OPINION: Hot Issue - Should environmental impact be a criterion in grant applications?

The Community Fund recently decided not to call for charities to assess their impact on the environment when applying for grants, after some suggested the extra work would put them off applying.

NO - Amanda Ellingworth, chairwoman, The Caldecott Foundation

I think, however, that it is clearly in everybody's interests that charities, small and large, should play their part in good environmental practice.

The key issue, as always, is finance. The fewer obstacles there are between charities applying for grants and accessing the money, the better. This is particularly the case with smaller charities that are operating on very limited budgets, as they are often the quickest and most responsive in meeting their objectives.

We have recently completed a successful £6m fundraising drive, which has enabled us to build wonderful new homes and a primary and secondary school near Ashford, Kent, for more than 60 young people in our care.

In so doing, we were more than mindful of our environmental responsibilities.

For us, environmental responsibility includes providing safe, secure and peaceful surroundings for the children.

As ever, it's a question of balancing our objectives - to educate and care for children who have suffered extremes of abuse and neglect - and our wider responsibilities to the community and the environment in which we all have a stake.

YES - Tony Juniper, executive director, Friends of the Earth

We should all - as organisations, companies, and individuals - take responsibility for the impact we have on our environments. And grant-giving bodies, such as the Community Fund, should be encouraging organisations to do this by including an assessment of environmental impacts in their funding criteria.

The Community Fund's decision not to do so is particularly disappointing, given that it claims its role is to improve the quality of life in the community. Looking after the local environment is a key part of this - and whatever the nature of the organisation or project, it will have some impact on the environment at a local and a global level.

By deciding that an environmental assessment is not necessary, the Community Fund is sending out the wrong message, in that the environment is a peripheral issue.

This runs contrary to the Government's message on sustainable development - indeed, Tony Blair promised to put the environment at the heart of the Government's concern - and runs in opposition to forging a way forward to improving our global environment for the benefit of everyone.

NO - John Elkington, chairman, Sustainability

I detest bureaucracy, in all its sundry forms, so I sympathise with the potential applicants to bodies such as the Community Fund who say they would be put off applying for funds by complicated environmental assessment criteria. With all the new governance requirements in the US in the wake of Enron and other financial scandals, even major companies are thinking of going private to avoid the bureaucracy now required by the financial markets. If even sophisticated corporations have difficulties with the emerging accountability agenda, can we be surprised if parts of the not-for-profit sector are having problems?

That said, I take the claims of those would-be applicants with a huge pinch of salt. Any trust or foundation that was halfway sensible could easily screen out the applications most likely to create significant environmental issues. In which case, it's a simple design issue in the application process.

There may be some opportunities for environmental value creation, which the applicants might potentially be rewarded for. Think dark clouds, silver linings. In short, the principle of assessment is fine, the real questions involve how to put these things into practice.

YES - Victoria Anderson, grant manager, CAF

Environmental impact should be considered as part of the way an organisation operates. It should also be considered within project development.

CAF's own grant programme focuses on the development of the organisation itself. As grant makers, we need to consider the capacity of the organisation; what the initiative is for; what the organisation is and what it does; how it views its own impact on the environment; what measures it takes and its reasons for doing so. And we need to ask what is appropriate or practical in each particular instance.

Any assessment of how an organisation operates should include some analysis of environmental impact. Taking a small-scale example, if a number of organisations share a mini-bus or joint initiative, the pooling of resources is not only cost-effective and pragmatic, but should be seen in the context of the impact on the environment. This is something funders should be encouraging the sector to do more of.

And as grant-makers we should assess the way we operate - how much paper we ask for, what we do with it, and how we promote our own programmes - in addition to how we assess others.

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