The Environment Foundation has won a four year battle with the Charity Commission - with the Commissioners' announcement that they have accepted a new charitable purpose. For the first time, the promotion of sustainable development is now a charitable purpose in its own right.
The 1990s saw a dramatic transformation in the environmental agenda, posing new challenges and opportunities for the Foundation. The issues it was addressing were now much wider than environmental protection and embraced the whole sustainable development agenda.
The Environment Foundation decided to try and include the promotion of sustainable development in its charitable objects. Unfortunately, the Charity Commission found sustainable development too vague a term for this purpose.
It has taken four years of persistence, energy and resources, ably led by Stephen Lloyd of Bates, Head of Charity and Social Enterprise at Bates, Wells & Braithwaite, to convince the Commission that this was not the case.
"Victory could not have come at a better time - the Foundation's 20th Anniversary Year," says the Foundation's Director, Helen Holdaway. "It will now be able to concentrate its energies on planning events and publications to celebrate this Anniversary, secure in the knowledge that it is not acting outside its charitable objectives."
John Elkington, Chairman of the Environment Foundation said: "It has been a long drawn out process, but we are very pleased that we stuck to our guns and have been rewarded at last. The new charitable purpose has very significant implications for this whole area of charitable endeavour. We are grateful to all those organisations and individuals who gave us their support, but particularly to Bates, Wells & Braithwaite. We hope that those who have been watching our progress from a safe distance will now benefit from this decision."
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The Commission had not previously been able to accept the promotion of sustainable development as a charitable purpose since the expression was capable of having different meanings in different contexts. It therefore lacked the clarity and certainty required for charitable objects.
In 2003, the Commissioners reconsidered this position when they were asked to review a decision to not accept an application to register The Environment Foundation, an organisation set up to promote sustainable development. In reviewing this decision the Commissioners were of the view that the promotion of sustainable development for the benefit of the public should now be accepted as charitable provided that it could be confined to purposes and activities which are recognisable as charitable in law.
Recognising that the purpose was analogous with the charitable purposes of preservation and conservation, relief of poverty and the promotion of urban and rural regeneration, the Commissioners agreed to register the Environment Foundation with the following new charitable purpose, where 'sustainable development' means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs:
"To promote sustainable development for the benefit of the public by the preservation, conservation and the protection of the environment and the prudent use of natural resources; the relief of poverty and the improvement of the conditions of life in socially and economically disadvantaged communities; the promotion of sustainable means of achieving economic growth and regeneration."
You can see the Commission's decision letter and the full Annual report on its website www.charitycommission.gov.uk.