Deeper Dive

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With a ticking clock, substantive and timely carbon reduction is critically needed. The fossil fuels used to power our homes and cars generate between 50 and 90 percent of a community’s footprint. In America this represents half of the country’s carbon emissions. It is also the low-hanging fruit because we can make these changes immediately while buying needed time for the longer-term technology solutions to scale-up. Further, empowering the citizens of a community to lower their carbon footprint builds demand for the green products and services needed to create local low-carbon economies and the political advocacy needed to help communities further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2006 Empowerment Institute created a community-based environmental behavior-change program called Low Carbon Diet. The program consists of twenty-four actions to reduce one's carbon footprint by at least 5,000 pounds in thirty days and to help others do the same. It is based on two decades of experience working with several million people in hundreds of cities around the world organized into neighborhood-based peer-support groups of five to eight households called EcoTeams.

The Low Carbon Diet program helped empower the movement that had been building in America around personal action and community-based solutions, and immediately took off. It was driven by the many local governments committed to the issue of climate change who were wishing to engage their citizens; faith-based groups like Interfaith Power and Light representing some 5,000 congregations, wishing to engage congregants; and environmental groups, like Al Gore's Climate Project, which gave the book to the 1,000 people he trained to lead his “An Inconvenient Truth” slide show. This interest resulted in the development of a community engagement strategy based on Empowerment Institute’s Social Change 2.0 framework called a Cool Community.

There are now over 300 Cool Communities in thirty-six states across America with participants achieving a 25 percent carbon footprint reduction. Low Carbon Diet and the Cool Community model has also been translated and culturally adapted for China, Korea, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom.