Charity Digital – Topics – How to integrate sustainability into decision-making

One way to firmly embed sustainability is to ensure it’s a key consideration every time your organization makes a decision. This could be big charity-wide decisions, such as which pension provider to use for your employees or who to sign up as a new web provider. Or it could be the day-to-day decisions we all make, like whether or not to print a document.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is based on three pillars: economic viability, social equity and environmental protection (which this article will focus on). Ultimately, sustainability is about planning ahead. The United Nations defines it as follows: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs”.

Why is this important?

Acting for the climate is the right thing to do. We have a collective responsibility to act now, while we still have a chance to prevent the devastating impact of rising temperatures.

As charities we have an even greater responsibility because we also have the opportunity to influence others. We don’t just need to act; we have to lead. People turn to charities for advice, and we can lead by example by showing others how to act effectively. And that’s for every charity, of every mission – whether that mission is environment-related or not.

Write a sustainability strategy

Stepping back to write a strategy can help clearly articulate the steps you will take to make your charity sustainable, including what you want to achieve and how you will achieve them.

You may want to include it as part of an environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy. We share some tips for writing an ESG strategy.

A sustainability strategy is also a public statement – ​​to staff, volunteers and the public – that you put your environmental responsibilities at the heart of your work and that you are taking action on climate change.

You can also make a public pledge, such as the CharityComms Environmental Pledge, which makes their environmental ambitions and actions crystal clear.

Create sustainability representatives

Building a team focused on sustainability. For a large charity that could be a core team with specific subject matter expertise. For smaller charities, this could mean having ambassadors who are passionate about the environment and can take targeted training.

You can also appoint a member of your leadership team to lead the sustainability campaign in your organization. This will help shape decision-making and keep the environment firmly on everyone’s radar. Strong leadership will guide your strategy and create a culture that puts the environment first.

Integrate sustainability into every role

Getting every team member to align with sustainability will help keep it top of mind at every stage of decision-making. This could be from initiation – including environmental competencies in job descriptions and people specifications, through to individual and team performance goals around sustainability goals.

Engage trustees

For sustainability to be at the heart of the way you work, it must be understood and championed at all levels of decision-making. This includes trustees, who are ultimately responsible for your charity. Involve them when developing your strategy and ensure they are fully informed when it comes to making decisions, such as switching to a more ethical supplier.

Get buy-in from HR

HR can play an important role in motivating your charity to make climate-smart decisions in many areas of your organization. If your charity doesn’t yet have a leader on the subject, HR might be the people to bring everyone together collectively and systematically.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that you assess the steps you are currently taking and what you have planned, focusing on these four questions:

  • What environmental sustainability measures does your organization already have in place?
  • What does your organization do well? How to integrate environmental sustainability?
  • Where are the gaps that could be filled by HR?
  • What other parts of the organization could HR work with to achieve their environmental sustainability strategy and plans?

You can find out more in the CIPD guide: Integrating environmental sustainability into your organization.

Share ideas and get support

Sustainability networks, such as Fit for the Future, can help you learn, collaborate, and share knowledge with other nonprofits.

Fit for Future has over 100 members, all united to collaborate on environmental best practices. Discovering how other organizations have integrated sustainability into their policies, culture and decision-making can inspire you to do the same.