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Supporting Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

How to start your organisation’s journey to net zero

What is net-zero? 

The scientists agree that we have only a decade to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. The scale of the climate threat and scale of the solutions needed means that this is an issue for all parts of society, and all parts of the voluntary sector. It isn’t just an environmental issue.  

We are going to have to make major changes to the way we live and work to lower emissions and achieve net-zero. This means we reach the point where we don’t add any more greenhouse gas to the atmosphere than we take away.  

Climate change legislation requires us to achieve net-zero by 2045. 

Understand the risks and opportunities for your organisation 

Climate change is happening now, it may already be affecting your charity and its beneficiaries. Over the next decade that’s going to become more obvious. Global warming will impact on how we heat our homes and offices, how we access goods, including food and clothing, how we travel and receive services.  

Extreme weather conditions are likely to create emergency situations at home and abroad. Many Scottish charities will see an increase in demand for support as people come to terms with the impact of climate change and the lifestyle changes the move to net zero will demand.  

The Scottish Government has an ambition to ensure a just transition to net zero, and there are opportunities for voluntary organisations and social enterprises to help ensure that the transition is fair.  

There’s a role for the voluntary sector over the next few decades to do things like: 

  • create capital projects to generate sustainable energy for their community 
  • access grants for electrical vehicles or energy saving measures 
  • educate and inspire people to make changes to their life-style 
  • provide direct advice and support to the people who need it most  

A recent SCVO Open Door webinar explored why your organisations should care about climate change. It covered the Funders Commitment on Climate Change and the implications for charities that rely on independent funders, as well as some of the support that is available for individuals and organisations to make changes.  

Business Energy Scotland has a really useful overall guide to running a sustainable office.

Put on the board’s agenda 

If you’ve not already started a conversation at senior level, then the first step is to put climate change and the transition to net zero on the agenda for your next board meeting.  

Senior staff and trustees need to understand why this is an issue worth investing time and money in. Key questions to consider include: 

  • should climate change and the transition to net zero be on your risk register 
  • how it will impact your service users  
  • how it will impact on the way you deliver your activities.  

If you are lucky enough to have significant savings, you may also want to consider whether they are making a positive or negative contribution to climate change.  

A recent SCVO Good Governance webinar explored some of the issues for charity trustees. Julie Hutchison from Aberdeen Standard Capital addressed issues of finance and investment, Fraser Millar of Zero Waste Scotland covered why charities should care about climate change and gave some tips to start, and Julie Christie of the Environmental Funders Networks covered how to get funding for environmental initiatives and reporting to funders on your carbon cutting measures. 

Create an environmental policy 

An environmental policy commits your organisations to reducing your carbon output. It doesn’t have to be complicated but it will provide a framework from which you can measure progress and demonstrate this to your stakeholders.  

It’s likely that over the next few years public sector and independent funders will be looking for organisations to have an environmental policy as a minimum, so it’s best to get ahead of the game now.  

An environmental policy should start by outlining what your organisation does and what its environmental impact is. It should of course include a commitment to adhere to legal standards, as well as a plan to reduce your organisational environmental impact through activities such as waste minimisation, paper and water use, and energy efficiency. The policy should include details of how you will make these changes and measure progress. It may also consider how you will influence suppliers and potentially beneficiaries. 

Business Energy Scotland has a guide to creating an environmental policy, including sample policies.   

You may also want to look at:  

Understand your carbon footprint 

Measuring your carbon footprint and setting out a plan to reduce it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to put an official figure on your carbon footprint, a simple audit of your activities might include analysing your energy bills, how much you recycle, what disposable items you are buying, and how you are travelling for business.  

Energy use in your office and your travel habits are likely to be the main culprits, so look for quick wins like ensuring your energy is supplied by renewables and reducing the use of cars or taxis for work purposes.  

Business Energy Scotland has lots of resources to help small businesses, including charities and social enterprises, make changes. It may even be able to carry out an audit of your building for you and sign post you to funding for energy saving measures. 

Find out more about its guide on how to calculate your businesses carbon footprint.  

The Carbon Trust also has an easy to use Carbon Footprint calculator and social enterprise Changeworks provides consultancy services for organisations that want to reduce their carbon footprint.  

Become more circular 

Many charities are already making a positive contribution to the creation of a more circular economy, which keeps products in high value economic use for as long as possible. Every time you buy pre-used office furniture or equipment, who are making a difference. Its worth thinking about how you can do that even more by ensuring that you donate used goods on, repair broken items as much as possible, and recycle products that can’t be reused, ensuring the elements that can by reused are.  

Visit Circular Communities Scotland to find out more about making a positive difference to the circular economy. 

Get everyone involved 

It’s not always clear what being a more sustainable organisation means in practice and why it should be important to your organisation. So you may want to invest in environmental literacy training for staff and board members. Keep Scotland Beautiful provides Climate Emergency Training that can help your organisation understand why climate change is important to you.  

You may also want to set up an internal Green Team and give staff time and responsibility to work on ways to reduce your organisational carbon footprint. You might find that colleagues are more likely to make the effort to recycle if their peers are encouraging them.  

The team can be responsible for implementing changes and promoting green action in fun ways, such as creating posters to remind people to turn off their computers and recycle, organising vegetarian cooking demonstrations or second-hand goods swaps.  

Changeworks can provide advice on creating a Green Team, and this Zero Waste Scotland blog also gives some tips on setting up a Green Team.

Go vegetarian 

According to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation, the meat and dairy industry accounts for roughly 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If everyone ate more plant-based meals this could have a significant impact. 

As an organisation you might want to set an example by only buying vegetarian catering, switching to soya or another plant-based milk in the office, or arranging vegan lunch days. 

Share your progress and learn from others 

Doing just some of the above is likely to be important to your beneficiaries, donors and funders, so don’t be shy about telling people to help boost your reputation. Share what you’re doing on your website and social media channels.