Transition Hohenwald: Rural Community Targets Energy Efficiency

By Jennifer Dauksha-English

The small town of Hohenwald Tennessee, population of around 4000 people, is taking small steps at greening up the community.  Since 2006 a group of dedicated volunteers have been hosting events building on Hohenwald’s efforts to make Lewis County greener, safer, and more economically viable.  This group, the Sonnenschein Green Initiative (SGI), focuses on proactively supporting local economic and community development strategies (LECD).

We strive 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 our goods and services exported rather than imported.  We also focus 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? Consider that every time an average US citizen consumes 1 lb. or resources, it took 15 times that amount of energy and resources to produce that 1 lb. To see how this works, understand that 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 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 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 petroleum-and other non-renewable energy based economy.  Our community of Hohenwald, TN began similar conversations in 2006.  

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 unemployment rate of 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. 

city hall

Hohenwald’s Vice Mayor Dustin 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.

The most effective and energy efficient strategy or “right thing” for SGI’s transition initiative has been to marry Permaculture with financial 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.  In 2008, SGI through the Center for Holistic Ecology 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.  In this rural setting we’re applying five objectives: greening existing businesses, attracting new green industry to the area, offering green jobs technical trainings, outreach education on energy conservation and Permaculture, and mapping the overall financial ecosystem of the county. We’ll be holing are second Financial Permaculture Green Business Summit in Hohenwald September 22-26, 2009. Read more about Financial Permaculture.

Financial Permaculture from Greg Landua on Vimeo.

In the spring of 2009 SGI created a Transition Proclamation signed by the County and City Government and the local Chamber (read more).  On June 6th, 2009 Hohenwald held a Transition Celebration (see photos).  Hohenwald is now the 25th official Transition Town in the United States. 

For further information on Hohenwald’s transition efforts visit


Newsletter Signup