out there and learn more about How to Go Green: Volunteerism

TreeHugger interviews Rob Hopkins of the Transition Towns movement.

Yet another town prepares for transition; this time it's Lampeter in Wales.

Re:Vision is launched -- a competition to re-imagine sustainable communities.

Israeli TreeHugger Karin shares news of her local community garden in Jerusalem.

Warren tells us about Australian Community Foods, a scheme to encourage more local eating.

We feature a video of Majora Carter's TED address, in which she lays out why environmental justice and community values must be at the very heart of our sustainable future.

Penny Eastwood of Treesponsibility outlines her group's vision for a reforested, re-localized community that is more resilient to the coming environmental challenges.

In a three-part series (part one, part two and part three), Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels explains how this co-operative community group is moving beyond biodiesel manufacturing to include food-growing, environmental education, and a concerted effort to re-localize the surrounding economy.

Peak Moments TV offers public access documentaries on community solutions to peak oil and climate change.

Ian Roderick explains in this two-part interview (part one & part two) how the tiny village of Chew Magna has united behind a green vision for their valley.

Greg Searle, of One Planet Living North America tells TreeHugger about his organization's work to build flagship sustainable communities which make green living easy.

TreeHugger looks at why encouraging local ownership makes more sense than 'There Is No Alternative' big-box developments.

We announce the launch of Sustainable Community, a cohousing book that offers lessons learned from projects around the world about building integrated, co-operative residential developments.

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Green Community: From the Archives


Check out these other worthwhile sources to learn more about green communities.

Reader's Digest has a few tips on reconnecting to the neighborhood.

EPA's Green Communities program offers a step-by-step process for moving towards a greener future.

According to the BBC, villages and towns across Britain are aiming to reduce their carbon footprint and learn from each other.

Here, the BBC brings news of a German community embracing its local currency with open arms, and wallets.

The Smart Communities Network offers resources and advice on reducing energy consumption and improving your community's environment, economy and quality of life.

The Sustainable Communities Network also offers a similar range of resources on greening your surroundings, including a starter kit for city officials, community members, design professionals, and planners.

Transition Culture, Rob Hopkins' blog, offers news and views from around the world on the Transition Town movement, and on wider community-based sustainability efforts.

The Harrow Times brings us news of Britain in Bloom, a competition to encourage sustainable planting, enhanced biodiversity and increased recycling in communities around the country.

The ever informative Wikipedia offers an excellent primer on environmental justice, for those interested in the connection between sustainability and social justice issues, and why the poorest in society often suffer the most from pollution.

One Planet Living in the Suburbs is a UK-focused report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Bioregional Development Group on how to retrofit suburbs, and change resident behavior, to move towards a sustainable lifestyle. A summary can be downloaded here [PDF], and a full report here [PDF].

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