When it comes to cutting carbon emissions and adding renewable energy, recent studies have shown that U.S. cities are succeeding where the federal government has failed. The nation’s mayors now have a little inspiration from across the pond, where Ashton Hayes, a wee village of 1,000 souls, has its sights set on becoming the first carbon neutral community in England.
The Ashton Hayes Going Carbon Neutral Project is a community-led initiative that got its start in November 2005, when the local Parish Council voted to adopt a proposal by long-term resident Garry Charnock that the village should aim to become carbon neutral. The project got its official launch in January of 2006 at the local primary school, on a “bitterly cold” night. The meeting was, nevertheless, attended by around 400 people (75 percent of all adults in the village).
It’s this kind of support in this “well knit community” that has allowed Ashton Hayes to cut the energy use of each village household by around 23 percent through behavioral changes alone, such as switching off appliances and changing to efficient light bulbs. (Some residents have managed to cut their energy costs by as much as 50 percent through improved insulation and careful energy use.)
These efforts also served to capture the attention of media organizations and environmental non-profits around the world, leading the village to be selected, in 2010, as one of the 22 communities to receive funding under the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Low Carbon Communities Challenge. With a grant of £400,000, Ashton Hayes has gone on to construct a low-carbon school, powered by solar, and to build a low-carbon sports pavilion complete with a solar array that helps to power the village’s community-owned electric vehicle, a Nissan Leaf.
Ashton Hayes is currently seeking ways to generate income for local residents through renewable energy; in the meantime, its website serves as a clearing house for communities looking to replicate the village’s success.