Can an entire town turn carbon neutral? The village of Ashton Hayes, England (population 1,000), thinks so, and is in the process of becoming the first town in the world with zero net carbon emissions.
“As a community we felt that it was important to set off on the journey towards carbon neutrality, because so many people are talking and not doing anything,” says Ashton Hayes resident and project originator Garry Charnock. He hatched the idea in November 2005, and received such strong community support that he took the idea to the parish council as a formal proposal. When 75% of adult residents attended the first meeting, the Going Carbon Neutral Project was born.
First, students of the University of Cheshire conducted a survey to measure the village’s total annual emissions. Some residents installed solar panels and more energy-efficient appliances, but most took less drastic steps. “We have seen a drop in the number of flights, more walking and cycling and increased recycling,” Charnock says. “Most people have saved money on fuel bills, and it has definitely brought the community together.” The result is a 20% reduction in total emissions since last year, with more progress on the way.
Other communities are following suit, although not all with such lofty goals. In the U.S., the town of Greensburg, Kansas, which was obliterated by a tornado on May 4, 2007 (95% of homes and businesses destroyed), is rebuilding as a model of sustainability, including highly efficient Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum designation for all city buildings, significant walkability and the use of wind energy and solar panels. This past summer, the small town of Rock Port, Missouri (population 1,300), became the first in the nation to operate solely on wind power, harvesting wind from 75 turbines across three counties.
The Going Carbon Neutral Project has produced literature and videos for interested communities to help them begin a carbon neutral commitment. “So far we have spoken to over 100 communities who have asked us to visit them,” says Charnock. “We now have friends doing the same thing in Canada, Australia, Norway, Romania and Mauritius. Sadly, the U.S. seems to be a few years behind us all.”