How do you consider climate change in your work? - John Ellerman Foundation

As politicians and policy-makers struggle to tackle the devastation threatened by global warming, how central is climate change in the work of both environmental funders and those whose objects may not include the natural world, but who nonetheless see it as a top priority? We spoke to members about how they consider climate change in their work.

The first article in this series comes from Nicola Pollock, Director, John Ellerman Foundation

This series was first published in Trust & Foundation News

The foundation is a generalist funder, with the aim of advancing the wellbeing of people, society and the natural world by focusing on the arts, environment and social action. We believe these areas, both separately and together, can make an important contribution to wellbeing.

We have a long-standing interest in funding the environment, which currently receives 25% of the budget. While in the past climate change was a specific priority, trustees now recognise the scale and complexity of the problem is such that global action by government and business is required to make a difference. Our current interests now lie in supporting work that reduces or prevents the damaging effects of human activity. This includes tackling climate change and interconnected issues such as biodiversity loss and human health.

Our more recent funding has therefore addressed climate change by supporting work that is likely to have leverage through changing policy and legislation, or influencing markets and the economy. Grants we have made include support for NGOs that are exploring market solutions to environmental problems including overfishing and climate change, the potential opportunities arising from evaluating and accounting for our natural capital, along with initiatives on transport, air pollution, and the Transition Towns Movement.

It is fair to say that our grants that relate directly to climate change are concentrated in the environment, though our interest in the power of the arts to communicate and inspire led us to support Julie’s Bicycle, who have been effective in persuading the culture sector to adopt sustainable practices, and also use the arts to increase awareness of environmental concerns.

Another challenge for us is that we fund mainly in the UK. However, in the environment we do look beyond our immediate borders to the UK overseas territories; these are home to over 90% of the UK’s biodiversity, which is being depleted by human activity. We have also proactively dedicated a modest amount of funding to work in the high and deep seas, which will help join up those parts of the ocean for which the UK is responsible.

The investment of our endowment is a live issue and of growing interest to our trustees. Two years ago we formulated an approach to socially responsible investment, which is published on our website. In summary we prioritise actively taking account of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues when considering our investment policies and strategy, and encourage our investment managers to engage proactively with the companies we are invested in. Our broad objectives – we can fund any charitable purpose anywhere in the world except South America – make negative screening a challenge, but this is kept under regular review. We keep in touch with the DivestInvest movement and are exploring impact investing, which holds increasing opportunities for both environmental and financial returns.

This is a fast-moving sector. Most investment managers now claim high ESG credentials, and the trick is to dig beneath the marketing to see what they are really doing. To support our investment thinking and practice we joined CRIN – the Charities Responsible Investment Network convened by ShareAction – who provide external analysis and advice about how our managers are doing on ESG issues. We have also made a grant to ShareAction, to underpin its leading work on promoting socially responsible investment, which extends beyond climate change to other environmental concerns and issues of social justice such as the Living Wage, supply chains and corporate governance. And what we can control we do – our office energy supply is from 100% renewable energy sources.

Some of our more on-the-edge grants have been connected with climate change mitigation. For example, we funded the Smith School for Enterprise and Development at Oxford University to develop a new Sustainable Finance course. The rich curriculum also shines a light on investment markets, including the problem of fossil fuels as stranded assets, the cornerstone of the DivestInvest movement. We pump-primed the programme, which now has enough interest from the investment industry, NGOs, government and others to be self-financing.

Nicola Pollock
John Ellerman Foundation

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