I’ve worked with many different communities in the past, both communities made up of people who live near each other and those that are centered around common interests. Both types share common characteristics or interests among the members. The interesting thing is that there seem to be communities of interest that will rise up with communities based around location. For example, a community garden is often developed by people who have a common interest and live in a similar area. These communities can even draft people who only have a cursory interest but get involved because it is happening close to them.
The use of community leaders to get buy in is key to an approach to creating social buy in called community based social marketing. The idea is that hearing about why you should compost or not idle or take shorter showers from a member of your community is more motivating because you already trust that individual. I find this also plays a role in what initiatives get taken up by location based communities. A leader can get a learn to skate program running at the community rink and find the participants for it. But when that leader moves on, often because their kids have improved their skating skills, the program disappears.
In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada we have a pretty strong community league program. Each neighbourhood has a central organization that contributes to developing and running events and programming and often leads the charge to develop or improve community infrastructure. They are supported by a city wide organization that helps coordinate various efforts, including a number of sustainability initiatives. Joshi, Agrawal, and Welegedara (2022) examined green energy transitions by community leagues and found that leadership and established trust contributed to the transitions.
The central organization was able to initiate training and facilitate knowledge sharing between the individual leagues. Then the leagues themselves were able to build awareness and offer education opportunities. However, as volunteer organizations they had limited capacity to maintain programs over the long term and to meet all resident requests such as curating lists of potential vendors and supporting peer to peer sharing.
Not surprisingly, additional challenges also exist due to lack of volunteer succession, similar to the experience with a parent leading a learn to skate initiative and then moving on. Finally, community leagues already have established goals and visions. If these don’t include sustainability it can be hard for even the most dedicated volunteer to break into the limited capacity of the league.
I think the message here is that community can make a difference and that people in the same space can connect over common interests including sustainability interests. This helps with sharing knowledge and resources. But the limited capacity of volunteer organizations has to be kept in mind. As does succession planning so that initiatives can continue into the future.