What is Sustainable Volunteering and Why is it so Important?

3 minute read

Giving back to the community is generally at the top of the list of reasons why people decide to volunteer. 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.

There are so many charities to choose from in the UK, all of varying sizes and capabilities. But it’s sometimes hard to tell whether an organisation is influencing positive change or leaving people and places worse off than they were before.


What is sustainable volunteering?

Sustainability is a commitment to giving back without leaving a destructive footprint. The term broadly refers to the environment, but also relates to social and economic factors.

Volunteering sustainably is all about having a positive, lasting impact on communities by respecting their needs and sensitivities. There are many ways for environmentally conscious people to preserve and practice sustainability. You just need to educate yourself and be aware of the impact you’re really having.

So are you ready to do good in the world in a 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?

Do your research

When you’re looking for volunteering opportunities, make sure to check where the charity stands on sustainability. This is something that all charities (not just those working in the environmental field) should be aware of and should be making active plans to address. If you’re already volunteering for a charity, you might be able to find this information yourself by looking for the charity’s sustainability policy.

Most volunteer vacancies include a description of what you’ll be doing day-to-day if you’re appointed. Many charities will also have a brief interview with you to understand your motivations and past experience before you begin. This is your chance to find out more about the impact of the role and ask about how the charity supports sustainability.


Take part in the second-hand economy

You can also help by making ethical decisions in your everyday life. Taking part in the second-hand economy is a sustainable act, and it’s a popular worldwide movement.

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.

Buying second-hand has other benefits too. Many people even turn a healthy profit every year by re-selling used items. And it’s a valuable source of income for many charities. You can become further involved in sustainable volunteering by working at your local charity shop or helping collect donations in your own time.

What is Sustainable Volunteering and Why is it so Important?

Get your hands dirty and help clean up the environment

You can take things one step further by volunteering for an organisation that helps collect discarded items. These objects take up space in landfills, pollute the environment and are a general waste of resources. But they can be resold or recycled, and their parts used for more environmentally friendly purposes. It doesn’t even have to be with a specific charity―you can give back to the environment in your own personal way.


Seek out further sustainable volunteering opportunities

Many British non-profit organisations are involved in a wide range of sustainability issues, from farming to food wastage and pollution control. These are great places to look for local sustainable volunteering opportunities. The National Trust is one of the largest volunteer organisations in the UK, with a membership of more than 5 million people and more than 50,000 volunteers supporting conservation.

Find a career with meaning

Make a bigger commitment

If you’re really passionate about the cause and if your lifestyle allows, you could consider travelling to volunteer. Britain’s many global ties allow for sustainable volunteering throughout the world, from wildlife research in South Africa to a women’s empowerment movement in India.

It requires lasting commitment, as you’ll need to be dedicated to the long-term needs of a community. It’s important to take the time to learn what approach works best in each individual environment.

Sustainable volunteers seek a deep understanding of, and engagement with, local cultures, taking care to honour cultural and economic differences whether working in the UK or abroad. They share skills and train people to continue their work after they leave, thereby strengthening community campaigns to address key environmental issues.

Ultimately, sustainable volunteering is all about seeking a deeper, grassroots-level engagement with communities and the environment. That’s an exciting prospect for volunteers looking for a more profound experience that has a genuinely positive impact. What’s more, it can offer the chance to work with a wide range of people and places.

Ready to see what volunteer opportunities are available for you? Get out there and start giving back today.


This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated to ensure relevance and to reflect the current job seeker experience.


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.