For over a year now, Taproot Foundation has been asking its Service Grant applicants whether or not they have a written Environmental Policy, with only 26 percent answering yes. As an AmeriCorps VISTA Program Fellow here for the past 10 months, I have read many of the responses, and I am not impressed.
If nonprofits aren’t making the changes within their organizations necessary to be society’s ethical innovators, who is going to do it?
Relying on governments to make the necessary changes is painfully slow and wrought with risks and dangers, as we saw in the Copenhagen Quagmire earlier this year. And while corporations have made some small steps in the recent green revolution, they won’t start acting sustainably at the necessary scale until consumers decide to make radical lifestyle changes.
While it is true that the direct economic impact of nonprofits is small, their societal impact can not be understated, especially in the United States. As has been the case here for generations, nonprofits have a key role in showing, not just telling, what is necessary for society to move forward. It is paramount that they do more to work towards the goal of sustainability as we as a society attempt to avoid catastrophic climate change.
So how do nonprofits do more?
Drafting environmental policies, subjecting them to board and executive review, and implementing them at every level of their organization’s operations is a good start. This is a systemic way for nonprofits to lead by example. Nonprofit Organizations are chronically strapped for resources, but if we can show that we are able to operate effectively and sustainably, it will be that much more difficult for our corporations and households to claim that they can’t do the same.
¨There are some resources available to help nonprofits towards greening their operations. Check out one of TechSoup’s helpful articles. Fast Company writer Alice Korngold also mentions a few others in this recent blog entry (in which she gives Taproot a shout out). Taproot president, Aaron Hurst, also gives some of his ideas in this blog post and identifies some best practices in this post.
Grant-makers also have a very important role to play. Grant-making and capacity-building institutions have the task of providing the tools and funds for nonprofits to operate sustainably. We need to transition from merely raising the issue of sustainability in nonprofits, to encouraging, supporting, and expecting the creation and implementation of effective environmental policies at nonprofits of all stripes. Without our support, this effort will flounder.
Taproot can even do more to make its current commitment a more visible part of our culture. Let’s unearth our environmental policy from the investor relations page of our website and display it prominently (print it, frame it!) in our offices. We have various quarterly awards – a new one could be created for the “Root” (staff member) most dedicated to environmental stewardship. To this end, there are many things that every nonprofit could include in their processes with relative ease.
Every member of the nonprofit community needs to be taking deliberate, daily steps toward social progress and our future environmental well-being.
Aaron Zueck is a New York City Program Fellow at the Taproot Foundation. This summer, Aaron plans to embark on his own venture “Bikeloc “- a cross-country bike trip to learn and share stories of the Local Food Movement through potlucks.