Melting ice

How every philanthropist and funder can protect our environment

By Hannah Kowszun 1 September 2020 4 minute read

There is an inextricable relationship between social issues and environmental ones. From land lost to flooding and erosion to poisonous air destroying our quality of life, the knock-on effects of the damage we’re inflicting on our eco system will have the greatest impact on the poorest people on our planet.

Philanthropy needs a better understanding of how people are affected by this interplay of environmental and social impact. At NPC, we’re keen to support funders navigate this challenge
. Last month we held the latest in our drop-in sessions for philanthropists and funders, this time debating how everyone should consider the environment in their funding, not just environmental funders.

We started these drop-in discussions when lockdown began because we noticed many philanthropists and funders had urgent questions about what they should do to help in such uncertain times. NPC staff provided research and insight, while attendees shared what they were doing and, in often candid exchanges, gave peer-to-peer advice and support.

Now that the covid response has moved from emergency response to dealing with longer term impact, we’re continuing to provide this forum to help philanthropists and funders navigate challenges and opportunities in future.

In our conversation on the environment, Liz Gadd and Peter O’Flynn from NPC presented insights from the charity sector and impact investing, while Jane and Florence from the Environmental Funders Network shared their work in this space.


Investments can be more important than grants

We spent a lot of time discussing the responsibility philanthropists and funders have to consider the environmental impact of their investments and endowments, regardless of whether they have an environmental mission.

Environmental, social and governance criteria (ESG) are a set of standards for screening potential investments, which have gained prominence in the financial sector. For example, this year’s Editor’s Choice award for the Hedge Funds Review went to Adam Sweidan – founding trustee of Synchronicity Earth – for promoting ESG and socially responsible investing within the hedge fund industry.

Peter O’Flynn from NPC presented on the wider opportunities for ESG. A good example is Friends Provident’s partnership with the Joffe Trust and Blagrave Trust to launch the ESG Investing Olympics earlier this year, which announced its winners last week. At the moment, initiatives like this are far more prevalent in the corporate world than the social sector.

Sufina Ahmad from the John Ellerman Foundation shared how they had recently reviewed all their investments, and would be publishing the results in the coming weeks. She felt it was important for all funders to have a publicly available investment policy that includes ethical and environmental factors.


There are opportunities to engage all grantees on the environment issue

One attendee asked how they could start a conversation about the environment with their grantees, especially where their grantees are not delivering environmental projects.

Trustees are crucial to this. Fundraisers arguably have the least influence when it comes to encouraging environmental and sustainable practices, so it’s at the trustee level that these conversations should take place.

However, “the environment” has different meanings and connotations to different people. For some it represents the dangers of global climate change, for others it is the quality of their local environment such as air quality and food poverty. Jessica Sweidan is passionate about conservation: how our actions affect the eco-system and biodiversity of the natural world. She shared the Conservation Mitigation Hierarchy, which is used by businesses to review and plan for how their actions could contribute to a net gain for biodiversity. We think this could be adapted for the practices of both funders and charities.

There is also the Funder Commitment to Climate Change which currently has only 27 signatories listed on their website. A public commitment to this issue might encourage grantees to consider their own position on the issue.


Looking ahead

We could easily have kept talking about this issue a long way beyond the hour we had set aside. Friday 21 August was Earth Overshoot Day, the point in the year when humanity starts using up more of our planet’s natural resources than it can sustainably provide. This problem is not going away and there are huge opportunities for philanthropists and funders to wield their influence and their money to help mitigate the damage we are causing to the environment.

If you would like to know more about how NPC’s work is contributing to this wider discussion, including a project we are developing in partnership with Green Alliance, or are interested in funding future work, contact Liz Gadd.

Click here if you would like to attend the next NPC funder drop in.


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