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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 12, special issue: Environment

Integrating the environment into the running of a humanitarian organisation: the experience of Action contre la Faim
Thibault Laconde


 Towards social responsibility in the humanitarian sector?

This very rapid overview may raise the question: why only deal with the environment? Indeed, this subject is only one aspect of a broader issue: the responsibility of the organisation vis-à-vis the effects of its programmes and its functioning, whether these are environmental, economic or social. There are several reasons to adopt this perspective when considering the question of integrating the environment in an organisation:

  • The boundaries between the different types of impact are largely artificial. The issues at stake rarely correspond to such simplistic classification: are soil erosion and the consumption of non-renewable resources environmental, social or economic issues?
  • There is synergy between these three subjects. The majority of actions which aim to reduce an organisation’s environmental impact can easily be complemented to also take into account economic and social aspects. In particular, the approach described in this article can be applied to a broader area.
  • The majority of businesses and public bodies have chosen to deal with these subjects together. Adopting the same perspective allows a large number of experiences and tools which exist already to be reused.

It can therefore make sense to adopt a general social responsibility approach rather than being limited to the organisation’s environmental impact. ISO 26000 on social responsibility [5] provides a useful framework on which to base this kind of approach, even though some of its seven “central questions” [6] cannot be directly applied to humanitarian organisations.


BOX: Electricity supply for bases


Considering that an organisation’s responsibility goes beyond the geographical and functional limits which had previously been accepted makes us reconsider the roles of the organisation’s different departments. Programmes remain the end product and raison d’être of an organisation, but they cannot be implemented without support activities such as logistics, finance, fund-raising and research, which represent a significant and often growing number of staff and size of budget. And if we admit that the responsibility of humanitarians is not only to beneficiaries, we see that all these departments have impacts which can be positive or negative, direct or indirect and intentional or unintentional.
Out of ignorance, these impacts are most often negative and unintentional… the whole point of a social responsibility approach is to inverse these two characteristics.


Thibault Laconde
Head of sustainable development projects
Action contre la Faim

[5] Rather than corporate social responsibility, the title of this standard was chosen to encourage its adoption by all kinds of organisation. See: https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/#iso:std:iso:26000:ed-1:v1:fr

[6] Organisational governance, Human rights, Labour practices, The environment, Fair operating practices, Consumer issues, and Community involvement and development.