A Guest Post by Rob Hopkins on Earth Day 2018
7 Steps to Creating a Sustainability Transition Movement in Your Community
By Rob Hopkins
Author of The Transition Starts Here, Now and Together
It’s easy to feel daunted by the profound environmental, social and economic crises affecting our world. It’s easy, too, to resign oneself to being powerless in the face of ecological disturbances, the rampant exploitation of natural resources, the frenetic and dehumanizing quest for profit, exclusion and widening of inequalities.
But we are not powerless: far from it. In 2005 I was just an ordinary, low-profile guy in my thirties living in the town of Totnes, England. Like many of us, I worried about the crises endangering humanity. It disturbed me profoundly, for example, that of the 30 million British pounds spent yearly on food in my town alone, 22 million ended up in the cash registers of the supermarkets. Yet if people shifted just 10% of the money they spent in large chain stores to local businesses, they would inject 2 million pounds every year into the local economy. (1)
Worrying, however, was not enough. I wanted to be able to tell my four children that during this critical period, when we still had a window in which to act, I did absolutely everything in my power to find a solution.
So I started knocking on my neighbors’ doors. As a Kinsale College teacher of permaculture. Which aims to foster resilience by turning farms and communities into autonomous, productive energy- and labor-efficient ecosystems.I envisioned engaging the people around me in exploring a different model of change. This model proposed that communities unite to organize a new, locally based economy that could effectively withstand both environmental and economic crises, while planning for a post-oil, post-growth world.
After working long and hard explaining this new vision, the initiative we then called ‘Transition Town Totnes’ generated a great deal of enthusiasm among many local residents. Action groups were created to look at such issues as food, energy, and the economy. Shared gardens flourished throughout this pretty little town, which even allotted areas in the public parks to vegetable gardens and fruit production. In under a decade, Totnes began harnessing resources at hand, no longer expecting food to arrive from the other side of the planet at great fuel costs, but instead creating shorter food supply chains and cultivating a growing proportion of the available land (gardens, municipal parks). The town adopted a local currency—the Totnes Pound—that enriched the community and kept its finances away from big banks and the stock market. Panels of federate fellow citizens united to develop local renewable energy cooperatives.
This experiment has had much positive impact in Totnes and beyond, ultimately growing into the worldwide Transition Movement. This quiet revolution of ordinary people around the world coming together to rethink and reimagine the places where they live has spread to 1,200 cities in 47 countries— including the U.S.—thanks to the power of the word-of-mouth “ripple effect” generated by the simple act of taking a step, of one individual setting something in motion. My new book with co-author Lionel Astruc, The Transition Starts Here, Now and Together, gives a detailed account of the process.
In the U.S, Transition initiatives have sprung up in 167 locations. Each of them are transforming their communities, without fanfare, without outside funding, making them more autonomous and more resilient to the major crises looming ahead. Thus we know that it is entirely possible to foment change one person and one step at a time.
Over the years, my Transition colleagues and I have distilled a set of 7 essential ingredients to get started in creating a Transition Movement in any community:
The first step is to focus on creating healthy groups. Getting to a healthy group dynamic may mean going through several steps — from initial enthusiasm, to resolving ideological tensions to overcoming failures. To start a healthy group, focus on cultivating a positive first meeting. Select a comfortable venue that all can access regardless of ability or transport. Start with a check-in, allowing everyone to speak. Develop a shared understanding of your vision and goals for the transition, and leave ample room for closing out and reflecting.
One of the key challenges with creating a low carbon, more resilient future is imagining what that might be like. It’s important to have shared vision and to act in service of that vision. Instead of planting ornamental trees, plant fruit-bearing trees. Cultivate a participatory democracy where your community can establish a collective set of priorities. Imagining the future you all want in advance of taking steps towards that future is key.
Ask: how can we make Transition relevant to everyone in our community? Listen to what people’s respective needs are – especially those who are most marginalised, both economically and socially. Community involvement is absolutely crucial to the success of Transition in your community. As more people come into the project, you will help them form their own self-sustaining projects, or theme groups that work with a particular focus such as food, energy, communication or wellbeing.
Working to ensure a Transition group is as diverse and inclusive as possible isn’t easy, but it’s vital. Really listen to the members of your community, and be prepared to be changed by what you hear. While wrestling with the giants of defeating peak oil and climate change, it’s still imperative to make sure everyday needs are met. Know what those needs are, and always work towards building an equitable and inclusive Transition.
Networks & partnerships.
Collaboration is vital to building Transition in your community. One option is to build a network of groups that support each other locally, another is to work in partnership with groups on shared projects. Think of what information you can share, what thoughtful questions you can ask, how you can decide on things together and deliver on mutual projects.
It really matters that people do things, create visible manifestations, ratherthan just talking. And that those projects are eye-catching, playful, impactful, and inviting. The success of the Transition movement rests on us making tangible changes in the world. Something as simple as creating a community garden in an otherwise forgotten lot will create positive momentum around the movement.
Part of a movement.
Transition is happening in over 50 countries around the world. So once you start an initiative, you become part of that huge learning network of people sharing their insights, learnings and wisdom. Being part of a bigger network can create an atmosphere of trust and success, so take advantage of the bigger movement and engage with it. And don’t feel you can only share your successes. Sharing your challenges and hurdles, and your reflections on why things didn’t work, is just as useful. There’s a movement out there, make the most of it!
Reflect & Celebrate.
Reflecting on how your group is doing and celebrating what you’ve achieved is an essential part of Transition. It’s important to create space to assess what you have done and explore how well you work together as a group.
Each Transition community looks radically different. Some might create a food market, organize a street carnival or start a local currency as their practical projects. Some will reflect & celebrate with a contemplative meeting while others throw raucous parties. The bottom line is to make sure your Transition movement weighs, measures, responds to and grows with the needs of the people involved.
And remember: we can’t afford to wait for the cavalry to arrive and save us from the crises that are upon us. They’re not coming. We –you, me and ordinary citizens around the world — are the cavalry.
About the Author
One day in 2005, Rob Hopkins, an ordinary British citizen, started knocking on his neighbors’ doors in the small town of Totnes, where he had just settled in. He was proposing that they come together to organize nothing less than a new, locally based economy. A new model, the Transition Town, harnessed resources at hand and modeled a new way of life: no longer expect food to arrive from the other side of the planet at great fuel costs, but instead create short food supply chains and cultivate all the available land (gardens, rooftops, municipal parks); no longer complain about pollution, but rally fellow citizens around a project of local renewable energy cooperatives; no longer rail against the banks and the stock markets, but adopt a local currency that enriches the community. His experience has been successful not only in Totnes; it has spread to 1,200 cities in 47 countries. Each of the Transition Towns are transforming their communities, without fanfare, without outside funding, making them more autonomous and more resilient to the crises looming ahead—a network of oases offering a wealth of solutions.
Hopkins’ charisma and his story spur us all to become the best we can be. He has revived a sense of hope, buried under years of resignation and the disillusionment of “economic realism.” The saga of the Transition Towns movement inspires us all to take action and tap into the unimagined capacities we all have to promote change.