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Five ways you can start your sustainability journey

By Ruth Wilkinson, sustainability lead at The Children’s Trust.

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

As a global community, we are facing a huge number of challenges that can feel both utterly removed from our day-to-day, and insurmountable.

Climate crisis, war, injustice, poverty and inequality. These issues are rooted deep in the foundations of our society, and transformational change is required to overcome them. Yet the voluntary sector takes on these challenges every day, we each have a mission and purpose we are battling to achieve. We pick our battleground, we become experts, and we fight to make our corner of the world a better place.

But we have a collective duty, a duty bigger than our single mission and purpose. And we face a collective threat, a threat to everything we want to achieve.

Our work as a sector must not have a negative impact elsewhere. We cannot deliver life-saving healthcare while emitting tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. We cannot deliver humanitarian aid when the t-shirts we wear are made in sweatshops. We cannot campaign to end homelessness when we don’t pay all our staff a real living wage.

We all have an opportunity to change what we do and how we do it. Join us on that journey.

The Children’s Trust

I was appointed as the first sustainability lead at The Children’s Trust, the UK’s leading charity for children with brain injury. We support children through rehabilitation, education, care and community support. Our board and senior leadership team recognised our role and responsibility in the face of these global challenges and included sustainability as part of our organisational strategy. We want to make the world a better place for the children we support.

It was a daunting task, looking at the breadth of this scope. Not every charity will be able to dedicate this level of resource, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start on this journey.

1. Your mission and purpose

Spend some time with your board or senior leadership team mapping out how your mission and purpose is threatened, and also think about how work in this area could improve your ability to deliver against your mission and purpose. Map this through to the impact this will have on your beneficiaries and wider stakeholders. Try to distil this into a few sentences. Ours reads as a letter to the children we support:

Caring for and supporting you is our great privilege; we are inspired every day by you.

We want to give you the best future possible, and we want to be here for the long term to support children and families.

We have a responsibility to you, for the services and support we provide today and in the future, and for the impact we have on the environment, communities, and world.

We want to play our part in caring for the planet you will live on and the communities you will grow up in. We want to make your world a kinder, more equal, healthier place to live.’

2. Manage risk and maximise opportunity

With your board, think about the impact the sustainability agenda will have on your strategic risk register, and how you might mitigate these risks. Sustainability will bring increased regulation and compliance, more scrutiny from the public and funders, and risk to reputation for those who aren’t keeping up. This is also an opportunity to win support, engage new audiences and deliver your work in a better way.

Use your conversations with your board to draw up a risk and opportunity assessment that you can use to frame your work.

3. Decide what is most important to your organisation

This scope is huge. You don’t have to try to tackle everything at once. In fact, I’d advise you don’t. Decide what is most material to your organisation by asking yourselves and your stakeholders:

  • Where do we have the biggest impact, both positive and negative?
  • What impact will be easiest for us to improve?
  • What are we most interested in doing differently?
  • What changes will best support us to continue to deliver our mission and purpose?
  • How can we break this down to make it more manageable?

4. Make the most of your people

Sustainability isn’t a niche space anymore. You will undoubtedly have people in your organisation who are passionate and knowledgeable about it. Identify these people, give them opportunities to step up and take on new dimensions within their roles. Leadership comes from the top, but sustainability should be embedded in everyone’s roles. Sure, it’s unlikely you’ll have a carbon expert hidden in your marketing team, but that’s when utilising open-source resources and engaging in partnerships and collaboration is key.

5. Let’s take this on together

At The Children’s Trust, we have benefitted from so many conversations with a diverse range of organisations, as well as support from consultants. We’ll make the biggest impact if we work together.

So, on that note, we’d like to invite you to join us for a live conversation on 7 October from 15:00-16:00 to explore these themes together, through an interactive workshop to help develop your thinking in this space. In the workshop we’ll cover:

  • How sustainability intersects with your mission and purpose (thinking about your beneficiaries and the impact these threats have on them).
  • An analysis of the key stakeholders in your sustainability journey.
  • An exploration of the challenges you might face starting the sustainability journey in your organisation, and ways to overcome them.

The session will be very informal and conversational. You don’t need to have already done any work in this space at all, this session will be relevant to organisations who have only just started thinking about this, as well as those who are more progressed. I’ll see you there!

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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