Environmental Charities and Non-Profits: What Can They Achieve?

18 September 2017 | By Cause4 staff

President Trump’s decision to bring America out of the Paris Climate Agreement sent shockwaves throughout the world.[1] The decision compounds the growing environmental concerns that worry many global citizens and governments who are concerned by the levels of environmental destruction and climate change. On a daily basis, 134m metric tons of greenhouse gases are emitted and 123,000 acres of forest are lost.[2]

Given the scale of the environmental crisis, one might assume that non-profits attempting to combat these issues would not be a significant part of the picture. However, I want to suggest that charities are increasingly impactful, and are often compensating for the lack of political initiative. This can be seen in three broad areas: advocators, protectors and strategists.


Advocators are environmental charities that increase the public’s awareness of issues (often those that might otherwise go unreported) and are effectively promoting the defence of environmental causes. Examples include the WWF, which advocates solutions in many different areas, including coral reefs, sustainable fishing and oil and gas exploration. Similarly, The Rainforest Alliance is committed to sustainability, looking to change lifestyles to help build strong forests and healthy communities.

Environmental charities that are powerful advocators are important because of their effect on the public – raising awareness of issues we may not normally consider.


Environmental charities are often playing a crucial role in preventing environmental harm. In its initial campaigns to end nuclear testing, Greenpeace played a key role in bringing about The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,[3] a multilateral treaty which bans all nuclear explosions in all environments. Although it has not come into force because eight states have failed to ratify the treaty, it showcases the active nature that charities can have in protecting the environment.

The role of protective organisations is increasingly complex in a globalised world that has complex international legal structures. The Government of Japan, for example, has previously been found guilty of breaching international law regarding commercial whaling by the UN’s International Court of Justice – but there was no punishment and the Japanese government used legal loopholes to continue its practice.[4] This may indicate that we need environmental protectors now more than ever, with their commitments occurring in lieu of state action.


Some environmental charities are shaping political policy and debate. These organisations, such as the Environmental Working Group and Ocean Conservancy, provide quality research and trusted information. Ocean Conservancy creates science-based and innovative solutions for a healthy ocean, including tackling the levels of litter in the oceans. The Environmental Working Group is known for researching and spreading awareness of environmental issues to drive consumer choice and civic action. In response to its work, companies have given up potentially dangerous chemical ingredients in their products and improved their practices.[5]

Such environmental groups are vital, offering innovative solutions to areas of environmental concern and to lead the way for solutions and change. They are able to influence both government and industry policy.

Frustratingly for many, environmental issues remain a fringe concern for politicians and governments – how seriously did parties consider environmental issues during the UK’s recent snap general election? There is certainly a need for an increased dedication to these issues on a political (and interstate) level as this is where environmental change can be implemented into law. This is increasingly an area that requires proactive change, demanding the collective participation of consumers, producers, citizens and governments.

Where do you think environmental charities are strongest? Do you think they make a difference?

Cause4 would love to know your thoughts – comment below or tweet us!

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/trump-paris-climate-agreement.html
[2] http://www.rainforest-alliance.org
[3] http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/about/greenpeace-1990s
[4] https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/what-did-and-didnt-happen-international-whaling-commission-2016-20161028/
[5] http://www.ewg.org/about-us

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