A small village in Britain reduced its carbon footprint by 24 percent over a 10-year period.

The 1,000-resident town of Ashton Hayes, in England, has been working for 10 years to cut carbon emissions. A look back at the impact their collective efforts reveals just how well their plan is working.

Ashton Hayes’ mission began with an ambitious goal to become Britain’s first carbon neutral town. The initiatives the town took were largely led by Garry Charnock, a resident with a background in environmental science and former journalist.

Charnock attended a debate on climate change at the Hay Festival and was inspired to start taking action on climate change on more than a personal level.

“Ashton is such a nice and friendly place that I came away from that festival thinking if I can’t persuade the people of Ashton to do this here, I can’t do it anywhere,” Charnock said.

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Charnock was right. And in 2006 he started the Carbon Neutral Project. Four hundred Ashton Hayes residents — nearly half the town — showed up, along with the town’s elementary school leaders, and committed to do everything they could to go green. They continued to hold regular meetings so residents could discuss how to reduce carbon footprints.

Some residents were financially able to invest in solar energy — installing photovoltaic cells on their roofs, geothermal heating, and building systems to store and collect rainwater.

Others who couldn’t switch to geothermal energy for home heating took on simple life hacks to cut down on carbon emissions such as throwing on another sweater in the winter instead of cranking up the heat.

Ashton Hayes residents also made efforts to book fewer flights for travel and grow food at home. One family, the Dossetts, even bought two cows who “mow the lawn” – a task no longer requiring their gasoline-powered lawnmower.

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Once the actions of individuals took off, the community as a whole invested in more projects to lower carbon emissions in the town.

The town decided to revamp its old pavilion by making it solar-powered. They also added solar panels to the town’s elementary school.

Greenhouse gas emissions from car usage declined by 40 percent in the last decade, as more residents have switched to electric cars, or increased walking, biking, and other carbon-neutral modes of transport.  

It seems one of the most successful aspects for this town has simply been getting everyone on the same page when it comes to taking action to reduce climate change.

The town didn’t receive large grants or government help. It was a grassroots effort. Small actions accumulated to make a big impact. 

Ashton Hayes, well on its way to becoming the first carbon neutral town in England, is a leading example on the power of coming together to make a difference.

By cleaning up their own “patch” they’re even inspiring other towns to do the same. Eden Mills, a Canadian community, has cut emission by 14 percent by following tips from Ashton Hayes.

The global trend of more people moving to urban environments bodes well for this development because cities are, paradoxically, more eco-friendly. In cities, living and working together are part and parcel of the human experience. But even city-dwellers can learn a few things from a small town in the UK.

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Defend the Planet

How a Tiny British Town Is a Climate Change Leader

By Meghan Werft