How to Go Green: In the Community

Group of neighbors working on a community farm

Tom Werner / Getty Images

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.

Start by Connecting to the Community

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.

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.

Rethink Your Travel Methods

Limiting car use can be a 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?

Spread the Word About Eco-Friendly Living

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 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.

Join Nearby Environmental Groups

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. 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.

Plan for What Your New Community Could Look Like

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 and the North Carolina project offering collaborative planning for walkable communities.

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.

Donate and Share Unwanted Goods

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.

Engage in 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 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...

Take Advantage of the Media

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.

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 a recent report 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.