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8 Environmentally Friendly Volunteer Program Ideas & Principles

As people intent on creating positive social change, it’s important for volunteer leaders to make an impact in a way that also reduces harm to the planet. Moreover, it’s often cited that communities who contribute the least to climate change are also those who are most vulnerable to its impacts.

Managing a truly eco-conscious volunteer program goes beyond recycling (though that’s part of it too!); rather, it’s about adopting a holistic approach to everyday choices within your program that reduce harm to the environment. It starts on the ground level with your staff and how they practice environmentally-friendly habits in the office. You can then use these habits to mold your program and lead volunteers by example.

It's more important than ever before that organizations big and small make an effort to become more environmentally friendly. But sometimes, it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve compiled these 8 easy things you can do today that will start your nonprofit down a more sustainable path. 

Why Should Volunteer Programs Care About Environmental Friendliness? 

While studies show that two-thirds of carbon emissions originate from just 90 companies, every small individual action adds up to a greener future.

Organizations can also benefit directly from environmentally-minded practices. It's well-documented that people are more likely to support organizations that have a proven track record of social responsibility. In fact, nearly 80% of consumers said they are more likely to support an organization that has a commitment to green principles.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the coming years are crucial for our planet’s future.Any way that we can reduce our carbon footprint, protect wildlife and green spaces, and conserve natural resources is fundamental in slowing the harm to the environment.

Let’s get started. 

1. Write the environment into your mission statement

Take the extra step and make your commitment to a more eco-friendly organization official; write your intention into your mission statement. In the spirit of transparency, share these new policies with the community in a green way, such as by social media, through your newsletter, or on your organization’s website. This will also keep your organization accountable to the goal. 

2. Reduce paper consumption 

Many organizations rely on filing systems, paper sign-in sheets, and flyers for advertising volunteer opportunities. Unfortunately, these methods require maintenance and are resource intensive.

One way to be more environmentally friendly at your organization is a commitment to go paperless (or nearly paperless). By reducing paper and printing, you’ll generate less waste and reduce your environmental impact.

Many organizations have turned to volunteer management software in order to reduce paper consumption. Look for a system that can store documents such as volunteer liability waivers, allows for digital volunteer check in, and enables online volunteer opportunity registration.

3. Expand virtual volunteerism 

Your organizations, volunteers, and the environment can benefit from virtual volunteerism!

When people volunteer from the comfort of their homes, there are less commuters on the road which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are some examples of virtual volunteer opportunities that you could implement at your organization:

  • Writing blog articles or newsletters
  • Data entry
  • Sewing hats and gloves
  • Transcription
  • Translation
  • Social media management
  • Video editing

4. Ditch single-use products (including paper) at events

Make a commitment to say “no” to single-use plastic, as well as single-use products in general. While disposable products may be easier to clean up after an event or volunteer opportunity, these products are rarely recyclable and end up clogging our landfills and waterways.

Instead, encourage people to bring their own utensils, or keep your office stocked with reusable plates, utensils, and cups for community use. Not only will this cut down on waste, but it will also save your program money on buying these products again and again.

Some organizations will be unable to avoid single-use products. If this is true for you, make sure you use recycled material or biodegradable options (bamboo is a great alternative!) instead of plastic.

5. Encourage staff and volunteers to practice green principles 

Many of these strategies focus on the actions of the people within your organization. In order to get everyone on-board with an eco-friendly program, create an in-office training program that educates your employees on how to reduce their carbon footprint while on the job.

Furthermore, make eco-consciousness a part of your volunteer orientation program. Tell volunteers about mindful ways to reduce their impact on the environment and explain your organization’s commitment to this initiative. Depending on your location and the resources available to your community, you might also encourage carpooling, walking, or biking to volunteer shifts and events.

6. Serve vegetarian options at events 

Reducing meat consumption is not only a lower cost option for volunteer programs, but it also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions! Plus, when you offer vegetarian options you're able to meet the dietary needs of more participants.

According to the University of Oxford, removing animal products from your diet is “the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.” They suggest that individuals can reduce their carbon footprint by a whopping 73% by adopting a vegetarian lifestyle.

With this in mind, try offering more whole-food plant based options at your next event, like salads, dips, and other vegetarian options.

7. Remind volunteers to bring their own water bottle 

Single-use water bottles are one of the most common pieces of litter globally. They harm marine and wildlife, destroy water quality, and break down into smaller plastic pieces called microplastics.

In order to reduce your impact, update your volunteer opportunity descriptions to remind your remind volunteers to bring their own water bottle.

8. Make recycling easy 

An internal recycling program is one of the easiest ways to start making your organization more green. Make sure to add clearly labeled recycling bins to high-traffic areas, such as the break room, kitchens, or other common areas.

Make sure to show new volunteers the areas in which they can recycle during their volunteer orientation. You can also remind your employees about how to recycle through the occasional email or team meeting.

As part of being more sustainable, organizations cannot ignore the importance of the environment. Growing into a more sustainable organization has many benefits, including an increased bottom line, improved volunteer engagement, and general reduction in environmental impact.

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