Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Transition Economics

Transition Economics: Rural Community Targets Relocalization
(seen in the Summer 2009 Permaculture Activist)
By Jennifer Dauksha-English

The small town of Hohenwald Tennessee, population of around 4000 people, is taking small steps at greening up the community and region. Since 2006 a group of dedicated volunteers have been hosting events building on Hohenwald’s efforts to make Lewis County, population of around 12,000 people, greener, safer, and more economically viable. This group, the Sonnenschein Green Initiative (SGI), focuses on proactively supporting local economic and community development strategies (LECD). SGI strives to support the following areas: local business owners, farmers, artisans and service providers; the creation of quality and long-term local employment; community networking opportunities and social events; creating an economy that has a total and sustainable economic return; and increasing goods and services exported rather than imported. SGI also focuses on ‘green’ development, as we see that creating a ‘green’ economy and ‘greening up’ our production and consumption will be the quickest and most effective way to achieve sustainable economic and community development. To SGI the word ‘green’ equals efficiency and less waste.

What does LECD have to do with energy efficiency? Every time an average US citizen consumes 1 lb. or resources, it took 15 times that amount of resources to produce that 1 lb. On average goods travel thousands of miles to get to your home. By localizing production of goods and services, communities can cut down on their power drain. The less traveling for consumers and employees and less freight shipping for producers means that we don’t need to be such energy hogs.

The growing trend toward localization of food, energy, goods & services, and entire economies, away from a dependency on a teetering, global non-renewable energy based economy, exemplifies the transition culture’s response to massive resource depletion, global energy crises, rising fuel and food prices, plummeting markets, and the threat of global climate change. Towns, organizations, and entire governments are finding that localization is a “win” for the economy, environment, community development, and for quality of life. The Transition Town Movement-- one example of localization -- was founded in 2005, in Kinsale, Ireland and then Totnes England; and has since spread throughout Europe, and into the Americas. Towns across the world are asking questions related to energy decent planning and transitioning away from a centralized petroleum-and other non-renewable energy based economy. Our community of Hohenwald, TN began similar conversations in 2006.

The Making of Transition Town Hohenwald
Being a rural community, we found that the best way to communicate with local residents about energy efficiency was to talk about economics. We’re trying to invent or grow something locally that’s positive and within the existing boundaries. People have enough problems already and this makes them sensitive to talking outside their boundaries. The 2009 unemployment rate of Hohenwald and Lewis County is above 17% and our neighbor, Perry County has above 25%. With unemployment so high, people within our current cultural context, don’t want to talk about protecting ecosystems, they want to talk about jobs and saving money.

The Earth had become a dirty word over the past decades. As Permaculture Designer Stefan Geyer in his Spring 2009 Permaculture Activist article Permaculture in Business points out, “Permacultures potential applications in business have largely been passed over due … to its gems hidden under the dirty fingernails of radical tree huggers.” Hohenwald’s Vice Mayor Dustin Flowers, an active supporter of SGI and LECD recently spoke at a local Transition Town meeting, he shared, “In the past, green tended to cause fear. Green meant taking away our toys and telling us what to do. “Now,” he said, “Green equals gold.” Flowers believes that there are a number of opportunities for green economic development. He stated, “We are not the first to realize the beauty of a marriage of a sustained environment with the boost of opportunities from a green economy. We as a city realize these opportunities and those are a few reasons why the City supports becoming a Transition Town. Our first true step is renaming an industrial park on Swan Avenue the Hohenwald Eco-Industrial Park . . . In a green economy we’re all doing the right thing.” SGI is supporting the City and County in their efforts to target new green industries to our city and county industrial parks.

SGI would rather that green businesses seed from within the community, but the City and County are already focused on attracting outside businesses. SGI being proactive, tries to work with existing infrastructure and aims to have a three tiered approach to local business development: 1. Green existing businesses, 2. Educate and support locals in starting new green businesses, 3. Attract new green jobs to the area. To accomplish these three goals SGI in partnership with the Financial Permaculture Institute offers monthly green educational gatherings, quarterly green business tradeshows and an annual green business summit that focuses on participatory learning through business design charettes. SGI is also working with the local Tennessee Technology Center and Tennessee Career Center to create a Green Jobs Technical Training Program for residents of Southern Middle Tennessee. SGI is also partnering with the local Chamber of Commerce to green-up existing businesses.

Mark Graves, Chamber President and City Recorder gave his support and encouragement for the local Government and Chamber to partner with SGI in developing a local green economy. Graves, as Chamber President, recently formed a Green Business Development Committee for the Chamber. The goal of this new Development Committee is to educate current businesses to capitalize on green energy and efficiency. Graves stated, “Our current environmental situation can become our greatest economic opportunity, if we seize the moment.” He shared that his definition of Green equaled efficiency, hope, invention, ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, capital markets, commerce and profit. “There is a global investment to reinvent most of the things we do to become more efficient,” Graves said. He added words of encouragement: “ My hope is that the Chamber of Commerce become a key force in inspiring Lewis County to embrace a new, exciting and prosperous economic environment and not be afraid of it.”

The most effective and energy efficient strategy or “right thing” for SGI’s transition initiative has been to marry Permaculture with financial and economic literacy. Permaculture design and system thinking is at the core of SGI’s transition strategy. Our project development incorporates Permaculture design principles and ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. Over the years we’ve accessed and have shared a wealth of information on ecological design principles and community development tools, but found a lack of information on sustainable financial and economic development. In 2008, SGI through the Center for Holistic Ecology (CHE) and a partnership with Solari Inc. and other local organizations gave birth to the Financial Permaculture Institute (FPI).

Through FPI we’re both discovering and creating language, tools and design models towards transition economics or what I also like to call whole ecosystem economics. We’re using our home, Hohenwald as our base camp and grounds for proactive experimentation. While SGI is our local face, FPI is our international face. FPI aims to create and add value to existing templates for community economic development. Right now we’re working on some crosscutting mapping of the financial ecosystem of Lewis County and surrounding region. We’ll be holding the second Financial Permaculture Green Business Summit in Hohenwald September 22-26, 2009 where we will have trainings and then break out sessions on food and farming, building and housing, energy and fuel, solid waste and recycling, green business, community development and on mapping financial ecosystems.

The two greatest success of the 2008 Summit were that it: 1. Ignited the interest of our local residents, thus catalyzing our transition efforts, and 2. Brought together an interdisciplinary coalition of individuals from the government, business, non-profit and education sectors. Some useful catalysts were that we firstly, had about 14 local residents, aside from the organizers, attend the Summit and that we secondly, did well in our documentation of the event and post event process. This was like a mycelium effect. As these 14 people went back into the community, just two months later the word Permaculture and Transition Towns had permeated the culture and my friend heard people using the words as she got her hair cut at the local beauty salon. Overhearing conversations like these are a telltale sign of cross-pollination.

On documentation, we had about 12 people live blogging the Summit, Byron Palmer graciously volunteered to make a 30 minute documentary about the event and after the Summit I and others have been blogging about our local Transition efforts. This documentation toolbox has really helped catalyze our local transition efforts. We’ve given about 200 copies of the documentary to local residents and have shown it several times at public events. The documentary, which can be viewed on has been like a huge business card or portfolio that locals are using to gauge our worth. The results are in and folks who see the documentary generally want to either get involved or find out more. The blogging on has been really useful also because we’ve seen our blogs connected to several local links. Some of the links are positive and some negative. On the negative, a few people view our efforts as trying to take over the government. For their own reasons, they are aggravated and restimulated. Even negative input on our efforts is useful as it creates opportunities for conversations and educational moments.

We had a team of people organizing a course on complimentary currency and this provoked a number of local residents and city officials. Rather than force something that wasn’t ready to fit, we simply removed that project from the table and put it on the shelf. Our goal is to be effective community organizers and that means that we may need to occasionally reprioritize our projects due to community opinion. There are so many possible projects that we’ve learned to stack functions, be opportunistic and go with the flow to get the highest yield (long term sustainability) with the least waste of our efforts (total economic return).

We know that many people have different opinions on core issues like politics, religion, climate change and the economy. To us, diversity of opinion is very welcome and encouraged. We appreciate working with diverse demographics of age, gender, level of education and income – plus a wide dissimilarity in our shades of green. Our aim is to collaborate with as many types of people as possible. We also seek to bring as many conversations to the table as needed to move forward with our own unique transition efforts, while looking for key crosscutting patterns applicable to other communities. Our goal for Hohenwald is not to mimic other successful communities, but to learn about working solutions and adapt our findings to our own unique circumstances. This process of design from pattern to detail moves us forward, with occasional trials and errors. With every problem that we encounter we strive to find a useful solution. To stay proactive and effective, we regularly check in with the local group to discuss our core vision, objectives and to evaluate our process.

In March and April of 2009 SGI created a Transition Proclamation. The County and City Government and the local Chamber signed the Proclamation. The Proclamation has had both its high’s and lows. The high is that there are now key community leaders who consider themselves engaged and supportive of our LECD initiative. It has also motivated a lot of formally uninvolved ‘green’ folks to get active. On the low, getting the government involved now means that our initiative is in the political arena. Once something gets in the arena it’s a thing to take sides on and judge. Again, being proactive, we’re looking for opportunities to arise out of any and all challenges. We hope to share the ups and downs of our learning journey. This transition effort is a life long process and we want the community to embrace and feel empowered by change. Following are some tips that we’ve found useful in our transition efforts:

1. Become familiar with what is already being accomplished in the community and familiarize yourself with local history, plus it’s strengths and weaknesses;
2. Look to what people really need and want, and then match your actions and language to implement strategies that meet both their needs and yours. Remember we all share the same innate needs;
3. Find a common language that you can assist you in communicating with diverse groups of people;
4. Empower people to come up with their own answers and create opportunities for them to use their own voice at meetings, in writing, during interviews and at public events;
5. Identify the community stakeholders and survey their potential risks and opportunities. Figure out ways to engage or cooperate with potential stakeholders by identifying how they could benefit from involvement, let them know how they can get involved or how you can add value to one of their existing projects or goals;
6. Collaboratively identify your core vision for your initiative and your desired public image. Be sure that other members of the group can express this. Best to keep it simple and short or in easy to remember bullet points;
7. Be inclusive and identify many portals of entry into your initiative. Integrate rather than segregate and do not discernment. Every member of a community can be a potential collaborator. Avoid creating a separation between them and us. One thing I’ve learned is that for the most part, we all share a similar core set of values – we just often have different totems, thus we have different languages and actions around the messages we stand behind, or signs we carry and platforms we preach on. We’re all more a like than I’ve ever imagined;
8. Identify the skill sets and resources with in the active group and utilize them wisely, also become aware of people’s overall vision and purpose for being part of the group – be sure that they’re getting their needs met;
9. Be proactive – focus on working solutions and opportunities: Don’t tell people that what they’re doing is wrong, instead find something that they’re doing well and help them do it even better and stack functions by helping existing groups organize around these accomplishments;
10. Utilize non-violent communication;
11. Listen closely to the communities context and needs: be willing to reprioritize your projects and be ready to jump on new opportunities as they arise;
12. Value diversity but avoid taking political or religious positions – that way more people will be comfortable being a part of the initiative;
13. Hold frequent public social events where people can learn about and discuss topics related to your initiative;
14. Encourage and train up leaders within the initiative so that each project has a leader and an engaged support group;
15. Give attention to only those projects and tasks that have a clear working group;
16. Allow participants the opportunity to frequently evaluate group process;
17. Don’t throw around words like Permaculture and Transition Towns until people are ready to hear them – in the meanwhile talk in their language – and you’ll find that all combined people already have a lot of the answers and knowledge. It took us 2 years of outreach before we used our own language.

On June 6th, 2009 Hohenwald held a Transition Celebration. Hohenwald, Lewis County, TN is now the 25th official Transition Town in the United States. To find out more about the US Transition Network visit and for further information on Hohenwald’s transition efforts visit The 10th Continental Bioregional Congress will be held at The Farm Community in Lewis County, 22 miles from Transition Town Hohenwald, check out

A Proclamation:
-- To Establish Our City as a TRANSITION TOWN --

WHEREAS, in order to make the economies of our city and county locally sustainable, the people of Hohenwald, Lewis County, TN, desire to build upon our industrious and conservative heritage, and recognize the importance of moving toward a more energy-efficient, beneficial and localized living arrangement, by making our businesses more productive, our educational system more effective, and by protecting and wisely utilizing our natural resources;

WHEREAS, we recognize that individuals are ultimately responsible for their actions -- collectively, we can set common goals that secure the localization of food, energy, production of goods and services, and proper waste management;

WHEREAS, irresponsibility and a lack of commitment for the wise stewardship of our natural resources can result in an increasing number of undesirable social, financial, and economic consequences to individuals, families, and to this city and county, as a whole;

WHEREAS, there is need for more positive educational and productive Permaculture initiatives among our citizens and young people, to produce a change in behavior for our future prosperity and welfare;

WHEREAS, if citizens pro-actively develop positive, forward-thinking permacultural preferences for the use of our resources; and forego dysfunctional, reactive options for same, the health, safety, and welfare of our people are better provided for and maintained, resulting in less financial burden on taxpayers;

WHEREAS, encouragement of our citizens to recognize the potential for cultivating home gardens, rebuilding local agriculture, rediscovering local building materials, localizing energy production, reconsidering preventative healthcare, and re-thinking how we manage waste, can result in increased local sustainability and local profits, and therefore, heightened local morale; and

WHEREAS, the emphasis of local sustainability in every sector of society can only occur as individuals commit themselves to exemplifying those practices in their personal lives, and inspiring others to do the same;

THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED, that the people of this city and county pledge our commitment to the responsible transition to local sustainability; doing all in our power to become a TRANSITION TOWN, by promoting sincere efforts toward the development of local food, energy, the production of goods and services, and to responsible waste management in our schools, businesses, homes, local government, media, and community groups. We urge the leaders of each of these jurisdictions to do likewise.