Making an environmental action plan

L'Arche Village, Northern Ireland

Everyone who delivers charitable services or runs a community venue can make choices to create a positive environmental impact – saving energy and money, reducing waste, and cutting carbon emissions.

We’ve created these practical tips as a starting point for any charity or community group looking to co-create an environmental action plan with their staff, volunteers and trustees.

Here we show the benefits of an environmental action plan, and share ideas of what you could include, alongside examples from our grant holders showing how they’ve made their plans and the difference these are helping them to make.

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Making an environmental action plan

1. Understanding the benefits

Creating an environmental action plan (sometimes known as a climate action, carbon savings, or sustainability plan or policy) helps you embed low-carbon behaviours across your organisation’s work.

A plan sets out your environmental objectives, assigns responsibilities, and explains how you will monitor progress.

Plans help to put sustainability at the heart of your work and ensure that your trustees and management, staff, volunteers, service users and partners are all committed to taking positive action.

Having a plan may help you when you’re applying for funding, particularly if you want to refurbish or build a community venue. Your funder may ask for evidence that you have considered using sustainable building materials or making energy efficiency improvements. 

The benefits of asking everybody to plan for sustainability

Building Better Opportunities (BBO) is a £500 million investment to help people facing the greatest barriers to employment into work.

BBO matched funding from us with money from the European Social Fund (ESF) and producing and implementing an environmental plan was a requirement of all 130 funded employment partnerships. Few of their 2,000 participating community organisations had ever done this before.

At first many lacked confidence, whilst others found it difficult to know where to start. But over time we saw changes: some got expert help, others pooled environmental expertise from partner organisations and some learned from “the early adopters”. This resulted in more groups making their own environmental plans, investing in green audits and introducing environmental targets.

Practical improvements followed: groups installed recycling and composting systems, replaced paper with digital forms – enabled by electronic signatures, made improvements to the local environment or retrofitted LED lighting and motion sensors to cut energy use.

In Gloucestershire, Going the Extra Mile employment consortium recorded and implemented 2,460 positive environmental changes in their action plan, which they developed with the help of Green Impact, a United Nations award-winning sustainable planning programme.

These environmental improvements ranged from reducing the carbon footprint of offices and encouraging more staff to use greener forms of transport to work, to planting 1,000 native trees, running household energy efficiency workshops, and improving a local pond to encourage the return of wildlife. Collectively, these saved 72 tonnes of CO2: the equivalent of almost 150 large hot air balloons. Plus the partners and their beneficiaries saved £26,000 – for example through reduced utility bills.

2. Deciding what to include

RecyKillin Tool Library
RecyKillin Tool Library

The content of your environmental improvement plan is up to you, but you could consider:

Carbon footprint

Calculating the total amount of emissions that your organisation generates creates a benchmark, which you can use to identify areas for improvement and to measure your progress.

Carbon Footprint provides a free carbon calculator for small organisations, while WWF has one for individuals, if your staff or volunteers are interested in reviewing their own impact on the planet. ACEVO shares practical resources, including tools for measuring air pollution and the carbon footprint of websites.

Some of our grant holders have worked with a national energy charity, Centre for Sustainable Energy, to better understand their carbon footprint.

At The National Lottery Community Fund, we work with Planet Mark whose 2023 annual assessment showed that we’ve achieved an 11% reduction in emissions per employee, through improvements to our facilities, waste management, and how much we travel and print. We’re now working with a social enterprise Useful Projects to develop a more demanding plan to reduce as much carbon as possible by 2030.

Low-carbon transport

You could start by reviewing Planet Mark’s travel emission calculator to get a better idea of emissions linked to business travel and then look to revise your travel policy.

For example, you could introduce a hierarchy of travel options, which encourages virtual meetings, discourages or bans air travel, and prioritises the most sustainable travel options, like cycling, public transport, electric vehicles and car sharing.

Smallwood Trust in Malvern supports staff to use the greenest forms of transport, and employs environmentally friendly taxi services (using hybrid and electric vehicles) when no other option is available.

In Wales, we helped to fund Play It Again Sport’s electric vehicle. As well as cutting emissions, it saved them £600 in fuel costs in just six months. 

Waste and recycling

You could calculate how much general waste you produce and how much you recycle and think about how these numbers can be improved. This has been a critical part of our environmental plan meaning we could track the reduction of general waste collected from our offices – by 85% since 2019/20.

We’ve done this by increasing the amount and range of things we recycle to include food waste and composting. We set up clearly labelled recycling stations, removed individual bins from desks, and worked with suppliers to reduce plastic packaging in food we order. We’ve also re-used existing furniture when we’ve downsized or refurbished our office spaces and found new homes for surplus desks and chairs.

Green energy providers

You can check the credentials of potential suppliers, and choose one that offers energy from solar, wind, wave or hydropower. The Big Clean Switch offers advice on making the change, while community energy organisations can also give advice.

Many of our grant holders have switched to green energy providers. For example, in Buckby Library and Hub’s energy and sustainability policy, they committed to using green suppliers for electricity and gas.

Training in low-carbon behaviour

Staff inductions are a good place to embed this way of working, and you could consider including courses such as carbon literacy training for staff, trustees and volunteers in your plan.

In Walsall, Steps to Work briefs new starters on its environmental policy. It runs short talks about what staff can do to work more sustainably, such as turning off printers and computer monitors at the end of the day. Through quarterly meetings, it keeps managers up to date on the latest actions being taken to fulfil its environmental goals.

Reducing energy use

Making improvements to your buildings are an obvious starting point, but consider other options too. At The National Lottery Community Fund, when we needed to upgrade our laptops, we chose ones with improved battery life: 24% more energy efficient compared to the models being replaced. And the old machines are being refurbished and then donated to schools across the UK.

Greener financing

If you have investments, consider greener finance. NCVO has tips on how charities can divest from fossil fuels, moving money away from businesses involved in the extraction, production, transportation, refining and marketing of energy sources that release harmful pollutants.

Environmental champions

Environmental champions, like our Climate Action Network of 79 staff, can raise awareness and inspire and support positive change. These social relationships build on existing trust and connections to create positive momentum for change.

Our grant holder, Green and Healthy Frome, trained 209 health and community professionals from 17 Somerset organisations to be ‘green community connectors’. This equipped them with a better understanding of community and environmental health, personal carbon footprints, and reliable sources of information – leading to a 40-45% increase in the number of conversations professionals had with residents about environmentally friendly choices.

Carbon offsetting

You may choose to offset some of the emissions that you can’t fully eliminate. Time and Tide Bells, installed a series of public artworks in sites around Britain’s coastline to raise awareness of rising sea levels. They chose to pay into Carbon Club which plants trees to offset the carbon associated with making and installing its bell sculptures.

If you’re considering this route, the WWF recommends using offsetting projects that are certified by Gold Standard – an independent, internationally recognised benchmark for high quality carbon-offset projects.

Carbon training that motivates action

Climate Action Middlesbrough has trained over 200 staff and residents about the science of carbon (how it’s produced, how it behaves, why it’s important to reduce it) and practical ways to achieve CO2 reductions.

With funding from our Climate Action Fund, the training is delivered with multiple-choice, quiz-style questions, and has received positive feedback for how it’s stimulated debate and motivated people to take concrete action through their work and personal actions.

“I feel torn,” reflected one participant. “The training both increased my knowledge massively and frightened the life out of me. At the same time I feel more determined than ever to have a positive impact on my carbon footprint”.

3. Co-producing your plan

Age UK Kensington and Chelsea
Age UK Kensington and Chelsea

Working with your trustees, staff, volunteers, and service users to co-produce your plan and develop your objectives can be a useful process in its own right. You’re more likely to get a diversity of ideas and it helps ensure that the maximum number of people possible are involved and committed to making a difference.

For example, if you are a bigger organisation:

  • Your frontline team might lead on ways to reduce the use of disposable and single-use items.
  • Facilities staff may be able to find ways to recycle more products, switch to a green energy supplier, or improve the insulation in your office.
  • Colleagues in admin or procurement can ensure that contractors use eco-friendly and renewable sources for goods and services that you purchase.
  • Your IT team can decommission ageing, inefficient servers, or plan to refurbish and donate equipment that you no longer need.
  • The finance team may be able to incentivise greener forms of travel through your travel policy.

If you’re a small organisation with few staff or volunteers, working on a plan together can still help you focus and make a start, by choosing priorities, tapping into your team’s interests and experiences, assigning responsibilities, and deciding timelines.

By working together to look for solutions, you put sustainability on everyone’s radar, and encourage people to think positively about what they personally can do to make a difference.

Any organisation can take action - you don’t need to be an environmental specialist. Men’s mental health charity, Head In The Game published their environmental commitments on their website. These include paperless working, choosing venues easily accessible by public transport, and sourcing second-hand equipment. They also pledge to look out for new approaches to sustainability, creating e-flyers to spread the word. Recent examples cover rewilding and sustainable eating, sharing the benefits and suggesting changes that readers can make in daily life.

Co-producing an environmental action plan for your community

Environmental action plans aren’t just for organisations, but for physical communities too. With community-wide plans, you can build sustainability into your other ambitions for your neighbourhood. The residents of Lawrence Weston, a vibrant neighbourhood in north Bristol, came together in 2020 to make an environmental action plan and decide on priorities for their community.

With funding from our Climate Action Fund and expert help from the Centre for Sustainable Energy, they trained community partners to lead on different areas of planning, collecting the views of residents through online surveys and workshops, and embedding co-production and peer review throughout the planning process. They also assessed the community’s carbon emissions, seeing which activities had the biggest effect, and debated the emerging priority areas with residents.

This resulted in a plan with 27 actions under seven themes – from transport, housing, energy and food, to waste and consumption, nature and economy.

For example, their baseline carbon calculations revealed that food produced 26% of the community’s emissions. So local people came together to support more growing projects, hold cooking classes to help improve residents’ diets, cut waste and plastic packaging, opened a community fridge, and set up a food waste collection.

The plan aims to achieve carbon neutrality, but not at the expense of other immediate priorities, such as poverty, housing, and access to services and employment. Awareness of fuel poverty is a driving force for the community’s energy group. It's led to an energy efficiency survey, identifying ways to improve insulation in cold homes. The group has worked with Bristol Energy Co-operative to develop a solar farm, generating enough electricity to power 1,000 homes. And the group has financed and built a community-owned wind turbine, with profits going back to the community.

Want to find out more or share your story?

Read our other top tips on engaging people in climate action and reducing the carbon footprint of community events.

If you’ve had success in developing an environmental action plan, please do consider sharing your tips and experiences with us at

Last updated: Friday 2 February, 2024