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Street-by-street behaviour change


Transition Streets (previously also known as Transition Together)[i] is a model that emerged from Transition Town Totnes as a way of enabling Transition at a street-by-street level. It works like this: a group of five to ten households get together, ideally in the same street, meet regularly (weekly, fortnightly, whatever works . . .) and self-teach through a workbook of seven sessions.

The seven sessions are:

  1. Getting started (meeting each other and agreeing how to run the sessions)
  2. Spend less on energy (learning how to measure energy and how to use less of it)
  3. Spend less on water (looking at all the ways we use water and how to conserve it)
  4. Spend less, eat well (looking at food, how to avoid waste and eat a lower-carbon diet)
  5. Wasting away (avoiding waste; recycling and composting)
  6. Getting around (reducing dependency on the car)
  7. Wrapping up (next steps and evaluation of the programme)

Transition Streets gathers useful data in every session, allowing participants to measure their progress. It provides a ‘before and after’ snapshot of how participation has led to real savings in each household. In June 2011 this project was recognised with a prestigious Ashden Award for its success with behaviour change. (If you’d like to start your own version of Transition Streets, please contact Fiona Ward at

Ten other Transition initiatives have also been running Transition Streets pilots, adapting the Transition Streets materials (which are very place-specific) to their own situations.

For example, Transition Leicester produced ‘Footpaths’, which adapted the Totnes materials to focus more purely on carbon reduction. Transition Town Taunton (TTT) have been running Transition Streets very successfully with thirty householders. As Chrissie Godrey of TTT said,

“We are finding that people enjoy the social aspect of this as much as the practical stuff. Doing it in a group also means they can share ideas and motivate each other. But our groups are telling us that this kind of initiative needs to go into local schools and businesses too, so we are also happy to hear from people who might like to set up a group in those settings.”

There are other approaches similar to Transition Streets that have been very effective. Transition Norwich started a less formal approach called ‘Transition Circles’ (see below), which they have found to be a key element of what urban Transition looks like.

Transition in Action: The evolution of Transition Streets

by Adrian Porter

Transition Streets is one of many projects that aim to support the area of Totnes and District to reduce its carbon footprint.

The project evolved from working just with self-managing groups, to be a three-stage project supported by a grant of £625,000 from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) ‘Low Carbon Communities Challenge’, one of 20 projects selected nationally. Transition Streets builds on the basic scheme outlined above, encouraging and supporting people to form groups in order to make ‘effective, practical, money-saving and energy-saving changes with a group of neighbours, friends or family’. This is the ‘behaviour change’ element.

The second stage then focuses on energy efficiency, through training one member of each group so that he or she can assess home energy efficiency and domestic renewable energy options for the rest of the group.

Stage three gives participants the chance of a Transition Streets grant towards the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Two levels of grant are available: a standard grant of £2,500 and a higher grant of £3,500 for those qualifying as low-income applicants (having less than £250 disposable household income per month). The low-income participants also have access to a low-interest loan partially subsidised by South Hams District Council. To be eligible for the PV grant, properties must meet a minimum level of energy efficiency.

We estimate that around 35% of the Transition Streets participants are low-income households, and we have now installed 141 domestic solar PV systems (the grant period ended in June 2011). This project also funded the installation of a PV array on the roof of Totnes Civic Hall in partnership with Totnes Town Council, with 14kWp (kilowatt peak) of energy-generating capacity, or around 13,000kWh of electricity per year.

Carbon Conversations

Another similar model is Carbon Conversations,[ii] developed by Cambridge Carbon Footprint. This is a much more formal process, which takes place over six meetings held with a trained volunteer facilitator. Six to eight people meet in a process that aims to ‘engage people emotionally as well as practically’. The sessions are rooted in the psychology of change, and examine why people fail to respond. This has been very successful in getting people to reduce their household’s carbon emissions, and a number of Transition initiatives are also experimenting with this approach.

Eco Cell

Another approach worth mentioning is Eco Cell, which is more in-depth and intensive than Carbon Conversations and was developed by Christian Ecology Link, with a Christian-based perspective.[iii]

Transition in Action: Transition Norwich’s ‘Transition Circles’

There are other approaches similar to Transition Streets that have also proved to be very effective. Transition Norwich started a less formal approach called ‘Transition Circles’.[iv] In this model, small groups of people meet, usually over a meal, and start with looking at individual actions, creating a space in which people can talk in a real way about lifestyle changes, and are able to support and encourage each other to take the first steps. The Circles came out of a second wave in the initiative, called Transition Norwich 2.0 (TN2) in 2009, in which a core group of Transitioners made a decision to cut their carbon emissions by half the national average in the key areas of home energy, transport, food and ‘stuff’. The second motivation for TN2 was to start up intentional communities in different neighbourhoods, to bring people together to create and celebrate a low-carbon culture.

The groups have been meeting regularly, and have since broadened their focus to look at larger practical initiatives, e.g. wholefood-buying co-ops. For Transition Norwich, personal carbon reduction is a defining element of what Transition looks like in an urban context.

Transition in Action: The measurable results from Transition Streets in Totnes

by Fiona Ward

 Data gathered from Transition Streets groups in Totnes shows the kind of result that is possible. Participating in a group led to average carbon savings of 1.2 tonnes per household, and financial savings of around £570 per household. At the time of writing, there are over 60 groups in the town (480+ households). So far, this project has led to total carbon savings of 576 tonnes, with total financial savings of £273,600.

Participants give feedback at the end of the programme, most of whom value the new relationships with neighbours above carbon and money savings! We also see significant positive changes occur in awareness and knowledge, with the largest improvements shown in:

  • “I understand how these two issues [peak oil and climate change] affect me, my family, my local community, and the planet.”
  • “I know what practical, effective actions I can take to reduce the potential impacts on me/others.”
  • “I’m aware there are simple, easy things I can do to reduce household costs – and I know how to do them.”
  • “I feel connected to, and a part of, my local community.”