Community-Led Conservation Can Help Your Nonprofit Champion Climate Justice. Here’s How.

Community-led conservation projects are gaining traction as a way to advance environmental and climate justice. These tips can help your nonprofit center on the community to champion equitable and sustainable change.


Before we dive into our tips for integrating climate and environmental justice through community-led conservation, let’s start with a real-world scenario that an environmental nonprofit may encounter:

Consider two projects: The first involves planting 50,000 trees, and the second involves planting 5,000 trees. If you had to select one to implement, which would you choose? At first glance, the project to plant 50,000 trees might seem more impactful. After all, planting trees is one of the best ways to improve local air quality, provide a home for wildlife, grow food, and so much more.

But more isn’t always better. Let’s say the 50,000 trees are all the same non-native species. This species requires huge amounts of water, so planting and caring for them might inadvertently strain local water supplies. The new monocrop might even deplete the area’s fragile ecosystem, making it more difficult for local communities to farm crops to sell or feed their families.

The second project proposes planting 5,000 trees (which is still a ton of trees!) and was suggested by members of the community. They see the need to plant a diverse array of trees to produce food for local markets, revitalize biodiversity that holds cultural significance, and stabilize a nearby mountain slope to prevent dangerous landslides. The project plan integrates various elements of community-ledness (an approach we deeply believe in at GlobalGiving). In fact, community-led conservation is a great way to integrate environmental justice and climate justice into your nonprofit’s projects.

Here are six tips for supporting environmental and climate justice principles through community-led conservation projects:

    1. Redefine your stakeholders.

    Supporting environmental and climate justice through community-led conservation might require your nonprofit to redefine its stakeholders. Rather than focusing solely on external funders, community-led conservation asks you to look inward to the community. Depending on the nonprofit, this might be your own community, or it might be the community living in or around the environment you intend to protect.

    To help you determine who your community stakeholders might be, the team at The Earth Trust recommends thinking about the unique needs of every person your project will impact. Their nonprofit, which gives tools to families to sustainably farm their land, considers a large pool of stakeholders when making decisions. This requires asking:

    “How does our project impact local residents, tribal governments,
    Indigenous communities, farmers, our suppliers, local businesses, governments, and other nonprofits?”

    You can ask this question to determine your community stakeholders, too.

    2. Create feedback loops for community-led decisions.

    High-quality feedback loops allow for two-way communication between your nonprofit and the community you work with. Why is this so important? To truly act on the principles of environmental and climate justice, your nonprofit must be open to being held accountable to those who live on or around the land you seek to conserve or restore. Feedback loops enable that accountability.

    Yet, communities only get the chance to provide feedback on
    project success and sustainability 1% of the time.

    Even if your environmental project is run by community members, it’s still important to get regular feedback from a diverse pool of community stakeholders. This leads to the next point:

    3. Seek input at every stage.

    Make sure your feedback loops aren’t an afterthought by building them into the project design process. When feedback loops are only implemented after a project has begun, community members who have reservations from the start never get the chance to voice their concerns or offer helpful advice. And you may miss the opportunity to make a simple tweak to your project that would significantly benefit the community!

    4. Equitably compensate participants.

    A great way to build a community-led conservation project is by creating opportunities for local community members to participate as equitably paid staff members or consultants. OISCA International, for example, paid survivors of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami to help replant a coastal forest while also offering them a support system and sense of community.

    If your organization is led by people who are not from the host community, compensating community members for their time and expertise can help to build trust. Building trust is always important, but for conservation projects working in areas where Indigenous people live, it’s crucial.

    To truly champion environmental justice and climate justice, we must be aware of the immense pain and damage caused by the conservation movement. A long history of displacing Indigenous peoples from their traditional lands, sometimes without compensation for the loss of land and resources, has been a point of conflict between local populations and environmental groups for years. Whether it’s organizations, governments, or corporations leading these efforts, this environmental legacy continues to create a toxic relationship between conservationists and local communities.

    But Indigenous communities’ unique relationship with their land
    positions them as the best defenders and advocates of our natural world.

    More environmentalists are realizing that reality and working with Indigenous communities, rather than against them, to achieve shared goals.

    5. Join climate or environmental coalitions.

    There are countless environmental coalitions that bring individuals and organizations together in efforts to stop the endless destruction of the environment and make the necessary shifts for a more just world.

    Coalitions come in many different shapes and sizes. You could team up with regional environmental nonprofits working in your area, or align based on shared values. Or maybe you want a more global network focused on a thematic area, like organic farming. Whatever your nonprofit is looking for, connecting with other organizations pursuing similar goals can help you learn about new approaches, share resources, and make an even greater impact.

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Featured Photo: Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens by Global Diversity Foundation
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