On November 17, as part of its Greening CSOs initiative, Cooperation Canada convened civil society organizations to examine the intersection of baseline environmental assessments, green teams and improved operations and programming. Our webinar explored CARE Canada’s experience with a baseline environmental impact assessment of its operations and programs and the role of its green team. Focused on peer learning and exchange, the webinar showcased the ins and outs of these greening tools, challenges, successes and lessons learned. For those of you that missed it, here are our takeaways from the lively discussion.
1. Baseline environmental impact assessments can be done by any organization – small, medium or large, regardless of budget.
Although baseline environmental impact assessments appear complicated and out of reach for some in the sector, simple tracking of utility expenses, travel and workplace habits around water, waste and power, for example, are concrete ways to get each and everyone of us started on the path to greening and becoming carbon neutral. While such activities do have human costs as they require staff time, they do not require the use of costly consultants. Participants expressed concern over the initial investment required for retrofits. Yet, others advised that starting with simple changes, gaining leadership buy-in and proposing larger changes once an assessment is completed are critical starting points for success, rather than focusing on costs as an upfront barrier. For simple ways to kick start your organization’s efforts, check out our repository of tools and resources.
2. A green team can go a long way – but even farther with leadership support.
Organizations should gather common interests and aspirations for greening, identify small objectives and make use of internal expertise so as to gain momentum and trigger lasting positive results. For many participants, green teams were mostly initiated informally and were on a volunteer basis. Those that were more successful tended to have specific plans in place. Some organizations noted that once green team gained a bit of momentum, leaders were then more likely to give support and, in some cases, green teams were formalized within governance structures. For some organizations, senior executives’ presence in the green team was instrumental in achieving success and pushing forward the agenda. Summing up, a green team is an important starting point for organizations but does not always guarantee action; leadership buy-in is a much-needed driving force for lasting effects.
3. Greening requires targeted awareness-raising and active staff engagement for positive behavioural changes.
The topic of greening and sustainable operations is often perceived differently among staff, as well as from one country to another. In some instances, participants advised that different means of communication were required for outreach. Messaging for country–offices requires more context-specific information and consciousness of different levels of capacity and knowledge. For some country offices, a how-to-guide for greening operations and programming may be needed. Once behavioural changes occur, green efforts can more easily be formalized into policies and organizational strategies. Formalization and policies were said to also come in handy to maintain momentum as well as to ensure organizational accountability and persistence through challenges such as staff turnover and loss of knowledge. Noteworthy global events such as the Montreal Climate march and COP25 were also said to trigger internal discussions and in turn highlight the urgent need for action and teams to lead the way.
Cooperation Canada’s “A path to Greener CSOs” peer learning session was the second of a series of peer learning sessions from the Greening CSOs initiative. Stay tuned for more opportunities and resources!
Arianna Abdelnaiem, Research Assistant, Research, Policy and Practice
Luiana Temba, Research Intern, Research, Policy and Practice