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A green recovery: charities after COVID-19

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Published: 15 Sep 2020

Choices made in the aftermath of COVID-19 will shape society for decades to come. So, being clear about the objectives of a green recovery is vital to ensure actions lead to desired outcomes. Here, Michael Holder writes about the charity angle

Many green recovery tools used by public and private sector accountants can also be applied in the charity sector, with upfront investments in greener energy and transport, climate risk disclosure, and assessing dependencies offering longer-term resilience and savings.

But the wallets of UK charities have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, and the sector now faces an estimated £10bn funding shortfall just to keep services running due to lost fundraising income.

Yet while society's expectations on businesses to have strong ethical and environmental values are surging, the bar is even higher in the third sector. Charities will find it particularly hard to justify any investments in fossil fuels, for example, as the reputational damage could be irreparable. 

What’s more, a review of the Charities Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) is currently under way, which could result in stronger guidance on investments, risk and resilience in 2022.

Richard Hebditch, Director of External Affairs at the Association of Charitable Foundations, who has previously held posts at the National Trust and as a senior policy adviser in the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office, argues that, at this critical juncture, charities must avoid sticking their heads in the sand on environmental issues.

“A lot of charities are just very much focused on survival at the moment, but for long-term survival they can’t ignore the environment,” he says.

But as climate and environmental threats are all-encompassing, a charity’s mitigation efforts can be married to its main purpose to help drive action and promote green concerns to a wider audience. Issues ranging from race and immigration to food waste and healthcare all face growing pressures from climate change, for example. Here, the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals can provide a useful framework for aligning social, environmental and health efforts. 

And given they already have ethical and social purpose at their core, charities have a head start on aligning these issues, says Hebditch. “Charities need to step back and focus not just on the immediate needs of their organisation, but the bigger mission they serve.”