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The Benefit Of Intergenerational Exchange Within the Board Room When Tackling Climate Issues

Kate Roberts

08 November 2021

As COP26 plays out in Glasgow over the next few weeks we consider the power of intergenerational exchange when tackling climate issues. Young people are taking the lead on the conversation about climate change, so what can we learn from the inclusion of young voices in this space?

The climate emergency poses a significant risk to the communities that charities serve, impacting every charitable mission. As a sector we all have a collective role to play in minimising our environmental impact, championing environmental sustainability, and future proofing our organisations to continue carrying out our charitable missions for years to come. As COP26 plays out in Glasgow over the next few weeks, all eyes are on the UK and the future of our planet. A successful conclusion to COP26 would be the ignition of a movement of action from individuals, organisations, and nations.

Young people are setting the agenda in this space, through grassroots environmental activism, school climate strikes, and campaign groups. With the tone shifting to one of urgency over the last five years, many organisations in the third sector are looking at how environmental sustainability can be embedded in the work they are doing, yet the conversation around the benefit of intergenerational voices in achieving this goal is missing. There is far more that the third sector needs to do, and can do, if given the right opportunities and support.

Why Is Sustainability So Important For All Charities?

Sustainability can be defined as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Charities must continue to help their beneficiaries in the present, but in doing so there needs to be acknowledgement that current action cannot impact on the ability of the charity to continue supporting those beneficiaries in years to come. The climate crisis continues to impact the way we live our lives, imposing very significant risks to all organisations who are not engaging with the sustainability agenda in the here and now.

It is currently crunch time, although we are coming out of one global crisis, the climate crisis remains unresolved. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened existing inequalities and emphasised that risk multiplier that being the most marginalised in society can have in times of crisis. The climate crisis operates in much the same way, amplifying existing inequalities and increasing the disparity between the privileged and the marginalised. Social justice and environmental justice are therefore inextricably linked and vital to consider in tandem. Many of the communities charities exist to support are being impacted by the climate crisis right now. This makes action on sustainability integral to being able to continue providing support to the most marginalised in society in the present day, without harming the needs of future generations.

The charity sector is uniquely positioned to influence both the public and the government to act, and the sector’s diversity plays a huge role in this. Every charity will approach sustainability from a different perspective, mobilising different areas of society to act. As a sector, we need to collectively make sure that the conversations are not just happening in our organisations, but they are also being acted on, by individuals, by staff teams, and by trustee boards.

Intergenerational Exchange Is Key To Making Sustainability Integral

Climate change is often seen as an issue of intergenerational equity - consumption now creates costs for future generations. A diversity of perspectives is essential for adequately tackling sustainability as a trustee boar, as environmental justice and social justice are crucial to address in tandem. We cannot strive towards sustainability if we are leaving the most marginalised in society behind, as charitable organisations we have a responsibility to ensure that everyone has a voice when undertaking this work as a sector. Intergenerational engagement on sustainability at trustee level showcases the ambition of a charity by demonstrating that environmentally conscious decisions are not acts of tokenism, but integral and core values held by all of those at the very top of the organisation.

As previously noted, young people have been leading the agenda when it comes to the climate crisis and sustainability. Ensuring young people have a voice in all aspects of your organisation, including at trustee level, creates a space for the issue of sustainability to be raised and questioned. It shows your beneficiaries and supporters that you take diversity seriously, which will ultimately lead to greater trust and support for your charity, as well as better decisions as all perspectives are encouraged and valued. However, it should not be the responsibility of one individual in the organisation or on the trustee board to drive this agenda. Young trustees may have the power to change or drive the conversation, but it is not just up to them to bring this agenda to the table.

Every Decision You Make Will Benefit From Having A Sustainable Approach

It is increasingly clear that the climate crisis and environmental sustainability is an issue that charities, and society, cannot afford to ignore. Serious consideration towards embedding sustainability in everything that an organisation does is necessary to achieve this goal, with a particular need to ensure that a diversity of perspectives is involved at all levels, including at trustee boards.

Every decision you make as a charity should have a consideration of environmental sustainability, because all your decisions will impact upon the environment in some way. Young people on your trustee board can be fantastic allies and advocates for this work; we want to increase representation of young people in trusteeship for this exact reason. Diversity on trustee boards is an important step in the process of becoming a more sustainable organisation, as it opens the doors to new opportunities and solutions. All organisations can help make change and drive us towards a greener, brighter future for everyone in society.

COP26 therefore comes at a pinch point for the sector, where we go from here will ultimately set the direction of action in this space for many years to come. We must act now, we must do better, and we must safeguard the future for our organisations and their beneficiaries.

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