Collaborate With Your Neighbors for a Sustainable Future

Neighbors can work together to move towards a better and more sustainable future for all.

A group of gardeners tending to and maintaining some small organic crops together in the afternoon sun.

Tom Werner / Getty Images

Sustainability begins at home. But to really make progress, we need to find ways to collaborate. We need to come together with friends, neighbors, and others in our wider community to make progress, and live in a more sustainable and eco-friendly way. 

If we really stop to think about it, many of us could do a lot more to work with others in our communities. Growing food is one key thing we can do in collaboration with those who live near us, but it doesn't have to stop there. Here are some other ways you could work with neighbors toward the common goal of sustainability:

Growing in Individual Gardens

In my work as a permaculture designer and sustainability consultant, I have seen many individual gardeners achieve great things on their own. But I have also seen how neighbors can work together even when growing in their own individual gardens. Neighbors can, for example, grow complementary crops, with one household providing certain types of produce and their neighbors another. And share the produce they grow. 

In one particular scheme, for example, one neighbor had a food forest, with plenty of fruits and berry crops, while their neighbor cultivated annual produce. 

Neighbors can also swap seeds, plants, tools, and other resources. And they can share their knowledge and skills. 

Those with larger gardens can also share space with those with the time and energy to grow food. I have seen many successful informal schemes where homeowners give over some space for neighbors or others without gardens to use, in return for a share of the produce. 

Front Garden Farming

One other amazing thing that neighbors can do together is set up an enterprise together to make the most of 'wasted' front garden space. In one recent scheme that I worked on, neighbors signed up to make their front gardens part of a "front yard farm." In return for letting community members tend a patch of land on their under-utilized front lawns, they received a portion of the food that was grown. 

Community Gardens

Of course, communities can still grow together even when individuals have no garden space at all. Community gardens can be set up on school or church grounds, in city parks, underutilized marginal spaces, or even brownfield sites. Community gardens can be set up almost anywhere and can deliver far more to a community than just food. All that it takes is a concerted effort from some neighbors or community members coming together. 

Fellows in Fertility

Another great thing that neighbors can come together to do is composting. By pooling natural resources, neighbors can create great quality compost which can be used by everyone in the community. Neighbors can also work together to create organic liquid plant feeds to help all of the gardens in a neighborhood grow. 

Green Your Street

When neighbors come together, they can not only grow food. They can also grow many other plants to green the street, manage water more wisely, and protect, care for and improve the soil. Rain gardens and other native planting designs not just on individual properties but along roadsides can make a huge difference to local inhabitants and ecology. Wildlife corridors and wildlife zones are also something that communities can come together to create. 

Start a Time Bank

Beyond growing together, neighbors can also collaborate in a range of other ways. One interesting way to build stronger and more cohesive communities is through time banking. The idea is that people donate their time (to help with gardens, child care, chores, DIY jobs, etc.) and can request other people's time in return. Everyone in a community has something to offer. 

Set Up Swap Shops, Libraries or Tool Banks

As well as lending each other a helping hand, neighbors can also lend each other many other things. And have common pools of "things" that can help everyone avoid excessive consumption and live in a more sustainable way. Swap shops let people find second-hand items – proof that one man's trash is another man's treasure. Libraries let people borrow books and learn valuable information and skills. Tool banks allow people to borrow tools for projects before returning them for someone else to use. These are just a few examples. 

Manage Waste Through Recycling, Repair, Upcycling and Reuse

Neighbors can also come together to manage waste. They can collect items not commonly recycled through the municipal collection, and send these to specialist recyclers. They can set up points for repair, upcycling, and reuse in a neighborhood—helping the whole community to reduce waste and make use of items for as long as possible. 

These are just some examples of the ways in which neighbors can work together to move towards a better and more sustainable future for all.