Natural disasters and manmade tragedies can devastate our environment. They put our landscape, coastline, wildlife, agriculture, energy and utilities, and water and sewage filtration systems at risk, and amplify public health issues related to land and water contamination from toxins.

Our climate continues to change, and as a result, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, landslides and earthquakes will increase in intensity, frequency and ferocity.

The philanthropic community can have a lasting and deep impact on our environment by protecting, mitigating, and restoring our natural environment and wildlife ecosystems.

Red Knot feeding on eggs of Horseshoe crabs. Mispillion Harbor, Delaware. Source: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Innovative Practices

Philanthropic organizations have:

  • supported research that has illuminated vulnerabilities associated with land management use; infrastructure (including sanitation, energy, and transportation issues connected to environmental concerns); endangered coastal habitats; climate change and sea level rise; and toxic exposure and the spread of infectious disease;
  • encouraged the formation of coalitions, task forces and cross-sector partnerships in order to take a multi-disciplined approach to environmental resiliency initiatives;
  • educated communities on the biggest environmental concerns facing their region in order to effectively and comprehensively prepare for future disasters and mitigate loss in delicate environmental habitats and communities-at-risk.

What Funders Are Doing

The following are examples of innovative practices and grants that philanthropic organizations have supported, developed and/or implemented regarding the environment.

Some of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP)-funded grants related to the environment have included:

  • CDP, in partnership with an anonymous donor, awarded a $250,000 grant to the Nature Conservancy to strengthen the ability of Indigenous peoples to recover from the 2019 fire season in Brazil and deal with inevitable fires in future years. It will expand on-the-ground work to help local cocoa producers recover from the fire and implement agricultural practices that offer the best economic and environmental future for the Amazon.
  • The Rocky Mountain Institute was awarded $466,618 from CDP’s 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season Recovery Fund to support the assessment, planning, procurement and installation of three solar microgrids at designated schools/shelters in the district of Central Abaco. The project seeks to make the local Abaco energy system more resilient, low-cost and sustainable by building clean energy infrastructure at critical facilities such as schools and emergency shelters. The projects will ensure power is provided to public services, reduce future economic losses and help save lives during and after major storm events.
  • Also as part of the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season Recovery Fund, Water Missions International received $250,000 for the Marsh Harbour, Bahamas Solarization Recovery Project. In collaboration with Friends of the Environment, Water Mission will build resilience in the community by installing rainwater collection systems, increasing water storage at six schools and conducting WASH outreach and education to school-aged children.
  • As part of CDP’s Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund, a grant was made in 2018 to the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience (CEER) for $164,000 to engage a community education director to convene public-private meetings regarding recovery efforts and available resources, and to advance the eight-point plan adopted by CEER member organizations. Additionally, CEER will draft targeted white papers outlining community issues for presentation to elected officials or others in the recovery effort and seek public input or comment on dollars directed toward communities. The 24 member organizations that are part of this important collaborative effort will advocate for those whose voices are most often not heard during recovery and mitigation following a disaster.
  • The Puerto Rico Agricultural Extension Service (PRAES) received a $400,000 grant in 2018 from CDP’s 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Recovery Fund to support food security and food preservation, provide mitigation education and increase farming biodiversity across all five regions of Puerto Rico.

Grants from other philanthropic organizations related to the environment have included:

  • In 2020, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation made a two-year, $500,000 grant to the Nature Conservancy to help educate the public and policymakers about the need to enhance public funding for the conservation of public lands and sustainable working lands, in particular, the policy and public support needed to manage forests for wildfire resilience — protecting communities, wildlife habitat and clean water.
  • The Biber Foundation made a $55,000 grant in 2019 to the Esplanade Association in Boston to replace storm-damaged trees along the Boston Esplanade, a state-owned 17-mile-long green space along the Charles River.
  • The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation gave a $25,000 grant in both 2018 and 2019 to the Passaic River Coalition for general operating support of conservation programs to protect natural resources, reduce flooding and improve water quality in the Passaic River Basin.
  • Wallowa Resources received a $164,078 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust in 2019 to support collaborative efforts to engage Indigenous communities on landscape-scale management and restoration efforts that will reduce wildfire risk, improve water quality, forest health and create jobs in northeast Oregon.
  • The Shared Earth Foundation granted $20,000 in 2018 to the Alliance for International Reforestation to plant trees in the highlands of Guatemala. This project was intended to prevent mudslides, reforest project areas and bring more income to the indigenous Maya people of the area.
  • The Institute for Applied Ecology received a $24,882 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation in 2018 to restore Lake County habitats after wildfire destruction by engaging inmates of Snake River and Warner Creek correctional institutions in the propagation of sagebrush and to offer data collection opportunities and field trips to K-12 students in Paisley.
  • The Apache Foundation made a $757 grant in 2018 to the Blanco River Regional Recovery to accelerate the recovery of the flood-damaged riverside forest along the Blanco River in Texas.
  • The Fondzaione Con Il Sud made a grant of just under $150,000 to Legambiente to support a project to reduce land erosion and floods in the Tepilora Regional Park on the Italian island of Sardinia in 2018.

Key Takeaways

  1. Philanthropic organizations have a powerful platform to convene environmentalists, scientists, biologists, researchers, climatologists, geo-physicists, academics, government officials, local elected leaders, community activists, and journalists.
  2. Coalitions and Task Forces can:
  • foster a dialogue around environmental challenges;
  • ensure that the community-at-large has developed and instituted policies and procedures to mitigate environmental damage in the event of a disaster;
  • educate its community through a preparedness awareness campaign.

Further Reading