Save the Children has successfully identified climate change as a threat to children's rights to access health or safety, especially in areas most affected by poverty and natural disasters. While the charity’s carbon emissions have been reduced during the pandemic, it remains to be seen how it will implement sustainability as a priority in its 2022-2024 strategy. Aside from the reduction in pollution emanating from the organisation itself, it is doing a great job in helping build resilience worldwide, ensuring that the international community acknowledges the global climate crisis, and empowering children voices to be part of the decision-making process around environmental issues. Despite recent scandals, Save the Children is often regarded as one of the best charities to give to. For example, in 2020, donations helped no less than 2.9 million children with online learning and 760,000+ homes stay safe with access to clean water & soap. In short, the charity plays a significant positive impact on children’s lives around the world.
Save the Children was created in 1919 by 2 British sisters who sought to fight against child poverty and hunger after World War I stroke Europe. It now operates in 177 countries, providing food, education, and medicine to children around the world. It has a wide range of actions, as its work goes from vaccinating children in remote regions to setting up learning centres after disasters, from providing antibiotics for pneumonia treatment. It also has an emergency fund, allowing staff to be on the ground within hours of a disaster striking. If climate change and sustainability were not originally at the core of Save the Children’s mission, the charity did well in identifying climate change as a direct threat to children’s rights, pledging to make it a core concern in the upcoming 2022-2024 strategy. In 2019, Save the Children international approved a new Environmental and Climate Change (ESCC) policy. This framework to improve its environmental performance focuses on two distinct priorities: minimizing the negative environmental impact of its programmes and operations and contributing positively to environmental sustainability and climate change action. The next section aims to look at this framework in more depth.
Save the Children International has several members across the different countries where it operates. Since the original headquarters is in London, I looked in more detail into the UK branch. Save the Children UK started measuring its carbon emissions in 2011 and publishing them publicly in 2013, allowing us to compare them from one year to another. This initiative is taken in line with the government’s Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) policy. Between 2014 and 2018, travel emissions accounted for 75% of the charity's footprint, while electricity was the second factor, amounting to 20% of emissions. As it is a development and humanitarian organisation, it is understandable that travel emissions take up a large part of their carbon emissions and cannot easily be reduced as Save the Children needs to deploy staff when necessary. Nevertheless, some areas would benefit from more detailed information, like the declaration that it is working on making its head office appliance more eco-friendly in 2020. In other words, even if sustainability was not originally at the core of the charity’s mission, it is making a significant commitment to it, though its public reports would benefit from being more detailed on some matters. The organisation’s willingness to commit to reduction targets in 2021, for instance, seems a rather more concrete anchor point.
Save the Children’s global workforce is made up of around 24,000 staff working in over 120 countries. Moreover, the work of Save the Children is made strong by the commitment of volunteers, who run shops, organise local fundraising branches, and put on events. In the UK, for instance, 4,500 volunteers give their time in a variety of roles. On the bright side, the organisation doesn’t send volunteers abroad, and staff is hired locally to encourage self-sufficiency and building skills locally. However, Save the Children UK, for example, acknowledges that sexual and racial minorities are unrepresented within the charity, especially among senior positions. Hence, its employer pages encourage members from these communities to apply to work for them. It also issued a new Diversity and Inclusion strategy in 2020, showing dynamism on social issues. Recently, Save the Children's reputation has been tarnished by a sexual abuse scandal, coming from top management. The organisation was singled out for negligent handling of the situation. Save the Children now signed up to the government’s misconduct disclosure scheme allowing employers to share misconduct data to prevent abusive employees from going from one company to another in the aid sector. Moreover, it ultimately accepted all the recommendations of the Charity Commission, which is a good sign even though it is hard to judge’s the intentionality of an organisation on such severe and sensitive matters.
Save the Children UK accountability and transparency section <https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/about-us/accountability-and-transparency/environment>
Save the Children UK annual report 2020 <https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/content/dam/gb/reports/annual-report-2020-save-the-children.pdf#page=36>
Save the Children UK carbon mapping report 2019 <https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/content/dam/gb/reports/carbon-mapping-report-2019.pdf>
Sexual abuse scandal <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/11/save-the-children-can-resume-funding-bids-following-sexual-abuse-scandal>
Save the Children number of staff and volunteers <https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/about-us/who-we-are/our-organisation>
Save the Children International Climate Crisis <https://www.savethechildren.net/what-we-do/climate-crisis>
Save the Children UK