Since Rio, a quiet revolution has had significant impact on UK communities

Amid the political bickering and negative media publicity marring the run-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg - described by some elements of the more sensationalist British press as a 'jamboree' - there is good news on sustainable development in the UK. Since the Rio Summit ten years ago there has, in fact, been a 'quiet revolution'.

The Quiet Revolution, published by the Shell Better Britain Campaign (SBBC) – an organisation that supports community action for the environment, is the result of an investigation into the impact of local communities on sustainable development in the UK.

The report reveals that since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit’s ‘Agenda 21’ urged people to ‘think globally and act locally’, in the UK there are now 850 community organisations involved in recycling. The community sector also provides 10 million passenger journeys for those who have difficulty accessing public transport services, and there are over 130 community groups fighting local pollution.

“We called this report The Quiet Revolutionbecause the amazing achievements of these communities have not been recognised – until now,” said Co-Director of the SBBC Ben Proctor. “These groups are part of a revolution sweeping the country, they need help and support from policy makers and funders at every level. Hopefully this report will go some way to making that happen.”

According to the report, community recycling organisations are now so experienced that many are providing advice and services to local authorities to assist them in reaching their recycling targets. They provide 4.5 million households with recycling facilities. However, many smaller groups are going unrecognised by local government, and their achievements, Proctor told edie, are probably not being included in local authority recycling rates.

Community recycling projects include a scheme in Llandudno to collect and process green waste from 600 households and provide training opportunities for local people. Another project is the Houseworks Furniture Recycling Project near Northampton in the East Midlands, which, in the last three years, has recycled and distributed over 5,000 items of furniture to young disadvantaged people.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, community groups have also been increasingly involved in generating sustainable energy. There are now developments such as solar-powered community centres and community-owned wind turbines, enabling groups to generate their own power and generate an income. This means that community groups can now to take risks and try out new ideas, allowing them to inform a wider debate on the feasibility of what renewable technologies do and don’t work, says the report.

Other areas in which community groups have been assisting sustainable development, include transport, where there are now 360 groups campaigning for safer streets in cities, and 940 schools which have safer transport routes for their pupils. Schemes include car clubs and recycled bicycles.

Pollution prevention is also being assisted by communities, with over 130 community groups fighting pollution and co-operating with 160 groups overseas. Over 200 court cases are fought every year, which include preventing inappropriate developments as well as pollution issues.

Sustainable food production and housing projects, as well as green spaces are also being brought about in many areas through the work of community groups, says SBBC.

The organisation has also found that although community groups are acting locally, they hold strong opinions on what political leaders should be achieving globally. A survey by SBBC revealed that 40% of community groups believe that international agreements such as Agenda 21 are vital if we are to solve the economic, environmental and social problems that the world faces. Ten years on from Rio, they state that ensuring that action is taken on existing agreements should be a priority for world leaders attending the Rio Summit’s offspring, the World Summit at Johannesburg.

“As the World Summit on Sustainable Development gets underway in Johannesburg, the groups featured in this report will be hoping that world leaders focus on acting on what has already been agreed to make sustainable development a reality across the world,” said Proctor.

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