Working together as a group to reduce your collective carbon footprint can be a great way for a whole community to start to address issues of climate change and energy use.
With the rise of online carbon calculators – and some of these are now aimed at communities rather than individuals – there’s never been an easier time to see just how big your own local area’s print really is and the results may surprise you.
The average carbon footprint in the UK, works out at 10.2 tonnes of carbon per household – or 4.5 tonnes per person. In a 2007 study, Knighton and the Teme Valley – in mid-Wales, near to the English border – the figures came out at 6.2 tonnes of carbon per person and 13.2 tonnes per household, largely because of the number of older, less energy efficient buildings having no mains gas supply. Clearly, the first step towards balancing the community carbon footprint has to be getting a pretty accurate idea of its size in the first place.
With energy efficiency widely seen as the most important single step to reducing our carbon footprint, it stands to reason that any attempt to tackle the problem on a community scale simply has to start here. Ensuring that valuable energy isn’t wasted – and reducing demand – gives a direct way to avoid carbon emissions. It’s a simple equation, the less energy you use or lose, the smaller the amount of CO2 you’re responsible for releasing – and on a community scale, those sorts of savings soon begin to add up.
Talking about energy efficiency tends to set people thinking about changing light bulbs and replacing old appliances, but there are many more ways a community can opt to use energy more efficiently and so improve its overall carbon footprint. Reducing food miles, starting a car sharing scheme, rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling, composting and managing waste more sustainably can all have a major impact on the overall carbon cost of local life.
For rural communities especially where, like the areas in the mid-Wales study, mains gas may not be readily available, perhaps one of the most important areas to start is making sure that everyone’s insulation is up to scratch. For localities that have predominantly older types of houses, the simple step of bringing insulation up to modern recommended standards alone can make a huge difference.
With efficiency and wastage addressed, perhaps the next most important step is to look at where the community’s energy comes from – and see if there’s any way to reduce the carbon emissions involved. Most energy companies have green tariffs and with all electricity suppliers now required by law to source an increasing amount of power from renewable sources year on year, it’s easy to take the low-carbon energy route. Alternatively, there’s always the option of low carbon micro-generation – small systems such as solar photovoltaic, wind generation and heat pumps – to provide clean, green energy locally.
Although carbon offsetting tends to be most readily associated with long-haul air travel, it’s an idea that can be applied equally as well to carbon emissions from life in general. While there are plenty of schemes around to do the offsetting on your behalf, for a community based drive to lower everyone’s environmental impact, it can sometimes be a more fitting approach to make your own carbon offset locally too. If nothing else, it’s a perfect excuse for starting a spot of community gardening.
It’s often hard to see how the little actions we take on an individual level can really make any sort of difference to the big questions of our time – carbon emissions, climate change and the ever-accelerating use of the world’s resources. However, when a community bands together to do something about its collective carbon footprint, then – to borrow that well-know supermarket’s advertising slogan – every little helps.