2020 update

Funder Commitment on Climate Change

As a signatory to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change, we recognise that the growing climate emergency is a serious risk to the pursuit of our charitable aims and have made six key commitments. Read an update on our work towards their implementation during 2020.

Educate and Learn
  • We circulate key pieces of research on climate change to our staff and trustees and also invitations we receive to external presentations and events. GMO’s Race of our Lives Revisited paper has been influential, as have Generation Investment Management’s Sustainability Trends reports and the work of CarbonTracker.
  • We have an annual budget for staff development for those who wish to attend more specific courses and we actively use our social media channels to highlight key pieces of work by our grantees. Recent examples have included the final report of the Climate Assembly UK from Involve and the work of the Green Alliance who aim to ensure that political leaders deliver ambitious solutions to global environmental issues.
  • For much of 2020 our staff have been involved in designing and developing our new five-year strategy. Climate change will underpin all our work going forward and we have given consideration to how it will impact all our activities, not just those more closely linked with the environment.
  • We have a system in place for capturing key learning from our work and those of others which we disseminate internally. We also publish key findings externally via impact reports on our website.
  • The annual strategy day for both our Investment Committee and our main Trustee board included presentations from external speakers on climate change and discussions on the associated financial risks. We are active members of a number of UK and European networking organisations, for example the Charities Responsible Investment Network (CRIN), where issues related to climate are regularly on the agenda.
  • We have been particularly active in 2020 in terms of speaking at online events, such as those hosted by ACF (Association of Charitable Foundations) or seminars and roundtables organised by fund managers. We have also had individual conversations with other foundations and endowments who are either in the process of taking the first steps to incorporate climate considerations into the way they manage their operations or who are updating more established procedures and looking to adopt net zero carbon targets on their investment portfolios.
Commit resources
  • In October 2020, we launched our new five-year strategy. The proportion of our work which focuses on the environment will increase over time and we have been investing staff resources ahead of implementation.
  • Going forward, where we do give grants and social investments, they are likely to be for over longer time periods. We will work with others to make progress against a series of impact goals, three of which, in the areas of biodiversity, sustainable food and clean water, are directly linked to the effects of climate change.
  • We have continued to fund organisations that are tackling the causes of climate change. Examples include CDP which runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities and regions to manage their environmental impacts. We have funded groups such as the Soil Association whose work includes offering support to farmers to help them transition to less damaging methods of production and others that are looking to produce a more sustainable UK food system and influence government policy on climate.
  • As part of our new strategy, we are looking at how we can adapt and use our tools and working practices as a funder to innovate. For example, we have had a land purchase scheme within our social investment fund for a number of years now and are now looking at whether it is possible to scale this offering and allow external capital to participate.
  • The shift to a post carbon society will not be felt equally across the UK and we continue to look for opportunities to support a just transition. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition and also exposed, to an even greater degree, the inequalities inherent in society and the need for solutions at a local level. We have funded organisations like the Onion Collective who have been able to bring local communities together and act fast for the benefit of vulnerable groups.
  • We have continued to fund work that helps to reduce deprivation in the UK. This is likely to leave communities better placed to adapt to climate change issues in the future. Our funding team proactively look for such opportunities and consider how we can maximise our impact with the resources at our disposal.
  • Under our Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) action plan, which was finalised during the fourth quarter, we will be looking at how we can embed DEI into all aspects of our environmental work. We will also be working with our investment advisors to identify how we can engage with our fund managers on the associated issues.
Steward our investments for a post-carbon future
  • During 2020 we started work on how we would adopt a net zero carbon target on our investment portfolio and we are working on the implications of that for our investment strategy. In many ways this has been about formalising work which was already underway with our investment advisors. Although a long term target is important, we are also considering the milestones that will be key over the coming decade if we are to track our progress.
  • We are currently transitioning the whole of our investment portfolio to one which is one more closely aligned with our mission. Part of this work has included the addition of a £25m allocation within the main fund for high impact funds with market-leading approaches to ESG considerations (environmental, social & governance). These include a European manager buying companies focusing on resource efficiency and pollution control and one based in the US finding good opportunities in solar power, electric vehicles and clean water solutions.
  • Our investment committee held a strategy day in the summer looking at the impacts of climate change on our portfolio. Linked to this, we have started to do work on biodiversity loss and how we might incorporate that into analysis of our investments going forward.
Decarbonise our operations
  • We completed an audit of Esmée’s carbon footprint at the start of the year and identified the key drivers and actions we might take. Some, such as a switch to vegetarian food for all internal events at our offices, were straightforward to implement. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic led to dramatic reductions in staff travel, especially flights, and we are now looking at the implications of becoming a flight-free organisation. The move to online meetings is unlikely to be a temporary phenomenon and, even when the current situation returns to normal, our carbon footprint is likely to be structurally lower due to changed working practices.
Report of progress
  • We are fortunate to have significant resources in comparison to a number of other UK charities and therefore the ability to devote time to sharing our learning with others. We produce periodic reports on our website on lessons learned in different areas of our operations and share all our funding data with 360 Giving.
  • We take the view that sharing our learning with others so they can respond to the challenges of climate change can be impactful work in itself and our staff are encouraged to do this with peers and industry groups such as ACF (The Association of Charitable Foundations).

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