Green Volunteering

For the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), we hosted a half-day event about how heritage volunteer programmes can tackle the climate crisis.

The event featured speakers from Creative Carbon Scotland, Chester Zoo, Tarbert Castle Trust, Natural History Museum, Scottish Civic Trust, TeamKinetic, Historic Environment Scotland and Rob Jackson Consulting.

Our speakers gave the following tips for going green:
Be confident that heritage organisations have a role to play

Everyone has a role to play in addressing climate change. Without global, cross-sectoral action, life as we know it is under threat. The climate crisis is an existential issue for both humanity and heritage – to put it simply, if we continue on our current path, there will be no humanity left to take care of our heritage.

Heritage organisations, with their capacity to inform societal narratives and beliefs, also have a unique and important role to play in addressing the climate crisis. By engaging audiences in conversations about the climate crisis and empowering people to take action, cultural and heritage organisations can become powerful drivers for change.

Take simple steps to reduce your carbon footprint

You can reduce the carbon footprint of your volunteer programme by:

  • Eliminating unnecessary travel for staff and volunteers
  • Encouraging and incentivising the use of public transport for staff and volunteers
  • Providing staff and volunteers with reusable water bottles for use on-site
  • Purchasing items made with sustainable materials where possible
Go digital

In addition to the actions listed above, one of the main ways that organisations can reduce their carbon footprint is by going digital. This can include:

  • Offering digital volunteering opportunities, which cuts emissions by reducing the need for volunteers to travel on-site.
  • Hosting training and meetings online, which again cuts emissions by reducing the need for volunteers to make non-essential journeys.
  • Using a digital volunteer management system to handle applications and rotas, which reduces the amount of paper used by your organisation.

Digital volunteering and digital volunteer management not only reduces carbon emissions, but can also help you reach younger volunteers. According to TeamKinetic, young people are more likely to hear about volunteer opportunities advertised online, more likely to apply online and more likely to apply for digital volunteering opportunities.

However, while going digital may reach younger volunteers, it can exclude other audiences. Not everyone has access to digital technology, and some people experience barriers in using it. If possible, consider what alternatives you can offer to people who face digital exclusion, like the option for people to use paper application forms, apply over the phone or for volunteers to indicate their preferred way of being contacted.

Offer community volunteering opportunities

Another way to reduce your carbon footprint and diversify your volunteering tasks is to offer community volunteering opportunities, or the ability for people to volunteer in their neighbourhood rather than on-site. Encouraging people to volunteer where they live reduces the need for travel and can help build community spirit.

There’s lots of ways for people to engage with heritage and support your organisation’s work without being on-site. For example, they could:

  • Interview their neighbours to create oral history records
  • Take photos of local spaces and places for an archive
  • Spruce up a local monument or green space
Try out micro-volunteering

Along with digital volunteering and community volunteering, micro-volunteering is a type of volunteering that can help you to reduce your carbon footprint and diversify your volunteer tasks to include more options for off-site volunteering.

Micro-volunteering is bite-sized volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and quick to complete.

Micro-volunteering is sustainable because most of the tasks that are suitable for micro-volunteering opportunities are either local or digital. It can also be more accessible than longer-term volunteering that requires more commitment and time.

Possible micro-volunteering opportunities include:

  • Creating infographics from a list of data provided
  • Transcribing text from scanned images
  • Taking photos of local spaces and places for an archive
  • Picking up weeds at a local historic site
Empower your volunteers to live more sustainably

So you’ve changed your volunteer programme, now think bigger! As a leader of volunteers, you can empower them to become advocates for sustainability and help them to embed eco-friendly practices in their wider lives.

You can help your volunteers go green by:

  • Including information on climate change and the steps that you’ve taken to be eco-friendly in training sessions. This can raise their awareness of climate change and give them ideas for steps they can take in their own lives.
  • Providing them with the knowledge or skills to create local campaigns for climate justice. Volunteering is a great opportunity for people to gain confidence and develop leadership skills – both key aspects of running a local campaign for climate justice.
Learn from other heritage volunteer organisers

We’re all in this together! If you liked this blog and watched the event recording and are keen for more information, you can sign up to Make Your Mark to access a Scotland-wide heritage volunteer organisers network. Joining Make Your Mark will also subscribe you to a monthly e-newsletter with top tips for heritage volunteer organisers. Signing up is free and easy – just fill out this short form.

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