NICVA’s journey to reducing its environmental impacts

25 Oct 2022 Denise Copeland    Last updated: 25 Jan 2023

Climate change is affecting every citizen on this planet and many of us will already have made changes in our personal lives to reduce our environmental impact, but could our organisations be doing more to help reduce our impact?

NICVA’s journey

In September 2019, NICVA staff set up an internal group to identify ways in which NICVA could start reducing its carbon footprint.  By Christmas, the ‘One Planet Group’ had identified seven key actions which were implemented in the organisation entitled ‘ NICVA Christmas gifts to the planet’ under the headings of waste, water, wildlife, energy, food, travel. 

These simple yet effective measures did not cost that much to implement and involved more of a change in the way staff, tenants and our visitors use the building’s facilities.    

Unnecessary printing reduced

There was an issue with documents being sent to the printer and not collected which meant that both paper and energy were being wasted. We introduced a passcode for the printer which meant that documents could only be printed at the printer, cutting down the likelihood that documents would be sent to the printer and forgotten about.

Plastic free water

We removed all of the large plastic water dispensers from the building and replaced these with refillable glass bottles.  We now no longer provide plastic cups but provide glass beakers and visitors can bring their own personal use bottles and get them refilled from our kitchen. 

Retaining the heat

We inserted radiator foils down the back of all our radiators on external walls to reduce the amount of heat escaping through the walls, with the added benefit of reducing our energy costs. 

Introducing more wildlife

We put out bird-feeders on our balcony to welcome birds…so far we have identified seven new species of birds. 

Waste recycling

We introduced new all-in-one dry recycling bins on each floor of the building and for the first time introduced food waste bins, like those which households use.  We removed bins from all our offices so that staff must put their waste in the appropriate bins in the communal areas.   We also recycle the batteries and printer cartridges separately from other waste.   

More recently we have introduced soft plastic recycling to collect the plastics that you can’t recycle in your house bins eg crisp packets and biscuit wrappers.  The staff take it in turns to take these to the various supermarkets that provide this service. 

Water boilers

We introduced timer plugs for the water boilers which previously would have been left on throughout the night to keep the water at an even temperature as it took too long to heat up by putting them on in the morning.  The timer plugs mean that they come on at 7.30am and hot water is ready for when the building opens and turn off again at 5.30am. 

Environmental policy

NICVA adopted its first formal environmental policy in March 2021 which set out our commitment to continuously review and improve our environmental practices.  The policy includes a commitment to achieve a 50% reduction of our direct CO2 emissions by 2025 as a first milestone towards achieving a ‘net zero’ emissions.

Professional help, the CO2 emission experts

While the above measures introduced were very positive, we knew that we needed to do more, so we engaged Action Renewables to conduct a baseline report on the CO2 emissions from our work.

The report made a number of recommendations and provided options to reduce our CO2 emissions especially from the biggest CO2 offenders, gas and electricity.  The report illustrated that CO2 emissions could be reduced by 54% of our 2025 Net Zero target by introducing some capital improvements.

Capital improvements

These included the purchase of a new boiler, cavity wall insulation, heat recovery unit and ventilation system, low energy lighting and controls.

These capital improvements and scoping project cost around £130,000.  We secured capital funding from the Department for Communities (DfC) for a substantial part of this cost.  Work is now complete on our first phase which will not only result in reduced CO2 emissions but also in significant savings to our energy running costs. 

Training for staff

In July of this year, staff participated in carbon literacy training delivered by Keep NI Beautiful which we would highly recommend to others.  The training was a real reminder for staff on the negative effects that our CO2 emissions has on people’s lives across the world, especially those in developing countries. 


NICVA benefited greatly from a grant from DfC for the capital expenditure required to make our necessary improvements but also had to commit our owns funds. 

Our Fundraising Advice Officer, Jocelyn, has compiled a list of funders, from NICVA’s granttracker, which offer grants for environmental initiatives.  You can view the list of funders at the following   Making a Sustainable Difference in your Organisation

Help and advice

There are various organisations providing help and guidance for those who want to embark on their environmental improvement journey.  A good first port of call is to start the conversation in your organisation.  The following websites offer advice and guidance on starting your journey and/or implementing changes:

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

Sustainable NI

Northern Ireland - National Energy Action (NEA)

Action Renewables (who also run this charitable solar PV scheme -'s picture
by Denise Copeland

Governance and Charity Advice Manager

[email protected]

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