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Only a small proportion of million-dollar donations currently go to environmental charities. Yet, there are clear opportunities for philanthropy to help address challenges and develop solutions for ecological problems.

Threats such as climate change and resource scarcity can pose significant challenges and opportunities for businesses, governments and civil society. At COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference held in Paris in 2015, governments from around the world reached a milestone agreement to address climate change. 

So what role can philanthropy play? How high is the environment on the agenda of major donors?

Surprisingly little of major philanthropy focuses on the environment. Of the 2,197 donations recorded in the latest Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report, only 20 went to support this area. In the UK, the sector received less than 2% of the donations worth £1m or more made by individuals, foundations and corporates over the last three years, while according to the Environmental Funders Network it accounts for less than 4% of all giving by UK charitable foundations.

"Globally, it’s future generations that will suffer the environmental consequences of decisions that we make today” Dr Frederick Mulder

 

While there may be no ‘silver bullet’ solution to the world’s environmental challenges, philanthropy clearly has a critical role to play, with implications too for donors interested in social and economic issues such as human rights, health and poverty.

“I think the field of the environment is a particularly exciting place to be because there is an opportunity for change,” explains André Hoffmann, President of Fondation MAVA, speaking in the Million Dollar Donors Report. “We don’t protect nature because it is beautiful, although of course it is. We protect it because … we need the environment to support us.”

Philanthropists concerned about the environment are faced with a range of issues – from carbon emissions and sustainable energy, to agriculture and food, biodiversity and species protection, marine ecosystems and clean water, pollution and waste reduction, to name but a few.

At every level, from local grassroots to global campaigns, donors are employing diverse approaches to tackling these challenges – supporting local community projects, holding governments and businesses to account, buying and managing land for conservation, funding independent research to inform the debate, and bringing people together to share ideas and good practice.

 

Our interviews with major donors in the Million Dollar Donors Report highlight some inspiring examples of how philanthropists are leveraging their resources, including:

  • Shining a light on innovation and grassroots solutions like Sarah Butler-Sloss, founder of the Ashden Awards which recognise and support those working on sustainable energy initiatives
  • Changing hearts, minds and behaviour like Caroline Gabel of the Shared Earth Foundation, who funds environmental film makers to raise awareness and debate
  • Campaigning for changes to policy and the law and holding decision-makers to account like Winsome McIntosh whose foundation funds public interest law to bring about long-term systemic change 
  • Investing endowments in line with their objectives, such as divesting from fossil fuels and investing in the new energy economy like Dr Frederick Mulder, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and other foundations who have signed up to the Divest: Invest campaign
  • Integrating environmental sustainability into their business models like André Hoffmann of Roche Holdings Ltd, and Swarovski Group, the world’s leading crystal manufacturer

Many donors, who wouldn’t describe themselves as ‘environmental funders’, are incorporating concerns about climate change and resource scarcity into their philanthropy strategies, whatever the cause they care about.

As the philanthropist Dr Frederick Mulder explains: “I got interested in environmental issues, not because I’m particularly oriented towards nature – because I’m actually a rather urban person – but because I think that environmental issues are actually issues of fairness to future generations and to people we don’t know or can’t see. … Globally, it’s future generations that will suffer the environmental consequences of decisions that we make today.”

If you are interested in exploring philanthropic opportunities, or would like a copy of the Coutts briefing paper, Meeting the challenges of climate change and resource scarcity; the opportunities for philanthropy and social investment, please get in touch with your private banker. 

The report includes inspiring interviews with major donors, including:

 

·         Sir Jackie Stewart, three-time Formula 1 world champion

·         Lloyd Dorfman CBE, entrepreneur and Chairman of The Prince’s Trust

·         Nadja Swarovski, member of the Executive Board at the Swarovski Group

·         André Hoffmann, Vice Chairman of Roche Holdings

·         Anna Southall OBE, fourth-generation family trustee of the Barrow Cadbury Trust

 

We also outline some top tips for philanthropists, drawing on the experience of major donors and our philanthropy experts in the Coutts Institute [link: www.coutts.com/couttsinstitute].

 

We’ve been producing the report since 2008 to celebrate and inspire philanthropy and provide insight into major giving in the UK and internationally. While the report focuses on major giving, it provides food for thought for anyone involved with charitable endeavours at every level. 

The report includes inspiring interviews with major donors, including:

 

·         Sir Jackie Stewart, three-time Formula 1 world champion

·         Lloyd Dorfman CBE, entrepreneur and Chairman of The Prince’s Trust

·         Nadja Swarovski, member of the Executive Board at the Swarovski Group

·         André Hoffmann, Vice Chairman of Roche Holdings

·         Anna Southall OBE, fourth-generation family trustee of the Barrow Cadbury Trust

 

We also outline some top tips for philanthropists, drawing on the experience of major donors and our philanthropy experts in the Coutts Institute [link: www.coutts.com/couttsinstitute].

 

We’ve been producing the report since 2008 to celebrate and inspire philanthropy and provide insight into major giving in the UK and internationally. While the report focuses on major giving, it provides food for thought for anyone involved with charitable endeavours at every level. 

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