June 8, 2022

How we’re putting our climate commitments into practice

by Ben Thurman, Carnegie UK

When we began returning to the office for the first time after Covid-19, one of the things I noticed afresh was a picture hanging in the office: four wind turbines standing in front of Eigg’s distinctive An Sgùrr. It dates back to 2009, when the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust was shortlisted as one of Carnegie UK’s ‘Rural Sparks’ for their innovation in community energy.

It’s not the only time in its 100-plus-year history that Carnegie UK has invested resources in protecting the natural environment. Examples include a launching grant for the ‘Conservation Corps’ (now known as The Conservation Volunteers) in the 1960s; funding the ‘Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves’ (now The Wildlife Trusts) in the 1970s; and more recently exploring opportunities for the smaller scale food growing sector as part a broader programme on rural communities.

So, last year, when we took the decision to embed environmental wellbeing and environmental practice into our strategy for change, we knew we were building on an organisational heritage, not just starting from scratch. That said, we also recognised that the scale and urgency of the climate and nature crises, and the threat that this presents to our collective wellbeing, demands radical change in what we do and how we do it.

Our more recent approach to climate action began in 2019, through a series of staff-led conversations that sought to identify the things that we could change to improve our organisational environmental practice. These ‘Carnegie climate conversations’ became formalised in 2021 when we signed the Funder Commitment on Climate Change (which gave a structure and clear direction of travel) and created a climate programme team (which provided dedicated staff resources to deliver it).

Earlier this year, we reported on our progress for the first time. This gave us a moment to look back on what we have achieved so far. It was reassuring to reflect on tangible progress in ‘stewarding our investments for a post-carbon future’, with a new asset manager and new investments strategy that better reflect our climate commitments. We have also undertaken a comprehensive ‘eco-audit’ and are implementing a range of recommendations to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of our building and operations. (This area of action has also provided a welcome opportunity to work more closely with the two organisations that we share a building with).

More broadly, through our work so far, we have come to understand that shifting our ways of working is less about introducing new rules and more about supporting staff to make good judgements about how they deliver our wellbeing mission in a way that is consistent with our climate aspirations. To do this, we are developing different tools to prompt us to ask the right kinds of questions about things like travel, events and purchasing; and creating space within our teams to ensure that environmental wellbeing is built into programme design.

There is lots more that we want to do in order to embed environmental practice and environmental wellbeing into organisational culture and practice. And we also know that the year ahead will bring new questions and challenges, not least as we begin to travel more routinely and consider what that means for an organisation that works across the UK and Ireland.

Echoing the last line of the Funder Commitment, we will continue to develop our practice internally, but we also want to learn from and with others. So, in that spirit of openness, if you are working on your own organisational approach to climate action, if you think you might have something to share that could influence our work, or vice versa, please do get in touch: we’d love to hear from you.