Association Climate-Change Response Group Launches

The Association Climate Action Coalition hopes to create a community of practice around ways nonprofits can make the world more sustainable.

A pair of consultants have developed an initiative to help associations share insights and strategize around climate change.

The Association Climate Action Coalition was informally launched earlier this year by Elizabeth Weaver Engel, MA, CAE, and Shelly Alcorn. The effort follows the publication last year of a white paper the two co-wrote, The Time Is Now: Resilience and Adaptation and the Anthropocene Climate Disruption [PDF], which discussed the challenges associations face due to climate change, from meetings to office space and more. (Disclosure: I was a compensated copy editor for the publication.)

The coalition, as with the white paper, emphasizes the unique role associations can play in responding to climate change, both in terms of their internal actions and how they leverage the industries they represent. “A lot of the focus right now is either on individual actions or the UN—either a large international NGO has to take care of this, or I’ve got to go out and get an electric car,” Engel said. “Associations fall in the middle, and the majority of the work is going to have to happen in the middle.”

We wanted this to be a grassroots thing for people who want to get practical around climate change.

Shelly Alcorn

Through ACAC’s website and dedicated LinkedIn page, Engel and Alcorn are convening discussions around actions associations can take and respond to requests for guidance. (The two also formed a four-person advisory group composed of association, legal, and climate experts to assist.) “We wanted this to be a grassroots thing for people who want to get practical around climate change, giving them an opportunity to network with each other and share ideas,” Alcorn said.

Alcorn added that the coalition intends to convene those conversations by emphasizing practical action and avoiding getting mired in political debate on the subject. “Too often climate change is politicized and [association leaders] don’t necessarily speak the truth, because we don’t want to offend certain percentages of our members,” she said. “But at some point, we have to be truth tellers, whether our members want to hear it or not… So many people who are working on this feel marginalized and afraid to talk.”

Engel and Alcorn have used the site’s discussion board and LinkedIn page to start conversations around climate change and share case studies of what associations have done to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s also developed a ChatGPT tool that is tailored to answer sustainability-related questions from the association community around “climate resilience strategies.” As participation in the groups increase, Engel and Alcorn said they hope to add more features, such as informational webinars, to its mix of offerings. Plenty of associations are paying attention to climate change, Engel noted, but often operate independently.

“There is already a group of associations, mostly STEM associations, that are leading on this, but I think there’s a larger group of associations that are trying to do things,” Engel said. “They’ve gotten rid of their paper [meeting] program and they’re making other small efforts, like encouraging people to bring their own water bottles to conferences and talking to exhibitors about not giving away so much plastic junk. But they haven’t really dived in yet. It’s just one thing they’re paying attention to. Here we can move some of those folks further along.”

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