Cutting carbon through people-powered innovation

NESTA's Big Green Challenge inspired community groups to come up with innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions. Along the way, it has proved that change really can come from a grassroots level

When NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), launched its £1 million prize, Big Green Challenge, the aim was to give the right incentives and support to communities to come up with local solutions to climate change.

But the projects that resulted from the Big Green Challenge have, by and large, resulted in other positive knock-on effects above and beyond carbon reductions: from offering offenders in a Sussex prison skills in biofuel production to creating a long term culture shift towards sustainable education at a high school in Lytham.

The Big Green Challenge received over 355 entries, including over 150 proposals from entirely new groups created in response to the challenge. More than a third of applications came from groups without a previous focus on environmental issues.

Working together

The projects were judged on how much they had reduced carbon emissions, and how easily their projects could be practically adopted by other community groups across the country.

The process inspired more than just the winners: over 50 per cent of entrants who reached the second stage of the Big Green Challenge are continuing with their work despite not being selected as one of the ten finalists.

In early 2008, 355 groups came forward with a wide range of imaginative and practical ideas for reducing CO2 emissions in their communities. NESTA selected 100 of the most promising groups, who received support from the Big Green Challenge team to develop their ideas into detailed plans. From this group, it shortlisted ten finalists who received funding and support to put their ideas into practice over the course of a year to compete for the £1 million prize. They had until October 2009 to reduce CO2 emissions in their community.

Between them, they proved the impact communities could have in transforming the UK from a high to a low carbon economy.

The Government's Low Carbon Transition Plan published in July 2009, says that to achieve its 34 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target by 2020, the UK needs to reduce its emissions by a further 18 per cent by that date.

NESTA points out that across the four Big Green Challenge winners the average CO2 emission reduction is 15 per cent, almost matching the outstanding 18 per cent reduction required.

The winners

The Green Valleys is a community renewable energy scheme in Wales which has reduced carbon emissions by 20 per cent. Reductions were achieved across 155 households and four community buildings, including personal and community transport and the installation of a number of hydro schemes.

Household Energy Service (HES) is a free environmental survey service for local households in Shropshire, which has reduced carbon emissions by 10 per cent. Reductions were achieved through the provision of a home energy auditing service carried out by community volunteers and the subsequent energy efficiency actions carried out in 460 participating homes.

Isle of Eigg is an entire island community which is working together to reduce carbon emissions through a wide range of projects, from generating renewable electricity and installing insulation and solar panels to producing local food and developing low-carbon community transport schemes. This has led to a reduction in CO2 emissions of 32 per cent.

Low Carbon West Oxford (LCWO) was highly commended by the panel of judges. It is an environmental project featuring a range of community-owned renewable energy initiatives, which has reduced CO2 emissions by 28 per cent. These reductions were achieved across 55 households, including personal transport and community/ commercial buildings.

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