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Saving the Planet, One NGO at a Time

Saving the Planet, One NGO at a TimeIn October, the United Nations released a dire report on climate change and its impacts. No matter where you live or work, you are witnessing the effects of the change in our climate. At home, we all do things to offset this rapidly advancing global crisis. We recycle. We turn down the thermostat or turn off the air conditioning. We carry cloth shopping bags. We bike when we can. But the issue is so overwhelming that it’s easy to feel like a sand crab being hit by a 50-foot tsunami. At the office, we may feel even more helpless, with no clear policy on how to instigate change.

I want to help you untangle the various ways to attack climate change and perhaps jump-start a conversation between you and your staff and board about how your organization can play a role to help address this global crisis.

This past July, the David Suzuki Foundation (Canada) published Top 10 things you can do about climate change. Included in this list are a few items you can apply to your organization.

One of their first suggestions was to “green your commute,” which includes such things as using mass transit, riding a bike to work, buying a hybrid or electric car, car sharing, and flying less. These are all good options that you can encourage your staff to consider, when possible.

I would add one more idea around greening your commute.  Why not encourage staff to work from home whenever possible? When I lived in Alaska, our office was located on the outskirts of town. Everyone on my staff drove to work, and plugged their cars into electrical outlets to run the circulating heaters in their vehicles so their radiators didn’t freeze. Many of us also had battery warmers that we plugged in all day.

That commute into Fairbanks had to be one of the most energy-intensive commutes in the world. So, in 2004 I simply closed the office and moved us all into the Cloud. Everyone now works from home. I have no idea how much we have reduced our carbon footprint, but it has to be significant.

If allowing your staff to work off-site makes you nervous, please read this short blog post by Kevin Peters (one of GrantStation’s lead researchers) on how we all adapted to working at home.

In an article published in LifeWire this past May, Melanie Pinola notes several environmental benefits to telecommuting, including the reduction of air pollution from toxic gases and particles and less oil consumption. Some of the statistics mentioned in this article are staggering. For example, if 32 million Americans who could work from home did so at least one day a week, 74 million gallons of gas would be saved, enough travel around the globe 51,000 times.

Exactly how much can your organization reduce its carbon footprint by offering telecommuting options to your staff? Stanford University offers a Commute Cost & Carbon Emissions Calculator through their Parking and Transportation Services Department. As you build a case for telecommuting to present to leadership, these numbers will be useful. Carbon Neutral Earth also offers an easy-to-use calculator. To learn more about telecommuting and how to make it work for your organization, check out the International Telework Association & Council.

The Suzuki Foundation list also included ways to use energy wisely, covering a myriad of items that are more relevant to your home than your organization’s offices. However, a few of these items apply across the board, for instance:

  • Changing the lighting in your offices to energy-efficient light bulbs.
  • Unplugging computers and other electronics when not using them.
  • Installing a programmable thermostat.
  • Getting a workplace energy audit to identify where you can make the most energy-saving gains.

These are all simple steps you can take with very little cash outlay. The Leonardo Academy offers an emissions calculator to help you determine exactly how much you can offset the emissions by your organization’s energy use. I would also suggest using “green” janitorial services and products to help reduce the production and use of hazardous chemicals.

Another item on the foundation’s list was to eat for a climate stable planet. How can your organization aspire to this?

Consider only purchasing organically grown foods for the office, including teas and coffees. Don’t waste food, but if you do throw food items away, make sure you are composting them. And, when possible, grow your own. For example, growing herb teas such as a spearmint, orange mint, or chocolate mint (my favorite!) to use in the office has three side benefits: it’s a healthy choice, the taste is sublime, and you are forgoing any packaging that comes with purchased teas. And, of course, growing plants in an office environment is always a psychological plus.

There are also many little things you can do—such as switching from your Keurig and plastic coffee pods to brewed pots of coffee, using a water cooler with large glass bottles instead of plastic bottled water, having everyone order lunch from the same place, or having an office pot luck once a week to avoid lots of cars going to different places at noon. And I’m sure you can think of many more ideas.

Also mentioned in the article was simply to vote. “All levels of government, from municipal to federal, can have a big effect on our ability to lower emissions, prepare and adapt to climate change, and shift to a clean-energy economy.”

The beauty of an organization is that we have the ability to influence a large number of people. Gregory Nielsen, president and CEO at Nielsen Training and Consulting, recently said, “Nonprofit organizations can mobilize their supporters to vote. You don’t need to be an advocacy organization to inform your supporters about vital issues and provide avenues for them to mobilize and affect change.”

I love this comment. It reminds me that nonprofit organizations across the country can actually have some influence on important policy decisions around climate change.

And what do you do if you work with those individuals too young to vote? The article suggested this: “If you are too young to vote, encourage your class or school to join a Student Vote program, a parallel election for students under voting age that provides the opportunity to experience participation in the election process.”

This program operates in Canada, but the United States also has numerous programs such as Student Vote.

C.S. Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” I believe this is how we must view the work that needs to be done now, because the ending, as it is currently scripted, isn’t good.

Saving the Planet, One NGO at a Time

Cynthia Adams is founder and CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities.

Topics: Protecting the Environment Nonprofits and Environmental Protection