Kresge Foundation: Grants for Climate Change

OVERVIEW: Kresge is a leader in philanthropic efforts supporting climate change, specifically as it related to cities and vulnerable communities. Its newly refined environment program focuses on resilient cities, with a combination of curbing the worst effects of climate change, while planning for inevitable consequences. 

IP TAKE: Kresge is a great prospect for organizations that address climate change at the community or city level, especially involving minority or disadvantaged residents. This funder seeks place-based solutions that can serve as models for other cities as they prepare for a chaotic future.

PROFILE: Established in 1924, the Kresge Foundation is a Detroit-based funder that heavily emphasizes vulnerable and underserved communities. It was founded by Sebastian Spering Kresge, the retail giant whose empire started with five-and-dime stores but grew to encompass Kmart and Sears. While Kresge has seven programs and directs much of its giving to revitalizing Detroit, it has a significant environment program — with spending totaling as much as $15 million a year.

Kresge's environment program has undergone an overhaul, and spending is expected to increase in the future. The program now emphasizes building cities' resilience in the face of climate change. For Kresge, climate resilience means "the capacity not just to withstand stresses and shocks but also to prosper under a wide range of climate-influenced circumstances. Resilience in the long term is possible only if society acts quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, thus, avoids the worst impacts of climate change." The foundation views curbing and reacting to climate change as a moral issue related to how it will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people. The program is decidedly urban and focused on humans in its grantmaking. It’s been one of the more proactive philanthropic leaders when it comes to preparing for the inevitable threats climate change poses. 

While the previous guidelines reflected this with subprograms in energy efficiency and adapting to the effects of climate change, the revision meant to tighten up its intentions and fold it more closely within the foundation’s broader goals. 

As Program Manager Lois DeBacker described the program:

Climate change is a systemic problem that will impact built, natural, and social environments in unexpected and uncertain ways. Our aim is to help communities both reduce emissions so society can avoid the worst impacts of climate change and develop the capacity to prosper under a wide range of climate-influenced circumstances. 

The foundation has identified three prongs in the new program guidelines:   

  • Reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change
  • Plan for the changes that already are underway or anticipated
  • Foster social cohesion and inclusion   

And the revised program has prioritized two main strategies under which grantees will fall. The first is to fund place-based initiatives that can serve as models other cities can use. The second is to build the overall field of resilience to effects of climate changes. Another resounding mandate from Kresge is that efforts to address climate change must be inclusive, both in terms of being equitable, but also viewing individual local communities as assets that cities can learn from in making larger decisions.  Past grantees include a three-year, $3.2 million grant to the Institute for Market Transformation, a nonprofit that works on energy efficiency and green building. The funder also supports Architecture 2030, which enlists the building industry to improve its efficiency standards. 

Most grants range between $100,000 to $400,000; Kresge tends to spread its environment related grantmaking to organizations spread throughout the US. You can see a list of Kresge's previous environmental grants here.

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