Practice meets community: the role of community-based organisations in stimulating sustainable practices among participants
School of Earth and Environment Sustainability Research Institute Leeds, United Kingdom
In this paper I summarise the results of an extensive study into the role of community-based organisations in stimulating sustainable practices among participants. There is a burgeoning interest in community responses to sustainability problems in the UK, with grassroots movements such as ?transition towns? inspiring community-based organisations to attempt to influence participants? sustainability practices. Such interventions are at home in practice theory, as they implicitly recognise the connections between practices, people, institutions and places. Using an evaluation method sympathetic to practice theory, my research consisted of 70 qualitative interviews with participants in five varied community-based sustainability projects in the north of England.
I report here on three main findings of the study. First, results show that these projects are bounded by the context in which they take place, with the organisational, personal and infrastructural resources, and cultural rules of the community impacting on the extent to which such projects can influence sustainability practice. Second, participants in these projects have a variety of backgrounds, ranging from people who were previously unengaged in sustainability practices, to those with a long history of engagement, and from serial volunteers, to those with limited other involvement in community. Outcomes of these projects are varied, but more favourable for participants that are actively involved in cohesive community-based organisations whose projects directly address their sustainability practices. Third, many of the mechanisms which induce change among participants? sustainability practices rely on the interaction of the community-based organisation and the participant, in other words a combination of structural and agency drivers.
I finish by commenting on the implications of using practice theory as a means of explaining sustainable consumption interventions. I also suggest a direction for future research into interventions for sustainable consumption which further explores the role of community in forming practice.