How Sustainable Volunteer Opportunities Shape a Greener Workplace

The importance of volunteerism

Organisations are navigating a myriad of complex global challenges, from climate change, social inequality, to healthcare concerns, and many are on the lookout for ways to bring employees together to connect, share ideas, and work towards common goals.

The introduction of sustainable volunteer opportunities, offered through corporate programmes has been central to unite the collective efforts of volunteers, create a renewed sense of purpose and address environmental and social issues head-on. Common examples include working with charities, providing paid time per year for workers to participate in pro bono volunteering opportunities, and investing in employee internship programmes.

By participating in these types of schemes, team members can play a key part in developing grassroots initiatives that can positively impact your business reputation or brand, and ultimately can form a central part of an organisation’s commitment towards its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts.

The benefits of sustainable volunteerism

Employee volunteering has soared in the past three years, and has become a become a shining example of an organisations commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and wider commitments around improving the lives of workers, society and the environment.  Up to 93% of employees believe companies must lead with purpose now, more than ever before, so organisations will need to increasingly showcase their CSR credentials through a range of initiatives.

It is clear that investing in volunteer programmes will undoubtedly improve an organisation’s longstanding appeal to socially conscious teams, potential clients and customers, and can further enhance overall productivity. Workers will also benefit from sustainable initiatives by improving their knowledge and skills, which will help them to contribute towards meaningful causes and result in stronger relationships with local communities.

In line with this ethos, the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), feature a wide range of objectives, all which hold considerable relevance for organisations. These goals include (but are not limited) to the following:

Offering educational opportunities

Allowing teams to participate in hands-on volunteering projects and outreach activities will aid in their personal and professional development and allow for increased networking opportunities that can open doors to invaluable experiences that may shape their careers. When staff feel valued and are offered ongoing support, they’re also more inclined to stay for the long term.

Additionally, a report by McKinsey has found that employees who received the purpose they want from a job have reported better outcomes at work – and in life – than their less satisfied peers.

Innovative partnerships

Partnering with local businesses and nonprofit organisations, as well as local communities around new sustainable initiatives can provide volunteers with localised (and specialised) experience from industry experts, springboard new ideas and allow further opportunities for teams to connect.

Furthermore, working with nonprofit organisations can enable businesses to gain a deeper understanding of social issues that impact local communities, which can include gaining additional insights into the individual dynamics of a particular group or demographic. Alongside this, partnering directly with communities helps teams to build a reputable network of invaluable local connections that can strengthen the reputation of your organisation.

Reduced inequalities

Employees want to make a difference, and by working towards causes close to their heart, they will gain a deep sense of satisfaction and a greater understanding of how their actions have a wider societal impact, particularly around important social issues, such as education, healthcare, or the environment.

PwC’s 2021 Global Culture Survey revealed that 67% of those surveyed believed culture to be more important than strategy or operations. By actively participating in sustainable initiatives aimed at reducing disparities and promoting inclusivity, volunteers can therefore look to fully utilise their skills, resources, and passion to make a difference.Top of Form

Improved health and wellbeing

Organisations are increasingly looking at new ways to improve the health and wellbeing of their workers, whether that be through the introduction of new employee assistance programmes or inhouse initiatives that can look to enhance physical or mental wellbeing.

Engaging in volunteering provides employees with the opportunity to connect with likeminded individuals, grow their professional and personal networks, and become part of a supportive community where they feel valued and heard. This, in turn, can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and allow participants to receive ongoing support.

Participation in climate action

The UK is committed in achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Part of these targets include reducing carbon emissions by 68% by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels) and reaching 77% by 2035. Sustainable initiatives will be integral to the success of these targets, with common examples including carpooling, green commuting, investing in renewable sources, such as LED bulbs and smart technologies that help to reduce carbon emissions.

Affordable and clean energy

By introducing volunteer opportunities, organisations can develop sustainable initiatives that improve the social, environmental, and economic wellbeing of those within the local community. Common examples include participating in the development and ongoing maintenance of public greenspaces, such as nearby gardens or parks, participating in renewable energy programmes that help to provide access to clean water and improved sanitation, as well as eco-friendly infrastructure projects using sustainable materials.

Decent work and economic growth

A hub of expertise can be created when the talents, time, and energy of volunteers from various backgrounds are combined. It can bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences, allow them to gain fresh perspectives and expand their horizons letting creative ideas thrive.

Sustainable cities and communities

Volunteering programmes can help organisations to address environmental and social challenges and help in the development of building sustainable cities and support local communities. These types of initiatives can include everything from energy conservation projects and recycling programmes to sustainable transport options.

Responsible consumption and production

Volunteer programmes can look at developing sustainable initiatives that focus on responsible consumption and production, with common examples including the use of resources, such as reducing food waste, waste generation and supporting greener practices.

What are the main challenges when introducing Sustainable Volunteer Programmes?

Establishing green volunteer opportunities or programmes can often encompass a multitude of challenges, but the rewards for both organisations and employees are substantial. Key challenges fall into two groups: organisational challenges and those stemming from volunteers themselves:

Organisational challenges

  • Limited resources: These include financial constraints, a shortage of volunteers or a lack of materials which can halt the progress of sustainable volunteer programmes and lead to reduced stakeholder engagement
  • Scalability challenges: expanding sustainable volunteer programmes to reach a wider audience may result in logistical and organisational challenges
  • Lack of metrics: evaluating the impact of volunteer efforts can be challenging without the use of clear metrics and regular monitoring processes
  • Community opposition: engaging local communities and building trust can be a long process. Patience is key in developing initiatives that address their needs, remove scepticism, and ensure that all voices are heard


Volunteer challenges

  • Recruiting volunteers: sustainable volunteer programmes are time consuming and require dedication, making it challenging to find individuals willing to commit their full attention
  • Training and development:  providing education and training on sustainability principles may be necessary to ensure that volunteers align with the required objectives.

Best practices for your Sustainable Volunteer Programme

Here are some of our successful strategies when introducing or improving sustainable volunteer programmes:

  • Define clear goals: implement measurable goals that align with your sustainability objectives
  • Active engagement: involve volunteers, stakeholders, and local communities at the very start to build trust between all parties. This will ensure that your programme meets the needs of all parties and will increase the chances of future support
  • Identify audience requirements: completing a thorough assessment of your target audience will enable volunteers to address challenges effectively
  • Invest in training and development: equip volunteers them with the knowledge and tools required to carry out sustainable initiatives
  • Provide sufficient resourcing: provide ample resources to allow volunteers to reach their goals
  • Effective partnerships: partner with local businesses, organisations and communities to access specialist expertise
  • Track your progress: invest in systems that monitor and track your progress to measure the success of sustainability programmes and needed adjustments
  • Recognise hard work: acknowledge and reward your volunteers for their hard work, which can encourage future engagement and support their personal and professional development
  • Invest in Continuous Improvement: this can be based on feedback, lessons learned, and evolving trends.


Drive purposeful change through green initiatives

The relationship between volunteering and sustainability continues to grow apace, bringing together employees, organisations, and local communities in the development of green initiatives which address global challenges and guarantee a positive impact.

Extending beyond existing Corporate Social Responsibility obligations, green initiatives reveal significant ambitions to drive purposeful societal change. By aligning sustainable volunteering opportunities with an organisation’s company values, businesses can provide volunteers with essential skills, promote employee engagement, and allow for personal and professional growth.