January 8, 2019; Metropolis Magazine
One of the primary roles of the nonprofit sector is to create thriving and healthy communities. When we think of it this way, sustainable design becomes a crucial tenet in achieving this goal. Sustainable design can be defined as “the intention to reduce or completely eliminate negative environmental impacts through thoughtful design.” As NPQ has previously noted, environmental impacts of climate change have enormous health implications for our communities. These range from the more obvious effects, such as increased infectious disease rates, devastating natural disasters, and changes to food and water supply, all the way to indirect effects from toxic waste, endocrine disruptors, and harmful emissions. In fact, hospital and medical facilities, recognizing the inextricable link between environmental harm and human health, have started to adopt sustainable design into their practices.
Larger nonprofit organizations have taken the lead in building sustainable office space. For instance, the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, which provides environmentally focused grants, designed and built a space that consumes 82 percent less energy than the other comparable buildings in the area. The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh created the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which is considered “one of the greenest buildings on Earth.”
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Community foundations have also become key partners in the sustainable development movement. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2015–2030 include broader goals that apply to all the UN’s member countries, with specific goals surrounding environmental sustainability. These goals include “clean energy, clean water, sustainable cities, responsible consumption and production, protection of life on land, and protection of sea life on water.” Looking at these goals, it becomes clear that change starts at the community level and thus community foundations are perfect partners to see this work through.
But, as noted in NPQ’s “All Nonprofits Have a Key Role in Amplifying Scientists’ ‘Warning to Humanity,’” the responsibility for promoting sustainable design and fighting climate change belongs to all nonprofits, not just those with a green mission. This is particularly true during the current administration, with government entities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, effectively silencing themselves on this crucial topic.
Whereas larger organizations with the ability—and budget—to design their own buildings may jumpstart this effort and community foundations can bring these ideas to the local level, all nonprofits can do their part. Setting intentionality around environmental sustainability can help create an organizational culture in which all activities are approached from a sustainability angle. Furthermore, NPQ has seen time and again that local grassroots organizations have an incredible impact when they engage in advocacy. Whether that is endorsing a local efforts for fighting climate change or getting involved in advocacy, nonprofits of all sizes can effect change. Large or small, fighting climate change through the promotion of sustainable design is a responsibility of all organizations and is deeply embedded into the values of our sector.—Sheela Nimishakavi