How can funders can help address the climate crisis - Museums Association

How can funders can help address the climate crisis

We need to be more strategic to support change, writes Sufina Ahmad
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Sufina Ahmad

Museums and cultural institutions face a myriad of challenges – chief among them the climate and nature crises. As funders, it is vital that we consider deeply what, if any, role we can play in supporting the sector to respond to these crises. 

The John Ellerman Foundation makes about £5.8m of grants towards core costs in the arts, social action and environment each year. As an environmental funder, one might assume that we would already be doing a great deal of work with those we fund to address the climate and nature crises. Alas, with a small staff team, and multiple competing priorities, it can be hard to know where best to begin. 

Happily, our response to these crises has been supported through the framing of the Funder Commitment on Climate Change, which we have been a signatory to since late 2019. It commits those signing up to the following six things: to educate and learn; to commit resources; to integrate the commitment in all that we do; to steward our investments for a post-carbon future; to decarbonise our operations; and to report on progress. The commitment was originally set up by charity consultant Nick Perks, and is now hosted and supported by the Association of Charitable Foundations

Over the past couple of years we have been implementing a new public-facing investment policy, as well as making some Cop26-specific grants alongside our usual climate change and biodiversity related grants. We have also been ensuring that we have a good level of understanding about climate and nature crises internally, through training and hearing from expert speakers. And we have been sharing our thinking on the subject publicly through speaking engagements and written pieces. 

We have also been thinking about the kinds of support we might offer to those we fund to help them address the climate and nature crises. This has involved discussions about whether we should assist organisations to transition to renewable energy sources, help them to undertake eco-audits, or provide climate training to those we support. For now, the main change we have made is to ask applicants to supply an environmental sustainability policy, and encourage those without one to invest time in developing one. 

We have also realised that rather than implementing an assortment of ideas randomly, we need to think about things more strategically. To this end, we have provided core costs funding to NPC, a think tank and consultancy, for a project it is undertaking that connect with different parts of the social sector. This is being co-developed with other organisations and is looking at the ways in which they can meaningfully and effectively engage with the climate and nature crises amid a host of competing challenges. If this work goes well, we will look to support something similar aimed at the arts, culture and heritage sectors. 

We are in discussions, too, with a range of other funders about what we might consider doing collectively, such as expanding the availability of eco-audits and providing funds to implement the recommendations arising from them, promoting existing work that could support organisations to respond to the climate and nature crises. We are looking at funding more work that uses arts, culture and heritage to engage audiences and members of the public meaningfully with these issues. 

In truth, my assessment is that our efforts so far have been a good start, but that we can and must do more and better as soon as possible. I hope that in the coming months and years our partnerships with those we fund and our fellow funders will deliver an impactful and helpful way forward for museums and other cultural institutions.

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