Making a Sustainable Difference in your Organisation

25 Oct 2022 Jocelyn Horton    Last updated: 20 Sep 2023

The environment affects all aspects of our lives and there are numerous benefits for organisations to address environmental issues such as improved finances and greater appeal for employees, supporters and funders.


The environment affects all aspects of our lives whether it’s our health, well-being, fresh air, food, water, energy, material possessions, and our economy. Environmental issues are also linked to almost any social cause the voluntary and community care about from poverty alleviation to food security or migration to human rights. As a result, it could be argued that your charitable organisation depends on and affects the environment in many ways.

Benefits of tackling environmental issues

There are plenty of benefits to investing time and finances in being more environmentally conscious.  For example, research by Barclays revealed that 75% of UK businesses enjoy commercial benefits after going green and over one-third of businesses reported a drop in business costs thanks to green investments. Businesses could also qualify for tax breaks and government grants – such as reducing your Climate Change Levy by up to 90%. The UK’s Ten Point Plan has put recommendations in place that will affect workplaces, so making sure your offices are energy-efficient now is a good way to avoid having to play catch up later on.

Your brand can be enhanced too. External stakeholders including beneficiaries and donors can see you are committed to doing good. More than a third of British consumers say they are buying products from companies with strong environmental credentials.

Implementing green measures has also been proven to improve recruitment, retention and morale of employees. An early study found that employees are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs if they are working for a company that is perceived to be green. More recently, three quarters of office workers reported that their employers could ‘do more’ to address climate change and be more environmentally friendly.

Helping people and places

Research conducted by Human Spaces showed employees in workplaces with natural elements reported a 15% higher wellbeing score and a 6% higher productivity score than employees whose offices didn’t include such elements. The same report also found that employees whose offices included natural elements scored 15% higher for creativity than those whose offices didn’t.

Providing ‘green breakout spaces’ not only helps to boost nature’s biodiversity levels in urban settings but could also boost your staff’s mental wellbeing. Research by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare of three NHS sites showed a majority of staff reported benefits of feeling relaxed and calm, refreshed and re-energized after spending time in their gardens and led to having positive effects on their mental and physical wellbeing. Both the Human Spaces and Centre for Sustainable Healthcare findings showed that having access to attractive green spaces were an important factor in where people decided to work.  

Funders making a difference for the environment

Tackling environmental damage, biodiversity loss, and the climate crisis is becoming increasingly important to numerous funders. Many funders including Comic Relief, BBC Children in Need, the Wolfson Foundation and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation have signed up to The Funder Commitment, hosted by the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF). It provides a framework for funders to play their part in tackling the causes and impacts of climate change. Their support for the environment can range from welcoming applications which consider environmental issues as part of projects to providing specific dedicated funds.

You may have also noticed that the National Lottery Community Fund for Northern Ireland’s website features the following statement for all funding schemes, not just environmental funding schemes:

“We all have a responsibility to protect the environment for future generations. This includes the communities and projects we support.  We’ll expect all applicant organisations to consider their environmental impact and to have relevant policies and procedures in place.”

A shift in funder expectations is a giant nudge in the side to the voluntary and community sector to start making changes to their operations and delivery methods to secure those vital funds.

But where can you secure the funds to make these changes a reality for you?

Potential funders

The National Lottery Community Fund

Both the Northern Ireland and UK-wide offices offer funding specifically targeting environmental improvements or are supportive of projects that consider the environment as part of their work. Please note that The National Lottery Community Fund have announced that the Climate Action Fund: Nature and Climate funding is closing to new applications on 30 June 2023 at 12 noon. You can still apply up until this date. Their Climate Action Fund: Energy & Climate remains open to applications.

Community Foundation for Northern Ireland

The Community Foundation for NI has a range of funding schemes that support environmental improvements such as those funded by windfarms, utility companies, and other major donors.

The Wolfson Foundation: Sustainability Fund

The Sustainability Fund is intended to support previous Wolfson grant holders to undertake basic refurbishment and maintenance works that have a clear emphasis on enhancing the sustainability of buildings, improving energy efficiency and reducing ongoing costs.

Royal London: Changemakers Programme

A partnership between Royal London and the School for Social Entrepreneurs who look for innovative, ambitious leaders of social enterprise and social ventures in UK and Ireland that are helping to build financial resilience or supporting a fair and just transition to net zero and are looking to grow their impact and income from trading.    

The Shoosmiths Foundation

The Foundation works to help address societal issues, to empower sustainable change, and to improve the lives of the people and the environment in the UK. Grants offered to advance social mobility in the legal sector, and across the UK, in line with the Shoosmiths social mobility action plan, advance a carbon net zero UK, and advance access to justice in the UK.

Octopus Renewables Infrastructure Trust

The Octopus Renewables Infrastructure Trust (ORIT) invests in the transition to net zero. On top of their investments in renewable energy assets, they seek opportunities that enhance the environment and support communities, promoting a "just transition” to clean energy, ensure the benefits of the green economy transition are shared more widely and help those who stand to lose economically.

DWF Foundation

The DWF Foundation supports registered charities with an impact in one or more of the following areas: Homelessness, Health and wellbeing, Employability, Education, and Environment and Sustainability. 

Co-op Foundation: Carbon Innovation Fund

Launched in 2021, the scheme runs for three years. Their Carbon Innovation Fund will support projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and could be related to one of the following: Farming and food production practices, Initiatives around regenerative agriculture/agro-ecology, Community supported agriculture initiatives, Supporting diversity, resilience and learning amongst key players in the food & farming sector, and Behaviour change (among consumers or producers).   

The Fat Beehive Foundation

The Fat Beehive Foundation is an independent UK registered charity that provides small grants for websites and digital products to other small UK registered charities with an average income of less than £400,000 with grants of up to £2,500. They support a limited amount of projects, based on the funding available for distribution in any given year. The funding priorities vary quarterly and include Environmental protection or climate change mitigation and Health and wellbeing among other topics.

Lush Charity Pot

This scheme supports small, grassroots organisations around the world working in the following areas: environment; animal protection; and human rights.  The majority of their funding is allocated to small, grassroots groups that are often best placed to make a real difference with limited resources and often struggle to find funding. The average Charity Pot grant is between £2,000 - £4,000. 

UK Ashden Awards

The Ashden Awards accelerate climate innovation, helping businesses, charities, governments and others power up their impact in the UK and low-income nations. They back organisations that advance social justice while lowering emissions. Winners and finalists enjoy grants, publicity and priceless new connections – as well as endorsement from globally-recognised climate experts. 

Natural World Products (NWP): Sustainable Communities Fund

Ireland’s leading organics recycling firm, Natural World Products (NWP) has launched a new ‘Sustainable Communities Fund’, seeking to provide financial support to community groups within the West Belfast and Keady areas. The fund aims to support groups and projects that demonstrate community involvement and benefit with an aim to create opportunities and empower local people.  

ScottishPower Foundation General Grants

Due to reopen in 2023, they welcome applications that will support the most vulnerable people in society. Your application must address at least one of the ScottishPower Foundation’s strategic aims: Education, Training and Research - To support education, training and research in general, prioritising innovation in order to contribute to energy sustainability, Biodiversity and Climate Change - To support the protection of the environment and to increase biodiversity, to actively contribute in the fight against climate change, Art and Culture - To protect and safeguard artistic and cultural heritage by promoting conservation and restoration of the arts and supporting local development, and Social Initiatives - To contribute to sustainable human development by supporting the most vulnerable people and groups.

Esmee Fairbairn Foundation: Funding Plus

Funding Plus is the capacity building support they provide to organisations where they currently fund to help organisations to achieve greater impact. The maximum Funding Plus award is £7,000.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund

This funder defines heritage as anything from the past that you value and want to pass on to future generations and they provide funding for heritage projects from £3,000 up to millions of pounds. They have a wide variety of funding programmes specifically targeting environmental improvements or are supportive of projects that consider the environment as part of their work.

H&M Foundation: Global Change Award

The Global Change Award from the H&M Foundation supports early-stage innovations that can accelerate the transformation of the fashion and textile industry. The aim is to protect the planet and our living conditions. They want to turn the industry into a planet positive one and for 2023 they are looking for ideas within three categories: Regenerate – solutions towards positive effects, Repurpose – solutions towards circularity, and Reimagine – solutions they have not even thought about yet.

Veolia's Sustainability Fund

The Sustainability Fund will provide cash sponsorship, in-kind resources or volunteers to support not-for-profit organisations and community groups to transform their local community or environment. Two methods of application. Crowdfund through Spacehive’s website and have 50% match funding from Veolia or apply via Veolia’s website for cash, in-kind, or volunteering support. Priorities are Enhancing biodiversity, Promoting sustainable waste behaviours (reduce, reuse and/or recycle), Protecting or preserving resources and the environment, and/or Its use of recycled, reused or reclaimed materials. Deadline 29 September 2023.

Hubbub & Virgin Media O2: Time After Time E-Waste Fund

Hubbub is  delighted to announce the launch of the £500,000 'Time After Time E-Waste fund', in partnership with Virgin Media O2. The fund will boost pioneering electronic waste (e-waste) initiatives with grants of between £10,000 and £75,000. They’re seeking innovative UK-based projects that will reduce e-waste by making it easier for people to do the right thing: getting our old electricals fixed, passed on to a new owner or recycled. 

Ocado Foundation For Good

The programme will support 'the many rather than the few' by providing grants of up to £1,000 to charities, community organisations, community interest companies, academic institutions, and local authorities for community projects which focus their efforts on three core areas: skills for the future, natural resources, and responsible sourcing. The latter two areas focus on reducing our impact on the planet and enabling improved ethical sourcing of products and supply chains. 

Belfast City Council: Business cluster and community grants

Tranche three of their business cluster and community grant scheme is open for applications. One-off capital grants between £10,000 and £25,000 available to Belfast-based community groups, charities, social enterprises and business collaborations for environmental improvement. Please check their website for future funding information.

Rank Foundation Hospice Grants
This grant programme has been made possible by the Rank Foundation. Since 2002 it has provided funds to support special capital projects in adult independent voluntary hospices with grants of up to £20,000. The Rank Foundation grant programme is to support projects that have a direct impact to patients and their families in adult member hospices. In 2022 the theme is Environmental Improvements. The programme aims to help hospices to implement measures that will reduce their impact on the environment and to deliver sustainable healthcare. Please check their website for future funding information.

LFT Charitable Trust: Local Environmental Action Programme

LFT Charitable Trust is a family foundation based in Belfast. LFT wishes to support charitable organisations in Northern Ireland to attract, inspire and educate local communities to participate in environmental action in their neighbourhood. Examples of projects that could be considered include activities to decrease waste; initiatives to reduce pollution; programmes to enhance the local natural and built environment and foster civic pride and actions to increase community engagement and connectivity with nature. Applications for grants up to £7,000 are invited. 

Sea-Changers: Grants Programme

Sea-Changers gives one-off grants (i.e. not continual funding) to UK-based charities and ‘not-for-profit’ organisations including schools who are carrying out marine conservation related activities. They welcome applications from a wide variety of groups and entities. Small Grant applications up to £500 there is no deadline; for Main Grant applications of £500 up to £2,500 there are two deadlines per year (31 March and 30 September annually).  

DAERA Environmental Challenge Fund: Water Quality Improvement Strand

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has launched the 2023/24 call for applications to the Water Quality Improvement Strand, which is part of its Environmental Challenge Fund Competition. The fund aims to invest in projects that will deliver improvements in the local water environment, help connect people with the environment, and encourage behavioural change. The fund is open to applications from constituted not-for-profit organisations and councils, and projects will run from spring 2023 until March 2024. The funding, subject to budget approval, will provide up to 85 % of funding for projects costing between £5,000 and £30,000.

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation: Prize for Humanity

This annual 1 million euro prize aims to recognize outstanding, innovative and impactful work in climate change mitigation and adaptation. These awards recognize people, groups of people and/or organizations from all over the world whose contributions to mitigation and adaptation to climate change stand out for its novelty, innovation and impact. The Award is worldwide, so nominees can be from any country. Opens annually.

#InTheLoop Grant Fund

Hubbub is launching a new #InTheLoop grant fund for two new projects with funding of £8,000 each to boost the opportunity to recycle on-the-go using the #InTheLoop toolkit. The fund is supported by McDonald’s. They’re looking for ambitious, projects that will transform recycling in public spaces. Each successful project will receive an £8,000 grant to invest in, and boost, recycling facilities. Grants will help you to boost recycling facilities in your area by providing funding to invest in infrastructure.The grant is open to any organisation that can prove they are an officially constituted body, registered in the UK.  They anticipate that the majority of applications will be from local authorities, shopping centres, waste and recycling companies, major property owners and transport hubs. 

Aviva Community Fund

Aviva has teamed up with the fundraising platform Crowdfunder to offer funding of up to £50,000 to small charities, schools and community interest groups in the UK with innovative ideas that benefit their community. Funding is available for organisations looking to raise up to £50,000 and eligible causes can apply at any time. Once your application is approved, you’ll create a page that explains the project, its aims and add your fundraising target. Current funding areas are: Financial Wellbeing: helping people take control of their wellbeing by giving them the tools to be more financially independent and ready for anything and Climate Action: Promoting healthy, thriving communities by preventing, preparing for and protecting against the impacts of climate change. There is no longer a deadline to apply and additional temporary funding is available from 30 March 2023 under their Save Our Wild Isles.  

Useful links

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by Jocelyn Horton

Fundraising Advice Officer

[email protected]