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How can trustees respond to the climate crisis?

By William Thomas 19 May 2023 5 minute read

A recent seminar hosted by NPC, in partnership with the Clothworkers Company, explored how charity trustees can best respond to the climate crisis. The seminar sought to inspire action by highlighting the success of current initiatives.  

The Climate Crisis grinds on, whilst global interest fluctuates. The effects of global warming, air pollution and extreme weather events are felt all-round, but are known to disproportionately affect those who are already in the greatest need. In the charity sector, these are some of core groups that we aim to support.   

Climate change is not fair 

In late March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their sixth and final report on the progress made towards combatting climate change. The report states that it is the least privileged who are hardest hit by the effects of climate change. Groups such as young people, older people, disabled people, people from ethnic minority communities, those with health conditions and those living in poverty are likely to be the hardest hit by both the direct and indirect effects of climate change. With a moral responsibility to safeguard these groups in all that we do, the sector must adopt an equally strong stance on climate change. So how can charity boards navigate the climate crisis? We outline some key tips from the seminar.   

“As a sector we have a moral responsibility to explore our role”

                                                                                                     Liz Gadd, Strategy Principal at NPC

What can be done? 

Progress in this area begins with awareness and understanding and ends with action. In this spirit, there are four core ways that charities can support the communities that they work with.  

  • Better understand how people’s lives will be affected by the climate crisis and related policy changes 
  • Help to raise voices to ensure that people’s views and opinions are heard by policy makers 
  • Understand and consider how your own program/services or strategy may need to change  
  • Learn how to make environmentally conscious decisions in your own operations 

These four steps can be categorised into 3 areas of progress; understanding of the issue, empowering people to speak up, and internal changes to charitable services. 

Explore how climate change affects your organisation 

Gaining the approval and support of the wider organisation is crucial when implementing any change, and there is no doubt that any change made to how a service or program is run may encounter initial scepticism. It is also essential that boards are made aware of how climate change affects the work that they do and the people that they serve. During the seminar, Karen Parry, CEO of Inclusion North, outlined how her organisation ran an open session that was delivered to the wider organisation, linking the effects of climate change to the lived experience of its members and thereby tying it into the charity’s values and mission. Once it was identified and shared with the team that climate change presented a significant risk to its members, it became impossible not to take a strong stance on climate action.  

“We are passionate about our members, so we are passionate about the planet”

                                                                                                          Karen Parry, CEO of Inclusion North 

Implement gradual change  

When tackling climate change, it should not be seen as a sudden, monumental decision to uproot your entire strategy and operations. These are the things that can ‘freeze’ action. One speaker outlined the successes of her organisation, detailing how a few small steps culminated in the charity making a pledge to stop climate change. For Inclusion North, it all began with the hiring of an intern with a passion for climate change in 2021. Soon after, a working group of 10-12 staff was formed, meeting just once a month to create a plan. Taking the first step is key, and progress should be gradual, purposeful and sustainable. Boards should not be daunted by making a paradigm shift towards a climate-focussed program but should view the necessary change as a slow-burning process taking place over a number of years.  

Utilise your networks 

The term ‘global’ warming suggests that climate change is something that will be felt by all. It is essential that we share the burden of responsibility by taking a collaborative approach to tackling the issue. By utilising and forming new partnerships we can build networks of dedicated people.

This can be done in two ways: 

  1. Increase awareness by directly partnering with community groups to produce a ‘multiplier effect’. For example, Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Co-founded Uprising an initiative aimed to equip and enhance the skills of the next generation of young leaders. She highlighted that a huge portion of the success of its Environmental Leadership Programme came from going directly into schools and community groups to raise awareness. 
  2. Ensure that any resources, information or publications detailing progress are shared publicly, so that organisations can benefit from the work of others, perhaps partnering on new projects or building on the progress of others. 

Through the Everyone’s Environment program, NPC is working with over 40 social and environmental charities, to empower people from the UK’s diverse social groups to have a say on how we confront the climate and nature crises.  

Please get in touch if you would like to be involved and subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date on publications and events. 

Our next online seminar for trustees will be on impact measurement. Join us at this free event on 23 May 2023. 


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