Green heart cut into hedge

Michelle Cooper, CE of County Durham Community Foundation, writes about our recent efforts to do our bit for the planet.

Where to start? 

Or a better question, how to start? 

I sat with my head in my hands nine months ago and wondered how County Durham Community Foundation could make a positive impact around the overwhelming issue of climate change. 

As always, better to face these questions with other people rather than go it alone, so I signed us up for Vonne’s Going Green Together (GGT) monthly support group and gradually started to piece together the corner of an enormous jigsaw.  

Incredible work

As a funder the temptation might be to add a ‘green ticky box’ for our groups to have to try and figure out but I hated that idea. Firstly, because it’s wrong to start dictating to others until your own house is in order: and secondly, because many of the groups we fund already do incredible work to reduce food, clothing and furniture waste and I’m not arrogant enough to teach them how to suck eggs!  

The GGT monthly meeting was a good starting point though, as it gave us tangible ideas to try, and kept climate on the agenda, which we strengthened by forming a small staff team to help support and nudge the rest of us. 

But we wanted to make an external commitment too, for accountability, and that meant signing the SME Climate Commitment pledge which is meaningful and visible for our supporters and gives us clear goals to work towards around net zero emissions and reporting on our progress.  

As the GGT team gathered momentum, the next step was to safeguard that momentum and work with Vonne to create and help fund a project coordinator job role. By investing in a designated role, we are taking the climate threat seriously and making sure we are held accountable for keeping it top of the agenda.  

Greener funds

Of course, we could not overlook our opportunity as a funder when thinking about climate. No tick boxes of course, but a financial bolt-on to offer groups that can think of ways to ‘green’ a community project. The additional money can be used, for example, for the extra costs involved in using sustainable drinking cups rather than single-use plastic, or in sourcing a local supplier for equipment. We were also able to work with an existing fund holder, Esh construction, to relaunch their giving as a Greener Communities Fund, with £5k grants on offer.  

More and more we anticipate our supporters wanting to fund climate intervention work, and empowering our communities to play their part. Interestingly, our largest financial supporter, The Banks Group, has evolved from a mining background into property and renewables, and continues to fund an extraordinary amount of community work, including many ‘green’ projects. We have lived some of that evolution alongside them, and come to appreciate the complex dance between present day consumer needs, and protecting the planet for generations to come.  

In the meantime, our internal climate committee were keeping busy. One staff member undertook carbon calculator training so that we can educate ourselves on the impact we are making and start to note that impact in our financial reporting. Another attended a research session by a large local company seeking to help customers in vulnerable situations decarbonise, and they began to brainstorm ideas for our wider team.

Competitive spirit

They presented last week and did a brilliant job of letting our team discuss both overwhelm and simple actions we could all take. Two ideas stood out: we have agreed to take part in the Big Plastic Count from May 16 to 22 and to open a Teams channel where staff can swap or rehome items they no longer need, assemble items to go to charity shops and share ideas. We want a culture of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and having seen our team’s fierce competitive spirit over the annual Easter egg decorating championship, I am confident they will goad each other into ever more determined efforts to take on these values. To date we have already seen clothes, plants, foraged food and a ukulele rehomed within the staff team!  

So these are our efforts to date. We have a long way to go of course, but perhaps you will find this useful if like me, you are wondering where and how to start.