Throughout Europe, a plethora of community-based initiatives (CBIs) are trying to make societal sustainability materialize by rethinking the way different goods and services are produced and distributed, by changing personal transport habits or by implementing renewable energy projects in their communities. Within the TESS-project we wanted to know more about the impact generated by these initiatives in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions and investigated over 50 European CBIs across a broad variety of activities within the project. As a result of this extensive research, the released report sheds some light on the positive effects generated by local community-based initiatives in regards to climate change mitigation. These initiatives are engaged in a wide range of activities across the food, energy, transport and waste sectors. Examples of activities analyzed are local and organic food purchasing groups, promotion of dietary change towards lower shares of animal-based products, sustainable transportation, generation of renewable energy and efforts to increase the recycling and reuse of materials. In total the following 10 activities were covered in the methodology:

List of CBI activities analysed in TESS.

List of CBI activities analysed in TESS.

We developed new methods to calculate the GHG emissions avoided for each of these activities and applied them, after conducting extensive interviews, to the TESS CBIs. The data collected included for example information related to the quantity of goods and services they provided and transport distances covered.

The main idea behind the calculations is the comparison of the CBI’s activities with a business as usual or “baseline scenario”, i.e. the expected behavior of the average population in the absence of the implemented initiative to obtain the same service. For example, for CBIs growing local organic food the emissions caused by this type of food production system are compared to the production of the same quantity that would typically be found in a supermarket, generated mostly through conventional means. The difference between the two scenarios provides the emission reduction achieved by the initiative’s activity. In this regard, the aim of the methodology is not to perform a complete life cycle assessment (LCA) for each initiative but rather to develop a simplified method that estimates the emissions reduced through their different activities in a rigorous manner given the limited amount of data that is typically recorded by this type of small initiatives.

The figure below highlights the results obtained across all investigated CBIs engaged in the 10 different activities. The axes represent two main indicators related to the following questions:

  • What are the absolute carbon emissions reduced by the CBIs for this activity (x-axis)?
  • By how much can the carbon footprint of each CBI´s beneficiary be reduced for this activity (y-axis)?

The best performing CBIs are marked by a red circle on the top-right. They are engaged in the activities of “Provision of electricity” (yellow), “Provision of heat” (red), “Promotion of sustainable personal transport” (purple) and “Provision of meals” (green; i.e. CBIs promoting dietary change through offering vegetarian and vegan meals).

CBI-GHG-emission-reductions

Overview of CBIs emission reductions calculated in TESS.

Initiatives engaged in energy and transport projects present a large potential for climate mitigation. For food-related activities, our results indicate that what is eaten is far more important than how it was produced: both reducing or avoiding animal-based products and reducing food waste (at the households or at retail stores) has a much higher impact in reducing your carbon footprint than buying organic food. Of course some initiatives producing food are mainly aimed at creating social impact rather than reducing carbon emissions and should therefore not be judged on the emission reduction criteria alone –results  produced by our research team on the analysis of the diverse combined impacts of CBIs will be published soon.

Although the GHG reductions achieved by the selected CBIs vary considerably across activities, overall the results show that local initiatives have a large potential for climate change mitigation. This potential is expected to be larger when considering that many of their indirect effects, which have not been considered in the accounting methodology (e.g. educational and awareness-raising activities), could also have a considerable influence in the results presented for some of the initiatives.

The methods developed will be translated into an online tool (“Track-it”), where CBIs engaged in similar activities may calculate their own avoided GHG emissions, compare their achievements to the results obtained from the TESS initiatives and reflect on the different aspects that may be improved in order to become as efficient as possible in their contribution to climate change mitigation. The tool will be launched on this website soon.

Read the full report here.