Funder Commitment on Climate Change: One Year On
A year ago, Treebeard Trust joined a growing group of UK foundations signing up to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change. As I wrote at the time, we wanted to use the set of six goals outlined in the Funder Commitment as motivation and structure for Treebeard’s own funding and learning in this field.
As I hit ‘publish’ on that blog in April 2020, the Covid 19 pandemic was well and truly upon us, and already affecting the work and lives of many. I watched as many fellow foundations responded to their grantees with generosity, compassion and patience across an incredibly challenging time for charities and the vulnerable groups they serve.
Treebeard too made additional funding available to existing grantees as well as some other organisations tackling both the immediate and longer-term impact of the pandemic. Whilst over the past 12 months we have made definite progress with our environmental giving and learning, perhaps had it not been for the pandemic we would have made more concrete strides. But, in the circumstances, we are fairly pleased with the progress we have made.
And, global pandemic aside, we promised an honest review one year down the line, so here it is!
Goal one: Educate and Learn
As planned, we did hold a ‘Learning’ trustee meeting in this field. We were extremely grateful to the team at Climate Pathfinders Foundation who joined Treebeard trustees for an eye-opening session about carbon dioxide removal and the role of philanthropy in this space.
This year we have done some deeper learning into certain environmental issue areas – including regenerative agriculture, carbon dioxide removal, and more recently, the blue economy.
I started a monthly email update for trustees which included a “digging deeper” section to share publications, events, podcasts or blogs of interest and relevance to Treebeard’s work; much of this was focused on the natural environment or climate change.
Treebeard has joined the Environmental Funder Network and our learning has been deepened through EFN events (I would highlight the brilliant event and related publication: “Environmental Philanthropy: Stories to Inspire” as a truly motivational read)
We continue to learn through our partnerships- I would highlight Peers for the Planet’s weekly update on policy developments relating to climate and nature as an invaluable source, expertly pulling together the complex and fragmented environmental policy landscape.
Goal two: Commit resources
We planned to spend £120,000 (15%) of our 2020-21 Impact Only Investment (grant) budget on environmental investments. We exceeded this, deploying £140,000 across the year. Our partners now include Ecological Land Cooperative, Peers for the Planet, Green Alliance, NEON, Environmental Law Foundation, and Forum for the Future. We also provided a small grant to the PFLA-led food label lobbying initiative.
We achieved this in large part due to collaboration with other funders; in fact, I would say that Treebeard’s environmental portfolio is one of our most collaborative to date.
Goal three: Integrate a climate-informed approach to the way we work
We had planned to start a conversation (as part of our assessment process) about prospective partners’ carbon footprint, as well as to ask about the impact of existing partners on the planet at year-end review. However, given the multiple pressures our partners were facing in 2020 (and still are) we decided not to add this layer into our processes yet; 2020 felt like a time to lighten our processes rather than deepen them in this way.
We have looked for opportunities to be more environmentally conscious in some of our partnerships and have been able to action this in partnership with Lighthouse Charity, with whom we are renovating a children's residential home. Attention and investment went into an advanced sustainable heating and insulation plan for this building, which will make considerable carbon savings across many years. This means more upfront financial investment - however was an important aspect for us and for Lighthouse.
Goal four: Steward our investments for a post-carbon future:
We continue to look for opportunities to invest directly in enterprises which are directly tackling climate change; currently we are looking at opportunities in the blue economy space. We have not however made any new climate or environment related financial investments in the past 12 months.
Goal five: Decarbonise our operations
The minimal Treebeard carbon footprint has shrunk further in 2020-21 due to Covid 19 – even our train travel has disappeared and with no face-to-face meetings, we have been pretty much a paper-free establishment!
We continue to hold 100% of our cash reserves in ethical banks – Triodos, Charity Bank and CAF Bank.
Goal six: Report on progress
Well, here we are with our honest update! We have done much, but not all, that we planned to do this time last year. We can say for sure that the Funder Commitment provided a helpful framework for goal-setting within a small foundation that is not climate-focused such as Treebeard. We were pleased to contribute to ACF’s Funder Commitment on Climate Change Year 1 Report last month - it was helpful and inspiring to read about other foundation’s progress in this space, and gratifying to see many non climate-focused foundations make space for this work.