Helping businesses and communities tackle the climate crisis – Climate Action North

Shehan Perera – Content Manager at Social Enterprise UK

Across the UK 35% of social enterprises have already embedded the urgent need to tackle the climate emergency into their constitution or articles of association. Around a further third plan on doing so, showing a willingness from social enterprises to be held to account for their actions.

But where does a business start when it comes to taking meaningful action on the climate crisis?

Climate Action North is a social enterprise based in Sunderland and operating across the North of England which, in the words of co-founder Sharon Lashley, has been set up with the goal of “making climate change real for people but also to make climate action easier”.

In early 2022, the social enterprise created a Business Action Toolkit specifically to support small businesses get the support and guidance they need to embed positive environmental actions into their operations. Based on an extensive series of questions the toolkit helps organisations navigate their journey towards net zero also identifying climate related issues such as risks from severe weather events, skills shortages and supply chain issues. Tailored support can then be given to each business based on their answers.

The toolkit is just one of the ways Climate Action North seeks to educate and support people take steps to address the climate emergency.

“we’ve been banging the drum for a long time…”

Climate Action North was set up in February 2017 by Sharon Lashley, Jennifer Clair Robson and Julie Harrison – three women with years of experience working on environmental issues across renewable energy, education and campaigns. They pooled their “resources, skills, knowledge, confidence, and optimism to inspire people to act on climate change” and set up a social enterprise dedicated to climate action. Initially called Climate Action North East, the business dropped the ‘East’ from their name when they realised their work was getting national attention.

At the core of their work is a desire to move beyond the sense of anxiety and helplessness the climate emergency can place in people – offering simple actions that empower people and organisations to do their bit to ensure a sustainable future.

The business runs a series of practical and engaging programmes working with schools, community organisations and both public and private sector organisations.

It’s Pollinator Parks Programme, supported by the North East Business Innovation Centre (BIC) aims to rewild the North’s business parks with an aspiration to rewild 30% of business parks by 2030 through planting native ‘pollinator-friendly’ wildflowers to grow the insect population and increase biodiversity. Climate Action North also runs a Global Wilders programme working with schools to encourage children to plant trees, raising the profile of the climate emergency in the classroom.

Climate Action North is now about to go on-tour – spreading its One Small Change message at events and festivals across the North of England.

North East - Climate Action North Social Enterprise UK Stories
Sharon Lashley, Jennifer Clair Robson and Julie Harrison

Working together for a green recovery

At the height of the pandemic Community Action North created the Green Recovery Action Network to promote a green COVID recovery centering economic and environmental fairness. The network brings together representatives from across the private, public and social sectors and now consists of 80 members including housing associations, local authorities, community groups and specialist businesses such as solar panel manufacturers alongside a whole range of other interested businesses. They meet once a month to share knowledge, discuss ways of working together and have formed a genuine support network of organisations dedicated to taking climate action.

The times – are they changing?

Sharon and Jennifer have both noticed a real shift in attitudes to the climate emergency as it started to filter into mainstream news through the IPCC’s report on a ‘code red for humanity’, the campaigns of groups like Extinction Rebellion and of course last year’s make or break COP-26 Conference in Glasgow.

More and more businesses have been coming to the organisation looking for support on how they can take action but as Jennifer puts it “businesses didn’t quite know where to start” – they wanted to take action but weren’t sure how to do it. The Business Action Toolkit was created to help meet this need.

However there is still much work to do and Climate Action North want to make sure that everyone is engaged in the conversation, including businesses, organisations and people who are sceptical about the need to act or unsure where to start. The goal is to “win the hearts and minds of people first” and when working with businesses the social enterprise frames the need to take action through making the business case for change – highlighting how acting on climate can save money in the long run and future proof your business.

Climate Action North’s work is gaining prominence and the social enterprise now works with major players in the North East economy including key local authorities, private businesses and some of the area’s largest housing associations. . They have even been contacted by national businesses such as John Lewis and Waitrose.

From being set up at a time when climate change was hardly on the public radar, Climate Action North has helped galvanise communities to come together and take meaningful action. Their work has never been more urgent. As Sharon puts it “we can’t cope with another ten years of doing nothing.”

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