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Climate action is everyone’s business

“Try and think of a charitable cause that won’t be affected, either directly or indirectly, by the climate crisis”, proposes Peter Gilheany, director at Forster Communications. Here, he argues that taking action on climate change goes beyond declaring there is a problem.

Last week Comic Relief, Power to Change, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity joined 40 other grant-giving bodies and charities who have already signed up to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change, pledging to take action to tackle the climate emergency.

At the moment, there are many high profile businesses making public commitments to lead on climate action, either setting a deadline to become net-zero or even going beyond that and becoming climate positive. The vast majority of those making such public pledges are not environmental organisations or known especially for their sustainability. Put bluntly, they are doing it because they know they must.

Outside those signed up to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change, many charities seem to be late to the party in this area. Not many have taken the first step of publicly declaring a climate emergency, fewer have committed to taking action, and fewer still have published plans for how they will do so.

You might think this is fair enough, as charities have enough on their plate in terms of the cause they are fighting for, but that simply isn’t sustainable. If you are a charity CEO and this issue hasn’t come up yet, then don’t be complacent because it will. Here’s a little mental exercise – try and think of a charitable cause that won’t be affected, either directly or indirectly, by the climate crisis.

Irrespective of cause, it will be an increasingly urgent issue for your staff, your supporters and almost certainly any funders you have a relationship with, and they will be looking to you for leadership and action.

So, you need to do something about it, probably starting with a public declaration that you need to do something, then a commitment to some targets for reducing your carbon footprint. How much you commit to reducing it and by when is entirely up to you – both vary wildly from organisation to organisation.

Then, you’ll need a plan for delivering against your commitments. Here’s the one we recently published for us as a small, progressive business.

Unfortunately, like Brexit, that is just the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. You then need to put the plan into action and that’s the real challenge – you have to convince and inspire lots of other people internally to turn your ambition into action and tangible impact.

That’s where good behaviour change principles kick in. Start by thinking of your organisation as a community as opposed to a hierarchy, made up of individuals with attitudes rather than roles, and segment them by their attitudes towards climate action. Generally, there are six core employee segments within an organisation’s community: outriders, storytellers, followers, cynics, self-assureds and rejectors. Each is at a different stage in terms of climate action and has different barriers and motivators to involvement. 

So, the trick is to harness the early-adopting outriders. They’re your activists and you need to give them the space, voice and power to get fully involved, while engaging the storytellers so that the followers will do just that, thus creating the critical mass to neutralise the opposition of the cynics and even turn them into supporters. Climate action needs to be owned by your community rather than delivered through a series of top-down edicts. Ownership comes before action.

Many charities are very skilled at nurturing and supporting activists to further the cause they are focused on externally. It would be great to see the same encouragement for activists on the inside to help deliver real climate action in charities.

ACEVO has published its environmental commitments, which will be constantly updated with actions and results.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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