These 12 Community-led Initiatives are Driving Environmental Action in 2023
By Beth Rush, Managing Editor at Body+Mind
In a world dealing with the urgent need for environmental sustainability, communities around the globe are taking matters into their own hands. A wave of grassroots movements and community-led initiatives is sweeping across borders, inspiring change and creating a collective commitment to preserving the planet. From restoration projects to waste reduction campaigns, these programs are proving that impactful environmental action starts at a local level.
In the ongoing pursuit of a sustainable future, communities across the globe are taking charge, driving impactful initiatives that prioritize environmental stewardship. This year, the spotlight is on the grassroots movements spearheading change from the ground up.
These community-led initiatives represent a powerful force, demonstrating the transformative potential of collective action. From restoration projects to e-waste management, these endeavors redefine the relationship between communities and the environment. Here’s a glimpse into the inspiring initiatives shaping the environmental landscape in 2023:
Approximately 42 million trees are cut down each day and communities are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of trees in combating climate change. Only one tree is planted for every eight trees cut down, meaning we lose over 13 billion trees annually.
Local groups are spearheading reforestation initiatives, planting native trees to restore ecosystems and mitigate the impacts of deforestation. These efforts replenish greenery and emphasize the importance of environmental stewardship among community members.
This initiative involves communities around the Great Lakes region, particularly in Michigan. Local residents, environmental groups and volunteers collaborate to plant native trees along the shores of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes account for 21% of the world’s freshwater supply and are responsible for providing water to more than 40 million residents in the U.S. and Canada. This project has added over 881,000 trees to the area.
The Nature’s Conservancy has launched a “Plant a Billion Trees” program. They aim to plant one billion trees globally to mitigate the effects of climate change and prevent biodiversity loss. This initiative is now 15 years old but still making a notable impact against climate change. They’ve planted trees in Brazilian forests and African coastlines.
In response to the growing plastic crisis, numerous communities are declaring war on single-use plastics. From small towns to bustling urban centers, grassroots campaigns encourage businesses and residents to adopt plastic-free practices.
Initiatives like community-wide plastic cleanup events, education programs and the promotion of reusable alternatives are making major strides in reducing plastic consumption and raising awareness about the environmental toll of plastic pollution.
Aberporth, a coastal village in west Wales with only 1,100 residents, proudly holds the title of the world’s first plastic-free town. Recognizing the detrimental impact of single-use plastics on marine ecosystems and the environment, Aberporth’s residents, businesses and local authorities joined forces to eliminate waste from their community.
Through a concerted effort, the town implemented a series of measures, including promoting reusable alternatives, reducing plastic packaging in local businesses and community education on sustainable practices. Aberporth has paved the way for other communities globally to follow suit.
In France, “Cantine Sans Plastique” emerged as a trailblazer in the fight against plastic pollution. Parents were responsible for starting this campaign, aiming to transform lunchrooms across the country. Committed to reducing the environmental footprint of school meals, this initiative advocates for eliminating single-use plastics from cafeterias
Transitioning to renewable energy is a key pillar of global efforts to combat climate change and community efforts are taking the lead in this transition. Community solar projects, where residents collectively invest in and benefit from local solar installations, are on the rise. These programs promote clean energy and empower communities to take control of their energy sources reducing reliance on non-renewable alternatives.
The CCSA is a national coalition consisting of businesses and nonprofits working together to provide access to solar energy for all American households, businesses and organizations through community solar. The aim is to allow even lower and middle-class Americans the opportunity to choose clean, renewable energy sources.
Cities are embracing the concept of green urbanism, recognizing the importance of incorporating nature into urban landscapes. Community-led initiatives transform neglected spaces into vibrant green areas, ranging from rooftop gardens to community parks. These programs enhance the quality of life for city residents and contribute to biodiversity conservation and improve environmental resilience.
The Greening NYC project in New York City is an ongoing program focused on creating urban green spaces in densely populated neighborhoods. Community-led efforts, such as rooftop gardens and pocket parks, aim to enhance the city’s green infrastructure, mitigate the urban heat island effects and provide residents with accessible green areas for recreation and relaxation. This initiative extends to greening historical buildings throughout the city.
Greening America’s Communities is a transformative initiative addressing the environmental, social and economic well-being of rural and urban areas nationwide. From rejuvenating urban green spaces to implementing sustainable infrastructure, communities can create healthier and more resilient living environments.
This program involves tree-planting campaigns, developing community gardens and integrating renewable energy sources. Green roofs and urban forestry projects improve air quality and climate resilience, while sustainable transportation options reduce carbon emissions and enhance connectedness.
They also include community-led efforts in green job creation, environmental education and promoting eco-friendly practices. To date, they’ve helped 37 communities across the country with sustainable design strategies.
The farm-to-table movement is expanding into a broader, more holistic approach to sustainable eating. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs and local farmers’ markets are gaining popularity, connecting consumers directly with local producers. By reducing the carbon footprint associated with food transportation and supporting sustainable farming practices, these programs promote environmentally conscious food choices at a community level.
San Francisco, rated the most sustainable city in the U.S., takes pride in its environmentally friendly eateries. Restaurants like Atelier Crenn and Sons and Daughters in the Bay Area, emphasize fresh, local, seasonal and organic ingredients in their dishes, using a zero-waste approach to dining.
Approximately 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste each year and in 2023, over 333 million people are facing food insecurity. Food that could feed those who are hungry more often than not ends up in landfills. Various organizations are taking it upon themselves to combat food waste. Groups, like UPMC, donate unused food to local organizations for their distributions. For example, several UPMC hospitals in southwestern Pennsylvania send food to 412 Food Rescue, Good Food Program.
As technology advances, so does the challenge of electronic waste (e-waste). Communities are responding by establishing e-waste recycling hubs, providing residents with accessible and responsible ways to dispose of their electronic devices. These initiatives prevent hazardous materials from entering landfills and promote the reuse and recycling of valuable resources found in electronic products.
Conservation Corps North Bay was established back in 1981, however they continue to make a lasting impact. Conservation Corps was started as a result of the poor conditions of local trails and the wildfire risks in California.
This organization engages local communities and youth in environmental conservation, restoration, wildfire prevention efforts and trail maintenance.
These programs contribute to preserving local ecosystems and provide valuable hands-on experiences for participants, most of whom are youth. This year, the Conservation Corps gained attention for providing jobs while making a lasting impact on the planet.
In 2022, they diverted 475,793 pounds of e-waste from landfills and restored 280 acres of natural habitat.
Agriculture is at the heart of many communities, and forward-thinking initiatives promote sustainable farming practices. Community-supported agriculture, organic farming and permaculture are gaining traction, emphasizing the importance of regenerative practices prioritizing soil health and biodiversity. These programs contribute to local food security and reduce the environmental impact of traditional farming methods.
This program is located in Aurora, Colorado, and aims to increase the availability of fresh produce while providing nutrition education to low-income areas. Through community gardens and food forests, Denver Urban Gardens provides individuals with the skills and resources to grow their own food for themselves and other members of their communities.
Each year they distribute 62,500 pounds of food to community members and currently have 4,533 garden plots under cultivation. They have over 190 community and school-based gardens across six counties in Denver.
City Farm Sustainable Agriculture in Chicago, is a nonprofit organization. They have an agreement with the city council to use empty, publicly-owned land for sustainable farming. Because they use publicly-owned land, they have to relocate every few years.
Through this program, they grow a variety of seasonal crops, educate the local community on the importance of a healthy food system, provide fresh produce to surrounding areas and donate a portion of the fresh produce to food pantries and kitchens.
The power to drive environmental change lies within communities. These community-led initiatives are making a tangible impact on the local environment and inspiring a global movement toward a more sustainable future. As we grapple with the challenges of the 21st century, communities are building a legacy of environmental stewardship that sparks change.
About the Author
Beth Rush is the Managing Editor at Body+Mind and a lover of all things health and wellness. She is a well-respected writer in the personal wellness space and shares knowledge on a variety of topics related to nutrition, fitness, holistic health and disease prevention. In her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking healthy recipes and trying out new fitness trends.