How Employees Can Push for Climate Action in the Workplace
Six strategies to use your power and make a difference.
By Kelley Fairman
February 27, 2023
We recently wrote about how employers can respond to historically high turnover rates and employee demands for ambitious climate strategy by aligning their people and planet policies. Integrating climate into teleworking arrangements, health benefits, well-being programs and stipends, sustainable retirement funds, and charitable giving are opportunities for employers to green their benefits offerings.
But it’s not just the executive suite and HR departments that need to take action. In the age of “climate quitters,” employees have more leverage than ever before to push their companies to act — authentically — on climate.
No matter your tenure or position, read on for six strategies to advocate for climate action at your workplace and integrate sustainability into your role.
#1: Leverage the hiring process
Interviewers will often ask a job candidate about what they value in an organization, and this is your chance to highlight that climate action is an important factor in your job search. Ask probing questions about the company’s overall climate efforts and inquire about how environmental stewardship is directly connected to your day-to-day role. Try tying these questions to the mission of the organization.
Example: “Your mission of building a smarter future through advanced artificial intelligence really resonates with me. I believe that addressing climate change is a critical part of that smart and better future. Can you tell me more about the company’s climate efforts, both overall and specific to my role?”
The period between job offer and acceptance is the phase of an interview process when the candidate generally has the most leverage to make their voice heard and influence change. Communicate your concerns with the organization’s climate strategy when discussing the offer package with the hiring manager, even if it doesn’t ultimately drive your decision of whether or not to take the job. The cost of hiring new employees is steep, so recruiters and hiring managers have an incentive to close the deal on strong candidates and take your concerns seriously. By providing your feedback during the interview process, talent teams will connect the dots between climate action and attraction and retention and raise this issue within the organization.
#2: Inquire about green benefits
When reviewing your benefits package during the job offer process or preparing for annual open enrollment as a regular employee, review your benefits for climate-friendliness. Your company’s benefits team wants to hear about what is important to you (it’s their job), so don’t hesitate to communicate climate gaps in your company’s benefits program.
#3: Use your voice
Organizations often deploy employee engagement surveys to measure employee satisfaction, connection, and motivation. Instead of ignoring those pesky email reminders, use this forum to provide honest feedback and thoughtful recommendations for your company’s climate efforts. When possible, tie your responses to employee productivity and motivation and include how a suggested change would further your company’s mission.
Beyond surveys, company all-hands, Q&As with the management team, social events, and team meetings are chances to make your voice heard.
#4: Elevate your environmental employee resource group
Environmental employee resource groups (ERGs) are affinity groups that bring together like-minded colleagues to spur bottom-up environmental action. Researchers that analyzed environmental ERGs found that these groups can successfully increase awareness of and advocacy for sustainable initiatives and facilitate internal and community engagement.
#5: Integrate sustainability into your role
You don’t have to work in a sustainability-focused position to integrate climate change efforts into your day-to-day. Have repeated, in-depth conversations with your manager, colleagues, and direct reports to set sustainability goals. Codify these goals as KPIs that become part of the performance review process. Track progress and share accomplishments and challenges broadly and regularly.
One straightforward metric is business travel, which is a massive source of costs and carbon emissions for companies and negatively impacts employee health and well-being. Review your business travel schedule with your team to determine if the trips are necessary and eliminate those that aren’t. Since business travel is included in Scope 3 emissions, auditing your business travel for necessity can help your employer achieve their emissions reduction goals.
Research how climate action can be integrated into your specific role and confer with your industry contacts to brainstorm ideas. For example, finance professionals can evaluate the climate impact of company investments and determine if your organization’s banking partners are funding fossil fuels. Operations managers can mitigate waste and implement energy efficiency measures in production processes. Educators can teach curriculum through a sustainable lens.
There are a growing number of players working to help companies identify and scale sustainability initiatives across job functions. Ask your management team for resources to help green your team (and be sure to emphasize the financial and reputational advantages of meaningful climate action).
#6: Advocate for climate targets
The strategies described above should be combined with organizational-level initiatives to maximize climate impact.
Here are two resources to get started:
- The Environmental Defense Fund’s Guide to Activate Your Employer on Climate Change outlines steps you can take to spark change on the company level.
- The United Nations Environment Programme provides several ways you can use your voice at work (and beyond) to advocate for climate action, including encouraging your organization to establish a net-zero strategy, join the peat-free pledge, and set science-based targets.
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