Sustainable mission is at the heart of Reach Beyond UK’s future. We have made a commitment to protect, as far as we can, the earth – God’s creation, from the impact of our activities.
We are now a Carbon Net Zero organisation, which means we measure our carbon footprint, cut our carbon emissions where we can, and offset those emissions we can’t reduce. We are also thinking about the waste we produce; our water use; the things we buy; who we bank and invest with; and how we can make ethical choices to care for and protect the vulnerable in the world.
What is climate change and why is it such a problem?
Climate change refers to long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns. These changes occur naturally over time, but since the industrial revolution in the 1800s, human activity has drastically changed the rate at which climate change is occurring. Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures.
Carbon dioxide and methane are examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Using fossil fuels for transport, buildings, industry, and travel; and also landfill sites, agriculture, and food production; all emit greenhouse gases and are contributing to the problem.
The earth is now 1.1 °C warmer than it was in the late 1800s and the amount of emissions we are producing still continues to rise. If we think of the Earth like a body, where everything is connected, when something changes such as temperature, this can influence many other finely balanced systems.
Climate change has resulted in extreme weather events such as flooding, droughts, fires and catastrophic storms. As the polar ice melts, sea levels rise, which results in the loss of low-lying land. Also, many species can’t cope with the changes in their environment, so we are seeing a loss of biodiversity and the extinction of many species of plants and animals.
Greenhouse gases are emitted by human activity across the world, but not equally. 68% of emissions are created by just 10 countries! (See https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-climate-change)
As weather systems change and it becomes harder to grow food, the poorest people in the world will suffer most, as they have least buying power and fewest reserves to fall back on. They also tend to live in parts of the world where the results of climate change, such as flooding and droughts, is likely to have most impact.
(First image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117:21)
The first map shows the mean average temperatures across the world. The small black areas are the hottest, with an average temperature of 29 °C. If we don’t take action to reduce climate change, by 2070 these small black areas will have increased to cover the whole of the brown shaded area, which is currently home to 3.5 billion people.
The second map shows the “10/40 Window”; an area identified by Partners International CEO, Luis Bush, as having the most socio-economic challenges, and also with least access to the Christian message.
According to the Joshua Project, the vast majority (85%) of the least reached people groups exist in this 10/40 window.
Comparing the two maps illustrates how climate change will have the greatest impact on the very people we are trying to serve.
It is particularly concerning for mission organisations like Reach Beyond UK, that climate change and its consequences are likely to impact most severely, those unreached people groups who we are trying to reach with the Good News of Jesus! This is why Reach Beyond UK is taking this matter seriously and reducing its impact on the environment and climate change.
What does the Bible have to say about creation care?
Firstly, it’s good to remind ourselves that God made all of creation. He deemed it very good and loves it.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day. Genesis 1:31 (NIV)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 (NIV)
We have a special duty towards God’s creation. For this reason we are made in his image; to rule as he does, in love.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26 (NIV)
God’s laws to his people emphasise care for creation.
For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Leviticus 25:3-5 (NIV)
God has warned us about the consequences of not looking after his creation carefully.
The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Isaiah 24:4-6 (NIV)
Sadly, those people who use least of the world’s resources, and so are contributing least to climate change, are also the people who will suffer most from its consequences. Many passages warn us against treating the poor and vulnerable unjustly, such as:
Do not exploit the poor because they are poor, and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will exact life for life. Proverbs 22:22-23 (NIV)
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. James 5:4-6 (NIV)
Our neighbours are impacted by our actions or lack of action. Jesus invites us to have a special concern for those who are vulnerable and not able to help themselves.
But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:33-37 (NIV)
And there is a strong warning if we don’t look after those in need…
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:41-45 (NIV)
What is sustainability?
Reach Beyond UK aims to be a sustainable organisation. The concept of sustainable development was described in the UN’s 1987 Bruntland Commission Report as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Or, more simply: “enough for everyone, forever”.
Sustainability not only addresses environmental concerns, but also the social and economic results of our behaviour and activity in the world. These are called the three pillars of sustainability, and they all impact each other. Sustainability isn’t just concerned with what is happening now, but also what the world will be like in the future. Reach Beyond UK’s commitment to Sustainable Hope is about investing now in a better future for everyone.
How is Reach Beyond UK ensuring a sustainable future?
In order to become a sustainable organisation. We have taken the following actions.
- Appointed Sustainability Champions to focus on this issue and encourage everyone in the organisation to move in this direction.
- Developed a Sustainability Plan that describes how we are going to get from our current situation to where we would like to be. The plan isn’t just limited to tackling our greenhouse gas emissions. It also looks at our water use, recycling and waste, where we buy our goods and services, and how we invest our assets.
We use the ‘Sustainable Hope’ logo to signal to others that we take this aspect of our service to the world seriously.
The Environmental Pillar: To protect the environment we have become Carbon Net Zero. What does this mean and why is it important?
Climate change is one of the biggest problems facing the world today. This is principally driven by the ‘greenhouse effect’. This means that certain gases (principally carbon dioxide, but also including other gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour) build up in the atmosphere and trap heat rather than allowing it to radiate into space.
Addressing our greenhouse gas emissions is, therefore, a key part of Reach Beyond UK’s sustainability plan.
We all produce carbon in our daily lives, but, as an international mission organisation, we produce a bit more than most because of the amount of travelling we do, especially flying. We know this, because we have started measuring our output – our ‘carbon footprint’ – across all our activities. This includes all sorts of things in addition to travel, including heating and lighting our offices, the food we produce and serve, even how many cups of coffee we drink!
We have been helped out by an online tool created by a Christian environmental organisation called Climate Stewards (you can measure you own carbon footprint using this tool by going to their website https://www.climatestewards.org).
The results of our assessment have helped us to work out areas where we can cut our carbon emissions in future, such as using trains and minibuses rather than planes whenever possible, and making sure our offices make efficient use of energy.
Below are the results of our recent greenhouse gas measurements.
Our total emissions in 2020/21 were 22.71 tonnes. But this was a year of COVID lockdowns when we did little travelling and our offices were closed.
In 2021/22 our emissions increased to 33.67 tonnes as our operations started up again.
We anticipate that that we will experience a further increase in 2022/23 as we resume much of our overseas work (and the necessary travel that entails). But we hope that we can start a steady reduction from this point onwards.
But what about the carbon emissions we can’t avoid? This is where ‘carbon offsetting’ comes in. This just means that the carbon we can’t avoid emitting, either an equal amount of carbon is taken out of the atmosphere, or the equivalent amount of carbon is prevented from being produced elsewhere.
We have chosen to work with the Christian environmental organisation Climate Stewards to offset our greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Stewards works with churches, businesses, charities and individuals to help them measure, reduce and offset their carbon footprint. They provide online carbon calculators for individuals and small organisations, as well as carbon footprint audits and policy advice to larger organisations as part of their Carbon reduction journey. Their 360˚carbon online tool is free to use and helps organisations to measure and start reducing their carbon footprint.
They offer carbon offsetting through community-based projects working with and through local partners in six countries in the global south. All their partner projects bring multiple benefits (including improved health, family income and biodiversity) to people and places alongside mitigating carbon emissions.
For more information about Climate Stewards see their website:
When you combine reducing your emissions where you can, with offsetting what you can’t, you are able to claim that you are Carbon Net Zero. Reach Beyond UK has achieved this already, but an important part of the commitment we have made to creation care means that we always have to be thinking of new ways to improve.
The Social Pillar: what are we doing?
Social justice means caring for people. Many of Reach Beyond’s core activities are directed towards this goal, such as the water projects in South America and Africa, the medical projects in Asia and the relief work we do with refugees. But we also have to make sure we don’t overlook other opportunities to help ensure care for our neighbours. A couple of examples include:
- Purchasing Fair Trade products for our offices, to make sure farmers receive a good price for their crops.
- Collecting donations of unsold food from local outlets and ‘upcycling’ it into cheap and tasty meals in the café at our Millside Community Centre in Bradford. At the same time this café provides catering training to refugees. Most of the food produced by these trainees is vegetarian and one day a week is completely meat-free.
The Economic Pillar: what changes have we made?
The third pillar of sustainability is economic justice.
Whilst our financial assets are modest, we make sure that the investments we do have are lodged with ethical funds. These avoid supporting industries involved in things like fossil fuel extraction, weapons manufacture, environmental exploitation and modern day slavery.
Making Mission more Sustainable
We are an international mission organisation. This means we send people around the world to deliver the gospel practically to those who need to receive it. Inevitably, this means our travel is likely to contribute to climate change because of the greenhouse gases emitted. In fact, travel is normally the biggest contributor to our carbon footprint.
It’s quite a problem: the more services we deliver, the more we are contributing to climate change!
We can, and do, offset the impact of our mission activities by working with Climate Stewards. But we feel we have to go further. Claiming to be Carbon Net Zero means we have to always be seeking to reduce our impact as well as offsetting it.
One way to do this is by looking at the way we deploy short term mission teams. Flying produces far more emissions than any other form of transport. So, how can we reduce the number of flights we take?
We have developed two strategies:
- Firstly, and most obviously, we will use alternative means of travel where we can. This means using trains or perhaps a minibus if the numbers make it feasible. We accept that these forms of travel are often slower than flying. They involve extra commitment from our missionaries. But we will also seek to use this time constructively; using it for team building, training and administration. Given the way hidden government subsidies work, flying is often cheaper than the alternatives. But someone always pays the (environmental) cost in the end; normally those least able to afford it. We have made the decision that we should bear this cost as part of our commitment to service for God's Kingdom.
- Secondly, we will restructure how we organise our mission trips. Sending fewer people for longer, results in the same amount of mission activity for less travel. Again, this places an extra burden of commitment on our missionaries, but we feel this is absolutely necessary if we are to live up to our goal of reducing the harm we do to God’s creation.
The following graphs show what a difference these changes can have to the sustainability of our mission trips. Both assume a trip to southern Europe or North Africa; areas where we currently operate projects focused on refugees.
The first chart illustrates that we can reduce drastically our CO2 emissions produced by flying, if we send smaller teams for longer.
The second chart illustrates that if we take a minibus, our CO2 emissions are much lower, no matter how long we go for, even if we don’t take a large team!
We ask all those who engage with us on short term mission trips to help us meet our goals by personally offsetting the costs of their travel through our chosen offsetting schemes.
If you have any questions about our sustainability initiatives, contact us here.