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Where social justice and environmental justice meet

By The Climate Crew 12 November 2021 4 minute read

Tackling the climate crisis and social justice are connected. Here's how one group are making it easier for charities to know how to help Click To Tweet


This guest blog is by The Climate Crew, a  group of leaders from across the social sector made up of Anna Severwright of Social Care Future, Annie Maclean of ForHousing, Clenton Farquharson MBE of Think Local Act Personal, Gail Smith of Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, Joel Attar of UnLtd and Matira Wheeler of Young Westminster Foundation. In this guest blog they explain the links between the work of the social sector, the environmental crisis, and their work on how we can all take action.


It is unequivocal: Human activities have caused the climate crisis and human activities are absolutely vital to prevent further, worsening catastrophe. We need to act urgently. We need to act as individuals and communities, as organisations and as a sector.

What is also unequivocal is this: in the same way that the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities around the world, so too has the environmental crisis (and it will continue to). Groups already experiencing disadvantage are more likely to be exposed to the effects of climate change, more likely to be susceptible to greater damage, and less likely to be able to cope or recover.


A problem shared

The Climate Crew are a group of six emerging leaders from across the social sector, representing areas including young people, housing, social enterprise support, disability and social care, equality, diversity, inclusion and the environment. As varied as our missions and organisations are, we are all committed to standing up for what is right. Together, we were captivated by this simple question: What is the social sector’s role here?

And so we have set out to unearth what is being done, what isn’t being done and why. What’s more, we set sail on a course to explore how our sector might take more proactive, collective action.


Phase One: Empathise

We used human centred design to explore the topic, capture insight, define the problem we wanted to design for and propose solutions. For our research phase, we surveyed 44 peers from across the sector. We asked if their organisations acknowledged the crisis, what they were doing already, what barriers they had to action, who was responsible in their organisations, whether they were motivated to act and if they had suggestions to overcome barriers and make real strides forward.

Three key insights leapt out at us:

  • 65% told us their organisations had either zero or minimal engagement with the crisis.
  • However, organisations are willing to act, with a similar number told us that their organisations were somewhat or very willing to act.
  • When asked about motivation of the staff to act, we were told overwhelmingly that people were either fairly or highly motivated to take action.

Clearly, despite willingness and motivation, something was getting in the way of more proactive engagement and action. Our research also led to us uncovering what others were doing in the sector. Encouragingly, we learned about some great initiatives and examples of deliberate action. We came across ACEVO’s Climate Leadership Principles and we encountered NPC’s commitment, through resourcing and convening, to spur a sea-change in how the social sector understands its role in responding to the climate crisis. Their message was clear: ‘the climate crisis is a risk to all our missions.

We also read the SCVO & SenScot Third Sector & Net Zero Report, which shared ‘the wider disconnect between the social sector and the climate change agenda’ and the need to highlight that ‘the climate crisis is a social justice issue.’ We spoke to the John Ellerman Foundation about their approach to funding climate solutions and their undersigning of the Funder Commitment on Climate Change. And we spoke to the Children’s Trust about how they had integrated the crisis into the charity’s strategy.

When we stood back and examined these insights together, we were able to zero in on the problem we wanted to design for.


Phase Two: Define

The research was clear: our sector doesn’t have an awareness problem, nor do we have a willingness problem. We have an impetus problem. So, we narrowed the scope of our problem: How might we show our colleagues in the social sector the links between their work and the environmental crisis, and show ways that they can take action?

We outlined some key principles to help guide us:

  • Show not tell
  • Show the intersection between missions and the environmental crisis
  • Avoid overwhelming and information overload
  • Framing matters, go for collective optimism
  • Perfection is not required, starting is
  • Push for organisational action over individual actions


Phase Three and Four: Ideate and prototype

Armed with these insights and principles, we produced two prototypes, in the form of ‘wheels’. Our prototypes address three simple questions:

Why should it feature high up for your organisation? Now that you see why it matters so much for your organisation, what might you do that would have a material impact? And how can you get started with these actions?


The ‘Why Wheel’

Image shows the ‘Why Wheel’

A PDF version of this diagram can be accessed via this link.

This wheel brings together a body of inarguable evidence, with references, detailing why social justice issues and the climate crisis are connected. There are six issues featured in this wheel. It is not an exhaustive list, but the overall effect is clear: the climate crisis is a social justice issue.

For example, it shows that race has a greater influence on exposure to pollutants than poverty and that people with disabilities are more vulnerable and more susceptible to the effects of the climate crisis.


The ‘What and How Wheel’

Image shows the ‘What and How Wheel’

A PDF version of this diagram can be accessed via this link.

This wheel makes it accessible and easy for organisations to look at what actions they might take. It is not exhaustive, but each segment introduces a different type of action and is accompanied by a corresponding resource which can help. For example, actions include greening your money: £2 in every £100 held by high street banks is likely lent to fossil fuel companies. Where your money sits has consequences. Our curated resources help organisations review their banks, pension funds and investments and find greener alternatives.

We have a vision for both wheels to be interactive, dynamic, and co-owned by sector organisations as we act within and across organisations. We invite you to add to these wheels. Add your evidence and build the picture of how our missions connect to the environmental crisis. And add the resources or tips that have helped your organisation take action.

We call on our peers in the social sector to take action. Start with simple actions and start seriously looking at the bigger, strategic actions and seismic shifts you will take. Together, our sector must respond. Together we will respond.

The Climate Crew


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