Environmental Philanthropy Award 2021

Revealing many of our inconvenient truths

In an era when information about the state of the environment is so complex, diverse, and frequently contested, trusted and reliable sources have great value. But allowing those sources the time to identify, develop and check that information can be a fraught process. It needs patience and perseverance. And a belief that the commitment will be worth it.

In 2019, the Limb Family Foundation started funding Guardian Australia’s Environmental Investigations reporting. The funding was to help give Guardian Australia journalists the time to dig deeper and peel back the layers on a range of highly important environmental issues.

The three-year arrangement provided the stability to enable Guardian Australia to commit to the deep research and considered analysis that defies changing economic circumstances or the arrival of an international pandemic. The result has been forensic and penetrating journalism about environmental issues that goes well beyond the daily news cycle.

Over the past three years, there have been about 200 articles produced through the partnership, and they were read six million times. A Worldwide Fund for Nature analysis showed a 407 per cent uplift in Australian awareness of biodiversity issues because of Guardian Australia’s stories on the issue. The Greens believe the Guardian’s reporting was instrumental in the Senate blocking proposed changes to weaken environmental protection. The reporting has led to two parliamentary inquiries and a National Audit office inquiry. The range of reporting – from climate change to energy policy, to biodiversity, to the illegal exporting of rare birds – has been fundamental to academics, politicians, journalists, and advocates engaged in the broader public debate about the state of the environment.

Julia Limb, chair of the Limb Family Foundation, says one of the important considerations about working with the Guardian was that it’s a global brand, with a strong presence in its UK home, and growing audiences in the USA and Australia. It meant the Australian reporting had a global audience.

“We saw this as an opportunity to fund something where it wasn’t just about one thing, it was about so many things – the Guardian has a strong commitment to the environment and we hadn’t seen that before in the media space, we haven’t seen that commitment,’’ Julia says. “We saw there were some synergies there and we also recognised the importance of there being a voice that was independent – we have no say over what they do – but what we were supporting was them having that opportunity to report and provide incredibly well researched information, not only to politicians and industry but everyday readers.’’

The Guardian is a unique media organisation – it is owned by the Scott Trust – and is free of any association with the identities who own and control many other high-profile media assets. It was that ownership model that helped engage the Limb Family Foundation.

“That was very appealing because it gave it a very strong commitment to democracy and for me that really underpins what we’ve done here – we wanted to support an organization that would advocate for the environment and provide really credible information across the board, and dig that extra bit deeper,’’ Julia explains. “This wasn’t about having an environment reporter: this was about having an environmental investigation unit that would go that extra step. Things are much easier in many ways – Google helps reporters – but it doesn’t help you get to the information. I think there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors around now that make it really hard to get to the bottom of issues, and that’s what they’re prepared to do, and you need to pay for that.’’

The award signals recognition for the Limb Family Foundation’s commitment to supporting the environment just as the Foundation prepares to spend out its corpus. Julia and her sister Ali – a Limb Family Foundation Director – acknowledge that it’s a matter of “spending down, and powering up’’, which helps underline the urgency of the environmental challenge.

“By doing the spend down it’s forced some more urgency to our process about who we should be supporting, who is doing the critical work who we think will make the systems change we need,’’ Ali says.

“By putting a defining date on it, it pushed us to go, ‘Where are the points that will make a critical difference?’ and Guardian Australia had been a big one for the visibility of the issues and how serious the issues are, but also how our government is managing or not managing those issues so bringing a spotlight to that,’’ she says. “But also, we’ve also made other grants that are of a significant nature that are about providing the pathways to the solutions, so we’re not saying we’re spending out and stepping away - we’re saying we’re spending out because we can leverage some work that is critical in the next three years.’’

There is, perhaps, an appropriateness to this moment in the Limb Family Foundation’s funding journey, a culmination of all it has done over the past decade and then some. And the Guardian Australia relationship has helped elevate the work of other funders, including those connected to the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network.

“This piece in The Guardian has really been able to amplify the voices of the people doing that work,’’ Ali says. “That’s been one of the real successes for us in terms of a funding outcome - that it’s really played that role and possibly to some degree above and beyond what we had anticipated. I felt that’s been so appreciated by the philanthropic community, that that voice is there.’’

There has been another bonus, unforeseen but welcome, according to Julia.

“One of the things that’s been really powerful is that Nine Media (which includes The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald) has really stepped up to increase their environmental coverage, which I think is a result of this. And AAP has taken on this work too,’’ she says.

“Public interest journalism is crucial for our institutions and our democracy and without that, we start to see things crumble but this sort of work will help us to maintain those things, particularly in a world where we can see so much conflict, vested interest and resistance in terms in the climate,’’ Julia says.

For Guardian Australia it is the second year in a row that it has received an Australian Philanthropy Award for its journalism. Last year, it received the Indigenous Philanthropy Award for its First Nations’ reporting supported by the Balnaves Foundation.

“With the recent climate change negotiations in Glasgow, we are in a historical moment for climate and environmental action. The decisions and actions we take today will determine no less than the future of humanity,” says Amanda Martin OAM, CEO, Australian Environmental Grantmakers network at the 2021 Australian Philanthropy Awards.

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