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The Greening of Organizational Capacity

By Ellen Irie

Capacity building has been a leading issue in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors for over a decade. This is a good thing. The increased focus has provided nonprofits with time and resources to attend to the underlying structures, competencies and processes that enable them to be more efficient and effective in their mission-related work.

In the last several years, “greening” has also become a topic of much discussion. While greening is a relatively young term that lacks a consistent definition, it generally relates to making a place or processes more environmentally friendly and ecologically sustainable.

I would like to posit—promote even—bringing these two concepts together into the “greening of organizational capacity.” Currently, for nonprofit organizations, green practices are often an add-on—something to do when resources permit (e.g., printing on recycled paper or increasing electronic communication and transactions). But what if being green was essential to strong organizational capacity? I’m not just talking about adding environmental elements into program outcomes, which may be an appropriate path for some nonprofits. I’m talking about green thinking and practices being critical to strong organizational capacity—enabling a nonprofit to reach programmatic outcomes.

Can the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors “green” the frameworks we use to understand organizational capacity? Can we move beyond greening as a feel-good or compliance issue to a core capacity element that is essential for efficiency and effectiveness—not just “nice to have,” but “need to have?” What will this take? Stay tuned for my next post on some specific ideas – and I welcome any of your thoughts as well.