By Karen D. Kendrick-Hands, Member of the Rotary Club of Madison, Wisconsin, USA and Director of Communications for the Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group (ESRAG)
To be awakened by a morning bird song, enjoy a plastic-free shore, marvel at the migration of Monarch butterflies, be calmed by a forest grove, or quench my thirst with clean water: these simple pleasures are vital to me, necessary to sustain my community, and ensure our future. These are delights that a functioning ecosystem delivers with little thought on our part. These same priceless services are vulnerable to degrading by thoughtless overuse.
We must protect our environment if we are to preserve and extend these simple pleasures for future generations. As Rotary International Past President Ian Riseley encouraged us, “Environmental sustainability . . . is and should be everyone’s concern.” How we relate to our ecosystems should also be subject to the Four Way Test: “Is it fair to all concerned?” “Is it beneficial to all concerned.” Preserving ecosystems and their natural services should inform our ‘Service Above Self’ as Rotarians.
The Environmental Sustainability Rotarian Action Group (ESRAG) is where Rotarians organize and influence project planning throughout Rotary to preserve and protect the environment. ESRAG’s members understand that to achieve maximum LASTING progress with any project in any area of focus, environmental sustainability must be the lens through which the project is conceived and implemented.
Through a recent review and update of the six areas of focus, The Rotary Foundation has revised the areas of focus policy statements, effective July 1, 2019 that highlights how environmental components to be designed, implemented and funded through five of the six areas of focus, as indicated by the ‘green leaf.’
The policy expands possibilities in the community economic development area. Global grants may now be used to increase access to renewable energy and energy-efficiency measures to create more sustainable and economically resilient communities. This creates new opportunities to address energy poverty with clean local energy sources. Global grant funding can empower communities to develop environmental and natural resource conservation skills for economic gain. This approach underscores that ‘going green’ is an economic engine that creates jobs. Also, grants can be used to strengthen communities’ economic resilience and adaptive capacity in response to environmental and climate-related hazards and natural disasters. Rotarians’ global grant applications can now include projects that mitigate, adapt and respond to the climate crisis.
Global grants for peacebuilding and conflict resolution can be used to address conflicts arising from the management of natural resources, which have become challenging in the face of the climate crisis and a growing human population.
In the area of disease prevention and treatment, projects to prevent and control vector-borne diseases are important. With a warming planet, mosquitos that carry malaria, yellow fever, dengue and zika are expanding their ranges, breeding faster and have lower levels of seasonal die-off. Swings in precipitation patterns, whether causing flooding from heavy rains, or, ironically, drought, (people respond by storing water in open containers) create more standing water in which mosquitoes easily breed.
While a global grant may fund reducing environmental hazards and improving medical waste management for both disease prevention and treatment and maternal and child health projects, they cannot be used to fund clean cookstoves or solar panel-only projects. Solar panels as part of a larger, more holistic project in any area of focus, could be eligible.
In the water sanitation and hygiene area of focus, the Foundation continues to fund projects that empower governments, institutions, and communities to manage their water, sanitation, and hygiene services through environmentally sound, measurable, and sustainable interventions. Rotarians are encouraged to continue developing and scaling projects that address entire watersheds that protect surface and ground water, reduce pollution and contaminants, and promote wastewater reuse. Projects that protect water sources and improve water quality are supported through the WASH Area of Focus.
Although the new policy does not yet connect environmental projects in the basic education and literacy area, you can still implement these kinds of projects through other funding sources such as district grants. Environmental science and stewardship topics are great vehicles for building literacy and educating future generations about taking care of our planet.
We encourage you to always start with a community assessment with beneficiaries. If concerns regarding the environment arise in those assessments, conduct an environmental assessment as well, especially for WASH and water resource management activities.
The new areas of focus policies create opportunities to increase the environmental sustainability of our humanitarian projects. We in ESRAG celebrate this important first step to restoring the importance of environmental sustainability throughout Rotary. If you need help making your project more environmentally sustainable, just ask! Engage with us by visiting esrag.org, subscribing to our newsletter, and joining.