Net Zero Now: a programme to enable community action on climate change

Net Zero Now is a one-year project from Cambridge Carbon Footprint which was awarded £15,000 by South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Zero Carbon Communities (ZCC) grant scheme. The Net Zero Now project designed and delivered free training for community action on climate change. It trained 12 individuals to become local ambassadors for climate change. These individuals are now working on initiatives ranging from village hall sustainability, toy and book swaps, bike repair schemes and eco-festivals. The resources developed through the project have been transformed into a free online training course and will help to deliver future in-person and online courses.


The challenge

The climate crisis requires adaptation, public engagement and innovation at a local community level to reach net zero emissions. Many local authorities now offer grant schemes which provide funding to community groups or Parish Councils to reduce their carbon emissions, develop and protect nature, and engage people on the topic of climate change to alter their behaviours. Although these grant schemes are very valuable, the projects are often contingent upon a few key individuals to drive action and keep the project moving forwards.

Many people want to act on climate change, but don’t know what this would look like in their community, are unsure of where to start and are daunted by the scope of what they could do. Individuals could often benefit from training on communication and engagement strategies and practical elements, such as how to involve volunteers and organise events. There is, therefore, a need to enable community leaders to drive initiatives in their own areas, to support and empower them and others to respond to the climate emergency.

The solution

Cambridge Carbon Footprint (CCF) is a local charity which provides practical tools and support to enable individuals to take action on climate change by reducing carbon emissions at home, in the community and at work. The Net Zero Now training programme, which ran in summer 2021 over 5 months, trained and empowered local community leaders. Participants learnt to communicate climate messages, put on climate related events, design and implement strategies to reduce carbon emissions in their area, and educate and engage people from all backgrounds.

The Audience

Course numbers were limited to maximise the ability for trainees to network effectively online, and to ensure that trainers were able to support each participant. Therefore, to maximise training outcomes, CCF prioritised several key audiences. Existing leaders in the community (e.g. parish councillors, church leaders, scout leaders etc.) were identified early on as a key target audience. Respected in their communities and with established networks, they were considered well placed to implement projects and communicate effectively. Any deficits in environmental knowledge could be rectified with training. Environmental leaders were identified as understanding the issues but lacking the influence of community leaders. Where it seemed that these candidates could benefit from skills training to establish those networks, they were invited to participate. Existing climate leaders were not considered for the course, as it was thought they would benefit much less from the training. Candidates were assessed through online applications which were reviewed by the training team. 

The Scoping Survey

Between February and March 2021, CCF conducted a scoping survey comprising 63 respondents of a range of ages and locations. The results of the scoping survey can be summarised below: 

  • 82% of respondents were active in their communities. 

  • 100% were interested in both the community and the environment.  

  • 44% of respondents were unaware of local environmental groups.  

  • > 60% of respondents were interested in learning more about communicating environmental issues and connecting with others. 

  • > 50% of respondents were interested in live, online interactive seminars and an online platform to connect with others.  

This scoping exercise allowed CCF to identify the areas which required the most focus within the training programme and tailor it to this audience.  

The Programme Structure 

The training programme focused on three key areas: 

  • Providing training in effective communication and carbon reduction strategies; 

  • developing practical organisational skills; and 

  • creating tools and resources to support carbon reduction activities. 

The course was held over 5 months, comprising 8 2-hour live online seminars with guest speakers, and a series of at-home exercises and further readings. The online platform Slack was used as an ongoing communication channel, and additional one-to-ones, in-person social events and help sessions were held.  

The seminar programme included the following sessions, with a mixture of focusing on theoretical and practical skills: 

 

Title 

Description 

Theoretical 

Climate Change and Carbon Footprints  

 

How climate change has been tackled previously and cementing understandings of climate change and carbon reduction. 

 

Understanding Solutions and the Local context  

 

How ideas can be implemented in a local context as part of a collective response to climate change at all levels. 

 

Communicating climate change 

 

Understanding what messages do and don’t work with rural audiences and how best to communicate climate solutions. 

 

Behaviour Change 

 

How and why do people take on pro-environmental behaviours – what this means for developing projects. 

Practical 

Shaping your Initiatives  

 

How to review and prioritise the best climate solutions to take forward. 

 

Community Project Management 

 

Practical tools for planning and managing effective local projects. 

 

Managing Groups  

 

How to build a strong team and engage others to deliver local climate action. 

 

Communications and Events 

How to organise engaging activities and promote and publicise them. 

 

 

This structure was selected to guide participants through structuring their ideas, channelling their ambitions and finally implementing plans.  

The impact

12 individuals have been successfully trained through the course and have provided positive feedback about feeling more empowered and confident to lead climate action in their communities.  

Participants completed three surveys at the beginning, middle and end of the course. They self-assessed their knowledge on topics including ‘Individual action on climate change’, ‘behaviour change and barriers to change’ and ‘local climate action initiatives’. All areas saw increased knowledge, with an overall 37% improvement. The biggest overall change was seen in the participant’s knowledge of local climate initiatives which increased by the largest margin. 

Participants also self-assessed their confidence levels. Confidence grew more quickly towards the end of the programme, particularly the confidence to raise funds for community action, and to create a project plan and programme of work. Overall confidence levels improved by 40%.

This growth in knowledge and empowerment shows the clear benefits gained from the training programme and is demonstrated in the tangible outcomes in the case studies below.

Location 

Outcome 

Quote 

Oakington 

New sustainability group launched including a comms campaign and future involvement with village events. 

A key outcome was ‘Identifying the audience and how to tailor the message to them’. 

Over 

Villages signed up to Plastic Free Communities scheme. Investigating sustainable options for village hall redevelopment. Connecting with other Parishes. 

‘I learned that one can make a difference and help others to make a difference’. 

Stapleford  

Declaring a Climate and Ecological Emergency. Holding an Eco Event. Planning toy and book swaps, bike repair and other sessions. 

‘Making every effort I can to make ours and surrounding villages make change and work with each other’. 

Northstowe 

Regular events e.g. swaps, repair cafes and workshops and have ideas for capturing more volunteers and organising the groups. 

‘Most relevant for me has been how to set up group, capture volunteers and communicate by identifying audiences and messages’. 

Haslingfield 

Representation at parish council meetings leading them to declare climate and ecological emergency and develop an action plan. Plan to run summer eco-festival and launch a community survey. 

‘This course has helped me to feel able to put myself forward in these ways and the more I do, the more it seems possible to do’. 

How is the new approach being sustained?

By training individuals already active in local communities, CCF intend that the changes made, and actions taken as a result will be effective and long-lived. As the participants already have a standing in their community, they are in a good position to educate and engage others.  

Due to the constraints of COVID-19, almost all of the planned activities in the training programme were transferred online, through Zoom and Slack. The programme now has a valuable breadth of online resources. These have been transformed into a free online training course and will help with the delivery of similar in-person and online courses in the future. 

Cambridge Carbon Footprint have subsequently developed a one-hour introduction to climate action workshop, 4 stand-alone Net Zero Skills sessions, and plan to run another Net Zero Now course in South Cambridgeshire in 2022.  

Lessons learned

As with many other projects for the past two years, COVID-19 impacted how CCF delivered their training programme. The restrictions prevented the intended in-person events. Although some of the training sessions would have worked better in person, the online delivery increased accessibility for some members and produced invaluable online resources. The following learning points were also noted: 

Audience: The selection process targeted the right audience, contacting potential applicants before accepting them resulted in a low drop-out rate. Training small numbers enabled trainers to effectively support each participant to overcome obstacles and get started. This could, however, be increased slightly to account for some dropout. 

Structure: The course was 16 hours which was an appropriate length of time. Holding meetings over Zoom meant that they were more accessible to a lot of people, however, meeting in a face-to-face capacity was preferable for workshop-style sessions.  

Content: The variety of content and the overall balance between theory and practice was good, however, starting practical content earlier on in the course would have been more engaging and given participants longer to work on their projects. The opportunity for participants to connect with each other and trainers in one-to-one sessions was valuable.   

Ongoing Feedback: Holding a scoping survey at the start of the project proved successful in finding applicants. Continuous monitoring surveys throughout the course was helpful in determining the participants’ change in attitudes towards climate leadership. 

Relevant resources

Contact

Eleanor Haines – ZCC@scambs.gov.uk