Big business can do more to protect the environment – here’s how to get them on side


Josh Newton


People in the UK want greater investment in protecting the environment. Gone are the days when this statement would have been subject for debate; now it’s seen as fact.

As a country, we’ve become more environmentally aware. Recent floods across swathes of the UK are just the latest extreme weather event foretold by a coalition of scientists, school children and activists.

Alongside growing exposure to environmental issues, we’re also gaining familiarity with efforts to tackle them. The introduction of the mandatory 5p plastic bag charge, for example, has been hugely successful. CAF polling found that nearly eight in ten of us (77 per cent) think it’s been a positive step in protecting the environment.

At the Charities Aid Foundation, we’re working with businesses, charities and government agencies to make this mounting public appetite count for more. Based on recent insight, donations from the private sector to environmental charities appear broadly consistent with the amount donated three years ago – just 6 per cent of total income.

So why are big businesses not responding to demands for environmental action in their corporate giving?

With giving levels to all causes among FTSE 100 companies continuing on a downward trend, falling 26 per cent – or £655m – since 2013, catching the attention of large firms is harder than ever. Here we offer three clear paths that environmental charities and foundations must consider to inspire support from businesses.

Make a business case – not a fundraising plea
It’s basic but vital to state what a business can gain through a relationship, especially around the “P-word” – profit.

The people who buy their products have told us that they care about the environment and sustainability. Millennials in the US alone account for $1 trillion of consumer spending, and 73 per cent of them are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

In the UK, the early adoption of vegan sausage rolls into the range of one high street chain bakery, has proven to be a £1 billion idea and with it, a perfect example of sustainability strategy success.

In the same vein, charities must have a clear offer to business, and show them challenges can become lucrative opportunities.

What are their staff saying?
The people telling business leaders to care about environmental action are not limited to the customer base – they’re also in the workforce.

Studies show that employees care more about sustainability than their employers and 70 per cent of millennials would be more likely to pick a job at a company with strong green credentials. And it’s not just younger workers who feel this way. Among baby boomers, 17 per cent say they have chosen jobs because of the company’s superior sustainability credentials.

We also see business increasingly taking the wellbeing of employees seriously with large budgets for “away days” and training. This presents an opportunity for charities to connect people with nature.

Research funded by Siemens into their Wild Work Days organised by the Wildlife Trust found 81 per cent of participating employees reported an improved sense of wellbeing. Employees are seeking genuine engagement, volunteering time, days spent in natural surroundings, meaningful sustainability champion programmes and other projects which tap into this enthusiasm.

Focus on the community
Businesses put tremendous effort into forging relationships with people in communities close to their offices and sites.

Community investments are common themes in corporate CSR strategies. Charities and foundations should therefore target companies with a local footprint and monitor corporate community grant funds which are more widely available than specific environmental funding pots.

The Co-op supermarket is an example of a retailer who has put this approach into action through their Local Community Fund, which pays for local projects that their members choose. It also illustrates an important reframing of engaging with the environment – it’s not a distant concept but interacts and impacts people’s lives in their own communities.

The overall direction of travel is encouraging and businesses already invest to reduce their environmental footprint. But that is only one part of a bigger picture. By shining a light on potential savings and profits to be made by going green, as well as the opportunities for businesses to strengthen ties to their staff, customers and communities, the speed of travel towards protecting the natural world is poised to move into overdrive.

Josh Newton is Corporate Responsibility Advisor at the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF)

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *