Smart Solutions

Sustainable Village Foundation

A group of motivated village residents working together to connect people and initiatives on energy transition, biodiversity, climate adaptation and circular economy.

Implemented inMolenlanden

Country : Netherlands

What’s the solution?

The creation of a sustainable village foundation is a network approach that works to empower citizens to adopt sustainable lifestyles.

The foundation provides a formal legal structure which brings together local people to coordinate efforts to exchange knowledge and expertise, inspire and facilitate cooperation and encourage action around key themes of sustainability, including energy transition, biodiversity, climate adaptation and circularity.

The focus of the Foundation is not on large-scale investment projects, but encouraging local people to take action at their own scale. This means the focus is on topics such as encouraging local people to insulate their homes, install rainwater collection barrels or improve biodiversity in their own gardens. It also means engaging local companies in efforts to reduce energy and water consumption or recover re-usable materials.

Key tools used by a sustainable village foundation include a dedicated website and YouTube channel. These are important for communicating about sustainability issues, raising understanding and awareness of the types of small-scale actions that can be taken by local people and encouraging them to get involved.

The Foundation can support a local sustainability week, which gives a key focus to local action on sustainability. This provides an important moment not only to encourage local people to take action, but also to share and raise awareness of the different local actions that are being undertaken in the area, building a community of engaged actors.

The strength of this initiative is that it targets ‘ordinary citizens’ in an approachable way based on the idea that everyone has a responsibility and if everyone contributes a little, we can achieve a lot together. The aim is to make people aware, inspire and encourage them to take real steps towards a sustainable future and increase social cohesion through encouraging a bottom-up movement. People are thus intrinsically motivated to become more sustainable.

What makes it smart?

The solution is smart because

  • It achieves environmental, circular, biodiversity and climate objectives in a very accessible way for citizens. It involves citizens and activates them to act sustainably through achievable small-scale actions without the need for investment funding.
  • Change starts with thinking and individual behaviour. This initiative stresses the social aspect of individual changes.
  • It uses a website and videos to communicate and inspire others with replicable practices.
  • It involves cooperation between local people and the local authority without relying on the local authority to do everything.
  • Social cohesion is an important objective: together the best results can be achieved and makes the road to the destination more attractive.

How is the solution implemented?

  • Start with a critical mass of enthusiastic people. It takes a lot of effort, so many hands make light work.
  • Meet and work with the local authority to build a partnership with them.
  • Create an association or foundation to give structure to the activities.
  • Assure some starting capital.
  • Set up a website or shared online platform to communicate with local people.
  • Organise actions to mobilise local people.
  • Encourage people to organise and share their own actions to inspire each other.

In what local context has it been applied?

The municipality of Molenlanden in the province of South Holland - just east of Rotterdam - has 44,660 inhabitants divided into 20 villages. It includes the World Heritage site Kinderdijk – famous for its system of 19 windmills built around 1740 to drain the land (polder).

Many local people were active on sustainability issues, organising different small-scale activities to raise awareness of sustainability topics and encourage more sustainable practices. One such initiative was to promote the use of rain barrels, which are used to collect and store rainwater that would otherwise flow off rooftops and into drains.

At municipal level, the local authority was aware of sustainability issues, and provided incentives to encourage local companies and service providers to be environmentally sustainable.

However, a group of active residents noted that when it comes to sustainability, not enough was being done to mobilise and coordinate ordinary people in implementing more sustainable practices. They believed that everyone can contribute to a sustainable future, where large benefits are often found in small measures. These measures can be very simple, but not everyone is aware of them.

Who was behind the implementation?

  • A network of concerned residents started the initiative.
  • The municipality made a small financial contribution to launch the first projects.

What was the local journey?

  • A group of individual citizens who regularly participated in various civic initiatives related to sustainability kept meeting each other at these events and started discussing with each other how to do more to promote more sustainable lifestyles in the area.
  • They noticed how motivating it is to meet and hang out with like-minded people and this prompted them to think about the form in which they could give more structural shape to their ambitions. The conclusion was that a foundation would be the right medium to make this possible.
  • The Foundation was set up with a not-for-profit legal status in the Netherlands with the aim of delivering and supporting activities to inspire, encourage and facilitate others to make the region as green, energy neutral, climate proof and waste free as possible.
  • The Foundation started with a lot of volunteers and some financial support from the Municipality for initial (communication) expenses.
  • The Foundation created its own Sustainable Molenlanden website which has sections setting out inspiration and guidance from local examples on: energy transition (generating sustainable energy and reducing energy consumption); biodiversity (making the region greener and reducing the pressure on the natural world); climate Adaptation (addressing the many challenges of climate change); and circularity (making use of waste materials instead of new raw materials).
  • In partnership with the municipality of Molenlanden, the Foundation has also implemented specific actions in the context of Dutch Sustainability Week which takes place in mid-September each year. A specific section of the website allows local people to share and inspire each other with their planned activities for Sustainability Week, which is used to encourage residents, schools, shopkeepers, companies, associations and organisations to participate with their own activities and actions.
  • The Foundation organises online meetings with inspirational speakers talking about how they are working on a specific theme around sustainability. These sessions are known as The Tasting Room (Het Proeflokaal) since local people get a taste of initiatives in a particular area.  The aim is to show local residents how to get started and implement change themselves on the topic in question. There are also opportunities for asking questions and networking.
  • Another supported activity are biodiversity scans of private gardens. High school students use a questionnaire to make a survey of the biodiversity in your garden. Based on the score, you get appropriate recommendations to improve biodiversity. This helps raise awareness among citizens about what they themselves can easily improve to get more biodiversity in their gardens. For the students, performing the scan is also an educational and fun experience. (example: )
  • Representatives of the Foundation also occasionally take part in external events and fairs to present its work and activities and encourage more people to join in and take action at local level.
  • The Foundation has also been working on a new initiative to put in place a car-sharing system in the municipality of Molenlanden. They carried out an initial poll of local residents, which found that more than 200 people were interested in taking part in such a scheme because of the reduced costs and environmental benefits. Several people even expressed the willingness to help set up such a scheme. The plan is to introduce electric shared cars.
  • One of the long-term challenges for the Foundation is the lack of structural funding. Nevertheless, as a lot of the communications, networking and activities are done by volunteers, the foundation can keep the costs low. For some specific campaigns or activities, additional funds are raised.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • An active website and YouTube channel and a broader sense of community within the members of the Foundation who no longer feel that they are acting in isolation from each other, but as part of a larger movement.
  • The 2022 Edition of Sustainability Week in Molenlanden saw 28 different local activities posted on the dedicated page of the Sustainable Molenlanden website. These ranged from a Repair Café and organic farm open days to company initiatives to recover and re-use waste and an initiative enabling local people to swap one garden tile for one plant.
  • A total of 298 rain barrels were sold during a specific ‘rain barrel action’ during Sustainability Week in 2021 when all Molenlanden residents could order a rain barrel at a greatly reduced rate. This should help to increase use of rainwater and reduce rainwater run-off.
  • Three meetings of the Het Proeflokaal (the Tasting Room) have taken place on the topics of circularity, biodiversity and climate adaptation.
  • Car-sharing projects are being launched in five village centres within the municipality.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • Small-scale actions can do a lot to improve local environmental performance and mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • The actions can help to ensure that Molenlanden has a bright future - making it a more attractive place to live and work.
  • The Foundation can also play an important role in engaging the local community – not only around issues of sustainability, but in general, contributing to increasing social cohesion and engagement in civic life.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:
Financial needs:

Set up / Investment costs: € 5,000

The main costs are the website and communications

Ongoing costs: the foundation is driven by volunteers, however ongoing funding is being sought for specific projects.

Funding received:
Municipality of Molenlanden5,000 €Website, communications

Human resources

• A lot of enthusiastic volunteers

Physical resources

• Website to communicate

What to do…

  • Find the most appropriate legal status for your country.
  • Create a website or similar shared platform to communicate.
  • Start with small actions to mobilise and engage people.
  • Try to work with the municipality.
  • Take and share videos of small-scale actions to inspire others.

and not to do

  • Do not try to do too much too soon, but bring people along with you and build an active community.
  • Do not rely on the local authority to do everything.
  • Do not try to organise everybody, but allow local people to start and share their own initiatives.

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