Friday, 28 January 2011

Carbon-Neutral Ashton Hayes and a new Climate Leader

Fabulous talk at Transition Maidenhead on Tuesday evening by Garry Charnock, the driving force behind Ashton Hayes becoming Britain's first carbon-neutral community.  As Garry made clear, "carbon-neutral" is a vision rather than a destination, and a vision that has resulted in verified reductions of this community's carbon footprint by around 25% in their first five years.  Exciting plans lie ahead and the goodwill, the community spirit that has built up through the enthusiasm of everyone puling together, has drawn even the most sceptical residents into this unique, sustainable movement.

Carbon-neutral Ashton Hayes asked commercial donors to fund their launch - and quickly had £3,500 cash with none of the strings that come with grant funds.  400 adults came to their launch event, and the BBC World service broadcast it to 120 million people worldwide!  Garry told us that residents like to get their news from their local papers, so this is a much better way of reaching the local community than putting leaflets through doors.  He also observed that, up and down the country, the sustainable communities that succeed are the ones that engage children - working with schools is an essential ingredient.

Another secret of success has been the long-term involvement of the geography department at the nearby University of Chester.  Students and academics benchmarked the Year 1 carbon footprint of the village (5,000 Tonnes CO2-e) and provided feedback to every home.  Ongoing surveys established the carbon reductions of all households in the village - demonstrating that even the people who didn't sign up to the campaign had reduced their emissions as a result of the all the buzz and chatter about it in their village.  The pub landlord was a great example: initially a vocal sceptic, he turned to the carbon-neutral group when his energy bills were threatening his business.  A team from the University spent a day measuring the pub's energy use and he achieved an immediate cut in his monthly bill of 20% as a result.  Thereafter, he became a real advocate for the scheme and 9,000 other Punch Taverns nationwide learned about his reduced energy bills.

Community cohesion is a strong motivator and carbon-neutral Ashton Hayes has kept people involved through parties in peoples' homes.  A community shop provides local food ingredients without excess packaging and a community electric car (Nissan Leaf) will soon be bookable through the shop, which will take a small cut of the fees in return for managing this service.  The village has produced a toolkit to replicate their Carbon-Neutral community and this has allowed Eden Mills to become the first community in Canada to go carbon neutral.

Garry's rules:

  1. Keep it non-political: their MP wanted to speak at the launch but this was not allowed.  
  2. Don't fall out with anyone: the biggest petrolheads and most frequent flyers are key assets in a carbon reduction campaign!
  3. Carbon footprint information and feedback is private but ALWAYS share news of successes (e.g., new renewables or energy efficiency measures installed) with neighbours!
My feelings, having listened to Garry, is that unimaginable change has been achieved by unswerving passion.  There are just so many ways in which his project could have stalled but, instead of letting people say "No", Garry has brought his community together and drafted powerful resource providers in to make great things happen.  He embodies the inspired leadership needed to tackle climate change in  communities of all sizes, from villages to nations, continents and the world.

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