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Strategising for net-zero

ACEVO’s policy officer Maisie Hulbert shares key points from the recent members’ meeting.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Many of you are following the new work we have been doing in the climate crisis space. We have launched our member working group which has so far been a great success, and we are looking forward to taking recommendations and suggestions into 2021.

On 25 February 2021 we hosted a member meeting, sponsored by strategic partner Energycentric, with speaker Simon Alsbury from Energise. Simon explored how we can strategise to reach net-zero, talking us through the Net Zero Hub’s approach and some interesting resources. The event opened up some interesting areas of discussion about the most appropriate solutions for the sector, and what we do next.

We spoke a lot about taking action around the things we can control now. Our buildings, vehicles, energy and electricity emissions: can we measure them, work to reduce them, and then explore alternatives or ethical offsetting? I would be interested to hear about what barriers organisations have faced to taking these steps: are there specific issues, such as cost, resource or a lack of understanding? Where can ACEVO step in to support you?

However, quick fixes might not always be the best solutions: there were some interesting words of caution around carbon offsetting and greenwashing. Offsetting carbon emissions but not reducing them simultaneously is not enough; it can’t be used as a sticking plaster and must be part of a wider reduction programme. Even when we try to offset unavoidable emissions, there are plenty of programmes claiming to be more effective and ethical than they are. Energise is due to publish a paper on this soon – we will keep you posted. There’s also lots of information available on the World Land Trust’s website about carbon offsetting.

Beyond practical points around our own carbon emissions, we spoke about our own power to influence those we work with. Partners, funders and suppliers are an area where charities – particularly small ones –  feel they simply don’t have the power to raise these issues meaningfully. Simon spoke about the importance and hidden power of asking questions of these people. By demonstrating that this issue is important to you, you could spark a change of approach within an organisation, or a realisation that there is a need to change organisational practice. Climate Outreach’s Britain Talks Climate resource is a great start for how to communicate and discuss with  stakeholders and networks – whether beneficiaries, partners, employees or trustees. Approaching conversations with an open mind is crucial to taking our communities with us on this journey.

At ACEVO, we know that many members find these issues overwhelming. The technical language and the seriousness of the situation can feel like a huge weight. Some leaders come up against prohibitive costs of consultants, or a lack of capacity within teams who need to deliver services to engage with planning in this space. In this meeting, many attendees found the resources too wide-ranging, too complicated or too extensive for smaller teams and charities. Throughout the session we identified a real need to break down possible strategic approaches and frameworks into more manageable or smaller-scale versions, to help members from charities of all sizes access solutions that are appropriate for them.

In my conversations around this work I have heard many people use the phrase “perfection is the enemy of good”. This is particularly true for charities and the climate. We want to find a solution that speaks directly to the needs of the communities we serve, at the same time as acknowledging the wider impacts of the crisis. However, we cannot wait for a perfect solution; we just do not have the time. We need to act wherever we can, whatever that looks like – we need to start somewhere. It was fantastic to see so many members attending the session, and I really hope it will prompt everyone to consider one thing they could do or change within their organisation to start tackling the climate emergency.

At ACEVO, we are learning all the time. Our staff working group is currently drafting a range of tools and templates, which we hope will be accessible and adaptable for organisations of all sizes. If you have an ethical funding policy, a sustainability policy, or any other resources that explore this area of work that you are happy to share, please email them to me. Pooling our resources and sharing ideas is one of the best ways we can make progress.

Our member working group have met once and we will meet again in April to discuss future events and the sorts of resources our members need. If you have suggestions, drop me an email and we can talk about your ideas in the meeting. There is plenty of good work in the sector, and by crowdsourcing what we do have, I hope we can identify the gaps and work together to fill them so that all members can start taking steps in this space.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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