What is Sustainable Volunteering and Why Is It So Important?

3 minute read

There are several reasons why people decide to volunteer, and giving back to the community or to the world is generally at the top of the list. It’s a selfless experience, really. You’re donating your time to a cause that means something to you, and not asking for anything in return. And you’re making a real difference in the world, right? Not necessarily. With so many charities to choose from in the UK – all of varying sizes and capabilities – it’s not always clear which organisations are influencing positive change and which are leaving people and places worse off than they were before.

That’s why sustainability in volunteering is so important. It’s all about having a positive, lasting impact on communities by respecting their needs and sensitivities. In fact, finding a charity that works toward that goal is, in itself, an important part of the experience.

Sustainable volunteering is a commitment to giving back without leaving a destructive footprint. There are many ways for environmentally conscious people to preserve and practice sustainability, you just need to educate yourself and be conscious of the impact you’re really having.

So are you ready to do good in the world in a truly sustainable way? Here are a few ways to ensure you’re making a truly positive impact.

What is Sustainable Volunteering and Why Is It So Important?

Fill a gap in the volunteer market

Sustainable volunteerism seeks to fill a gap that other forms of volunteerism haven’t addressed. Not all organisations are a good fit for the “weekend-warrior” type of volunteer, who often lack the time for lasting commitment. Most sustainability volunteers are dedicated to the long-term needs of a community and take the time to learn what approach works best in each individual environment.

They also honour local cultural and economic differences, whether working in the UK or abroad. Britain’s many global ties allow opportunities for sustainable volunteerism throughout the world, from wildlife research in South Africa to a women’s empowerment movement in India. 

As such, volunteers seek a deep-seated understanding of and engagement with local cultures and communities that goes beyond simple volunteer activities. They share skills and train local individuals to continue their work after they leave, thereby strengthening community campaigns to address key environmental issues.


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Take part in the second-hand economy

Social responsibility doesn’t begin and end with charities; you can help by making conscientious decisions in your everyday life. Participating in the second-hand economy is itself an environmentally sustainable act, and it’s a worldwide movement with considerable momentum and popularity.

Today, millions of items are sold and traded through the second-hand economy. And buying vintage is more popular than ever, with vinyl and second-hand clothing back in vogue. According to Gumtree, the UK’s second-hand economy is thriving thanks partly to a growing environmental consciousness. And research has shown the second-hand economy is more than just a means of achieving environmental sustainability. Many people even turn a healthy profit every year by re-selling used items. You can become active in the second-hand economy by volunteering at your local charity shop or helping collect donations on your own time.

What is Sustainable Volunteering and Why Is It So Important?

Get your hands dirty and help clean up the environment

Buying second-hand isn’t the only way to help the environment. You can take things one step further and volunteer for an organisation that helps collect discarded items to support sustainable preservation. These objects take up space in landfills, pollute the environment and represent a general waste of resources. But they can be resold or recycled, allowing their components to be used for more environmentally-friendly means.

And it doesn’t even have to be with a specific charity, you can give back to the environment in your own personal way. Earlier this year, an environment challenge went viral on social media, encouraging people across the globe to clean up rivers, parks and beaches. Although this wasn’t linked to a specific charity, the #trashtag challenge inspired a movement of people to use their free time doing something positive for the Earth.

Many British non-profit organisations are involved in a wide range of sustainability issues, from farming to food wastage and pollution control, and are good places to look for sustainable volunteering opportunities. Land renewal and water issues are just two examples of the many important environmental issues in which non-profits have a stake. The National Trust is one of the largest volunteer membership organisations in the UK with a membership of more than 3 million people and more than 40,000 people supporting environmental conservation. You can also visit Idealist.org for an exhaustive listing of sustainable volunteer opportunities throughout the UK and other countries.


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Ultimately, sustainable volunteerism is all about seeking a deeper, grassroots-level engagement with communities. That’s an exciting prospect for volunteers looking for a more profound experience in environmental preservation and with people in different communities and cultures, either in the UK or abroad, who are its stewards. Ready to see what volunteer opportunities are available for you? Get out there and start giving back today.

David Garcia

David is passionate about helping people realise their own strength and power. His goal is to share his experiences and knowledge about mental health.

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