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How organizations can harness employee power for climate goals

By Holly Teal | October 17, 2022

Leaders can create a culture where employees play a critical role in addressing climate change.
Climate|ESG and Sustainability|Employee Experience
ESG In Sight

I’ve been reflecting on my role in climate change efforts. Years ago, I started making lifestyle changes to reduce my carbon footprint – trading my gas car for an electric one, buying sustainable brands and minimizing plastic and waste. But I realized how small and insignificant my efforts were and felt helpless to make an impact.

Then in the summer of 2020, I saw a social justice movement in the U.S. in the form of Black Lives Matter that galvanized not just activists but also average U.S. citizens. I leaned into opportunities at work to learn more about the experiences of my Black colleagues and formed a team to activate allies to understand racism better, enhance our colleague experience and engage in our communities.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at companies across the U.S. was a sudden top priority, and companies were taking real and significant steps to advance racial equity. Employees and stakeholders were demanding action and companies were responding.

Inspired by the response, I began to appreciate the influence employees yield when energized and engaged, and I recognized another opportunity: Could we, as employees (and citizens), also get organizations to pay attention to the world’s climate crisis? Could we get them to care enough to make strides to be part of the solution?

Talent attraction through purpose

Businesses can harness the power of their employees to solve the enormous challenges they face from climate change. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also just good business. In a competitive talent market, we know that many employees seek organizations with a purpose beyond improving the bottom line. In light of the pandemic and social justice movement, people are taking stock of what’s important to them.

Studies show that employees want to work for an organization that resolves to be part of the solution for a better tomorrow:

  • 81% of employers in the U.S. and 97% of employers in the U.K. say it matters to their employees that an environmental climate strategy is part of their value proposition, according to the WTW HR and Climate Survey. Results showed that almost all respondents agree that employees have a significant role in delivering a climate strategy.
  • More than 60% of workers want their employers to take action on social and environmental issues like climate change, equality and poverty, according to a 2021 study by Atlassian. Additionally, the study showed that half of the workers surveyed in the U.S. said they would quit their jobs if their companies’ values did not align with their own.
  • Nine in 10 workers said they would choose to earn less money to do more meaningful work, according to a Harvard Business Review study.

Engage employees and reach climate aspirations

Leaders can create a culture where employees are critical to the solution. In doing so, employees will find meaning, purpose and connection in their work.

  • Start by listening to your employees. Find out what’s important to them and ask how leadership is doing in terms of protecting the environment and addressing climate change. Measure their level of awareness.
  • Build change management and employee engagement campaigns to increase awareness.
  • Create forums and networks for people to come together to learn and share ideas. Encourage people to apply their unique passions and skills toward this immense challenge.
  • Develop performance metrics and incentives to drive meaningful action.
  • Revamp your benefits package to encourage and enable employees to minimize and offset their carbon footprints. Consider offering clean commute and live-near-your-work cash incentives, and providing subsidies for energy efficient homes and locally sourced food. Add an environmentally friendly fund option to your retirement plan.
  • Encourage employee giving and volunteering to help those impacted by climate change. Do this not just for the communities where people live and work but also for the most vulnerable communities that bear the brunt of climate change and contribute the least to the crisis. Offer paid volunteer time off, payroll giving and donation matching.

Whatever programs you offer, communicate broadly and make participation easy. Above all, be authentic and transparent. Share your carbon footprint, your goals and your progress.

Don’t wait!

The reality is that the world is nowhere near achieving the UN targets of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less. Scientists have been sending warnings about the challenge for decades, but society hasn’t listened.

People want action from their governments and companies. So it’s up to employers to inspire action inside the workforce and communities, as many employers did during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Employers have a unique opportunity to harness the power of their employee base to achieve their climate objectives and stand out as a leader in this fight against climate change.

Author

North America Leader, Climate Practice Leader – WTW

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