Green Giving #13: An unexamined truth

Green Giving #13: An unexamined truth


Our guest contributor Matthew Smerdon is deputy director, Baring Foundation

The Baring Foundation is a generalist funder and, in the past, has not had any particular focus on the environment. However the stark conclusions of the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change prompted our trustees to ask what contribution the Foundation could make.

We became interested in helping non-environmental voluntary organisations to explore how their work would be affected by climate change. We saw how the people who will be most affected by climate change are those that are already the most vulnerable; people who may well rely on or turn to non-environmental organisations for support. We saw, therefore how climate change is not just an ‘environmental’ issue and that there was a need to establish a widespread understanding of the connections between climate change and issues of poverty, housing, health, security and well-being. Whilst some areas of the voluntary sector (notably international development organisations) were becoming sophisticated in acknowledging the truth of these connections, amongst the wider non-environmental voluntary sector, we felt this truth had gone largely unexamined.

The activities

In September 2008, four projects were funded that went on to work with 22 organisations:

The Big Response, delivered by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, Global Action Plan and Green Alliance working with four organisations that support vulnerable people.

Towards Climate Smart Children and Youth Organisations, delivered by National Children’s Bureau and the Institute of Development Studies working with three children and youth organisations.

Shared Energy, delivered by bassac, New Economics Foundation, Community Development Foundation, Community Sector Coalition and Groundwork working with nine community anchor organisations.

The “Climate Refugee” roundtable delivered by Climate Outreach Information Network working closely with five refugee and human rights organisations and having wider engagement with a further 29 other refugee and human rights organisations.

The results

All four projects designed new processes to engage organisations. These adopted various approaches including bespoke training, workshops, roundtable meetings, games and exercises, scenario planning and input from climate experts.

All the non-environmental voluntary organisations that took part in the project succeeded in making meaningful connections between the impacts of climate change and their primary charitable purpose.  Levels of understanding about climate change increased dramatically.

Organisations’ responses were particularly strong on planning how future services would have to adapt.

Some organisations also developed policy positions and have gone on to carry out advocacy work with large numbers of organisations in their part of the voluntary sector and with local and national policy makers.

Organisations have sought to sustain their work on climate issues by including it in their strategic plans and by ensuring that trustees include environmental responsibility as part of their remit. 

The lessons

A range of internal factors appeared to determine how successfully organisations engaged:
Where organisations could incorporate the work into existing planning and strategic planning cycles; Where wider staff, trustees and beneficiaries were enthusiastic; and where language was used with organisations that spoke directly to their concerns, for example exploring issues through themes such as well-being, strong communities, fuel security or tackling poverty.

It was clear that even for organisations that had previously been interested in climate change, outside support was necessary for them really to engage with the issues. In all cases this took time, and in some cases staff involvement was helped by a financial contribution.

The project confirmed the valuable role non-environmental voluntary organisations have to play in action to tackle climate change across a range of areas – providing services, identifying new needs, planning for emergency responses, engaging people on issues such as behaviour change and influencing policy.

More work in this area can contribute to a greater sophistication in how to narrow the gap between broad aims to reduce carbon emissions and the practical activity at local and policy levels that can achieve this.

The issues for taking this work forward

Organisations do face barriers to engaging with climate change issues. Most obviously, they have to deal with the urgent and present needs of their beneficiaries which compete with work that necessarily involves strategically thinking about the future.

Much of the support offered to organisations was highly labour intensive. Delivering the project in its current form to a much larger number of organisations would appear to be valuable, but would require significant funding.

Organisations may need additional support with developing confident policy positions but this work is vitally important given the scale of action that is required. Policy work needs to go further than broad calls for action and on to specific proposals for achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and helping to minimise the effects of climate change that are already inevitable.

Questions for philanthropists

Do your philanthropic activities already take account of the impacts of climate change? If not, how will the issues you care about be affected by climate change? Are the organisations you support examining the connections? If not, can you help them to do this? Where organisations make meaningful connections, what can you do to help them act on this?

Links to more information:

An Unexamined Truth - project report. Hard copies available from the Baring Foundation (tel. 020 7767 1348) or online at the Baring Foundation website.

The Big Response - A film and an online guide. Available at and

The Climate Smart toolkit - hard copies available from National Children’s Bureau (tel. 020 7843 6000) or

The Shared Energy Toolkit - hard copies are available from bassac (tel. 020 7336 9442) or

Climate change and refugees - a policy overview, a training package, an office carbon footprint tool and climate change and migration factsheets. Hard copies available from Climate Outreach Information Network (tel. 01865 403 334) or online

Find out more at The Baring Foundation 'Special initiatives'.