Barr Foundation: Grants for Climate Change

OVERVIEW: The Barr Foundation is a big fish in the pond of Massachusetts-based environmental organizations, particularly regarding the issue of climate change. Year after year, programs for more sustainable buildings and low-carbon transportation options receive dominant shares of Barr's environmental grant awards.

IP TAKE: Making Boston and Massachusetts more environmentally sustainable is the Barr Foundation's number-one environmental goal. But some regional and national efforts get Barr's support as well. 

PROFILE: The Barr Foundation is one of the largest foundations in Massachusetts, with an asset base of more than $1.5 billion and an outlay of grants averaging nearly $60 million a year. And a large share of those awards goes to efforts focused squarely on the climate issue.

The foundation has a stated goal of helping Boston and Massachusetts meet or exceed their 2020 and 2050 goals for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. It splits its climate-related grants on a roughly 50-50 keel between support for energy-efficient buildings and for reducing transportation-related emissions. On the building side, the foundation facilitates programs at the city, county, and state levels to upgrade buildings to be more energy-efficient. Grants also support energy audits in homes statewide.

The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) is one such grant recipient. Barr has given this association $125,000 in recent years to facilitate the construction of "zero net energy" homes, which generate all of their electricity on-site. Barr's transportation grants, meanwhile, support the expansion of resource-wise neighborhood planning and transit options that are minimally polluting.

The Environmental League of Massachusetts is a grant recipient that covers both bases. It has received $667,000 from Barr for advocacy of renewable energy, walkable communities — where the distances between homes and the business and shopping areas are minimal, so little to no driving is required — and expanded public transit as an alternative to automotive traffic. The Conservation Law Foundation's mission is similar in its scope: It works with lawmakers and businesses to formulate solutions to a wide range of environmental challenges, including approaches for energy-efficient building design and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions. For all of the above, Barr has given the group more than $2.3 million.

The foundation has also given more than $1 million in grants to the Franklin Park Coalition, which looks after downtown Boston's 527-acre green oasis Franklin Park, and $1.3 million to the Green Roundtable-Nexus, a resource center and showroom for innovations in green building design. The Urban Ecology Institute, another Boston organization, has received a smaller but still substantial total of $420,000 in grants for environmental outreach that includes working with community associations on ways to "green" their neighborhoods.

The 2020 and 2050 benchmarks are worth noting. Both are relatively far into the future. The upside is that Barr maintains a long-range outlook when giving awards. Projects with anticipated results that won't be readily apparent for a few years or more might have difficulty getting funding at some organizations that demand near-term results, but they will find a far more receptive ear at Barr.

Massachusetts is the Barr Foundation's main area of operations. But some of its grant funds go to out-of-state initiatives as well. It has provided $550,000 in grants to the Delta Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit that leads conservation and sustainable-development programs in the Great Lakes region, and $169,000 to the Florida-based Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities to help climate funders share learning and effective practices.

Another, smaller proportion of Barr's grants is global in nature. The foundation supports sustainable agriculture programs that increase the productivity of the world's smallholder farmers but do so in the most environmentally sensitive ways possible. Some of Barr's grantees train farmers in eco-friendly farming practices. Clean-energy solutions across the globe also receive funding. In the past few years, the foundation has been especially supportive of organizations working in clean cook stove technologies and increasing consumers' access to the clean energy products now on the market.

Barr's overseas beneficiaries include KickStart, which connects aspiring entrepreneurs in impoverished areas with useful tools and resources. With grants from the Barr Foundation, KickStart has been distributing human-powered irrigation pumps to developing-world farmers, promoting tree plantings, and educating the farmers on water management and business practices. MercyCorps, another grant recipient, used Barr funding to assist Haitian farmers with watershed restoration and training in the sustainable use of the land and its natural resources.

Wherever organizations are based, they are welcome to reach out to the Barr Foundation at any time throughout the year. The first step is to complete an inquiry form, in which the applicant describes his or her organization and its mission and goals, via the website. Barr staff review each completed inquiry form and decide if it indicates a promising endeavor. If they like what they read, the applicant gets a call and a request to submit a complete proposal.