According to State of the Planet from the Columbia Climate School, people have come to expect environmental transparency: “Consumers are driving companies to be more transparent by patronizing more eco-conscious brands.”

This shift toward eco-conscious businesses comes even as over-consumerism—one of the actions contributing to climate change—shows no sign of stopping. As NPQ wrote in 2023, “The purchasing choices of an individual can help. Rampant consumerism and mounting trash and plastic waste are contributing factors to the changing climate. What you buy—or more importantly, don’t buy—can help mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.”

But how does the push for sustainability impact nonprofits? How can organizations whose donors care about the planet switch to green without falling into the trap of greenwashing (or promoting false impressions of environmental friendliness)? And what is all this going to cost?

Growing Public Concerns

While the list of nonprofits and grassroots groups focused on climate justice is long—and in our era of extreme weather events, ever-growing—organizations without a mission centering on the environment may not be as concerned with sustainability. For most nonprofits, sustainability refers to the self-sufficiency and financial independence of initiatives. But for more and more donors, how a nonprofit treats the Earth is becoming a priority.

Actions and Their Costs

What are some of the actions that nonprofits can take, particularly those organizations with no specific mission related to the environment?

Starting small can still make an impact. Doing away with business cards, for example, can drastically reduce paper waste. Forbes described paper business cards as a relic of the past: easily lost, discarded, or forgotten, while virtual business cards, such as a short video linked online, “can provide richer information.” One expert interviewed by Forbes said, “Gone are the days of searching for someone’s business card you met at a conference six months ago. All you need is a name, company and LinkedIn to revisit a connection. LinkedIn is your digital Rolodex.”

Going Green Online       

Moving to an online donation system, rather than accepting or encouraging paper checks, is another green move. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, online fundraising has saved many nonprofits from closing,” according to DonorBox. The organization argued that digital fundraising would only “continue to grow as technology advances,” citing research that fundraising online increased by 21 percent in 2020.

Read the full article about nonprofits going green by Alison Stine at Nonprofit Quarterly.