15 November 2016

Environmental funding – an overview

It is a pleasure for me to introduce the third EFC mapping of environmental funding by European foundations.

In his forward to the mapping, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Karmenu Vella underlines that “environment belongs to us all” and enormous challenges lie ahead. With the Paris agreement and the UN sustainable development goals the institutional-based “good intentions” are in place. In order to translate these intentions into “tangible results” there is a very important role to play by NGOs, think tanks and centres of academic excellence in terms of knowledge and voicing a broad spectrum of concerns and ideas. Philanthropy can, according to the commissioner, “amplify a multitude of voices helping to deliver a fairer society for all”.

Trends in environmental issues supported by European foundations

In total 170 foundations have been identified through desk study and dialogue as environmental funders with a defined environmental programme or mission. All these were contacted by e-mail. In total 75 accepted the invitation to share their 2014 grant list with title and granted amount. Out of the 75 foundations 61 also participated in the previous mapping, making direct comparison possible. On average, their environmental grant making is unchanged with a total of almost €480 million, just covering up for inflation since 2011. This is only 4-5% of the total philanthropic grant making! As an environmental funder, I find this quite surprising and also worrying in light of the huge environmental challenges.

In terms of prioritised themes, the mapping draws the same picture as previously – most funding is going to nature/biodiversity and less to “industrial” activities like transport and chemicals. Surprisingly, climate change funding is not the most significant theme. Encouragingly, “sustainable communities” and “circular economy” are moving up the priority list. This tells us that environmental funders are adjusting their programmes in order to ensure better coherence with political priorities and general developments. As a side note, I feel like pointing out that if the study had been based on 2015 figures I expect we would have seen increased granting to climate change due to the Paris climate summit.

Most funding is going to grantees in Europe with projects in their own country. Only 4% of the grants are EU-wide, whereas 18% are international. Remembering that around 80% of an EU-country’s environmental legislation is formed at EU-level makes the limited funding at EU-level quite surprising and gives basis for concern. Therefore, we need to find a way to bring more interest to environmental philanthropy at EU-level. The good news is that there is a very capable group of both NGOs and think tanks ready to take up these tasks.

Work with us to move forward

Where does the mapping take us? Well, a step further in understanding where a group of foundations grant money. There is still quite a road to travel before we have the full overview and I can only urge other foundations to chip in when a new mapping is due. A pathway to that could be by joining the network of European Environmental funders where we meet twice a year and learn more about EU-level and each other’s activities. The environmental challenges are huge as also pointed out by Commissioner Vella and we are not on the right track yet, so we need more cooperation, we need more foundations to see the need for environmental grant making, we need more impact!

Our knowledge on environmental related initiatives has come a long way – but we know that it could go further with your help. Your participation in this important initiative would be very much appreciated, if interested, please don’t hesitate to contact Giulia Lombardi glombardi@efc.be

Enjoy your reading and get inspired to ensure even better funding. We hope to see you in the network!


Helene Bjerre-Nielsen

Head of Programme Environment, The Velux Foundations