The upcoming Global Climate Strike has provided employee activists at big U.S. tech companies with a powerful opportunity to speak out on climate change. Few leading employers, though, have publicly voiced their support. Nevertheless, an important development occurred last week, when the nonprofit organization Common Dreams announced that more than 1,000 websites and companies have joined an online or “digital” version of the Global Climate Strike, to take place on September 20.
The Global Climate Strike is a weeklong series of walkout protests and other street actions, beginning on September 20, organized through the #FridaysforFuture movement to coincide with the United Nations Climate Week activities in New York City.
As of this writing, the movement has attracted more than 2,500 participating events globally, with 500 taking place in the U.S. alone.
Until last week, though, corporate participation has been minimal.
A group of employees at Amazon did recently catch the media eye by publicly pledging to join the Global Climate Strike, but that pledge does not represent official company policy.
Otherwise, at first, the list of well-known U.S. employers publicly supporting the Global Climate Strike could be counted on one hand: Lush, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s and Burton Snowboards. A few other companies have since joined, but in the grand scheme of things, they are outliers in the U.S. business community.
In addition to digitally promoting the Global Climate Strike on their websites, these companies are also planning to shut down or suspend business, with the aim of encouraging employees and customers to physically join a walkout protest in their area.
One notable exception to the tech sector’s silence is occurring not in the U. S. but in Australia, home base for the software firm Atlassian. On September 2, Atlassian publicly announced that employees could use paid time off from their annual allotment of volunteer work with the Atlassian Foundation to participate physically in a Global Climate Strike activity.
Treating participation in a street protest as paid volunteer work may seem like an idea that dropped in out of nowhere, but it does derive from a broader evolution in the concept of corporate charity.
Rather than following the traditional gift-giving model, corporate charity has begun to embrace collaborative, boots-on-the-ground efforts that apply corporate resources to social progress and economic sustainability.
In addition to encouraging Global Climate Strike participation within the company’s workforce, Atlassian is also publicly sharing its messaging and graphics related to this walkout with anyone who wants to participate.
Atlassian’s proactive approach is a sharp contrast with the corporate silence on the part of leading U.S. tech firms.
Nevertheless, some tech companies have been inspired to act, at least on the digital level.
According to another press release from Common Dreams dated September 12, the 1,000+ participants in the Digital Climate Strike have been organized through the nonprofit organization Fight for the Future.
Websites joining the campaign are featuring banners and advertisements promoting the Global Climate Strike, and they are replacing their landing page with a closable overlay (and using social media messages like the one shown above) encouraging the public to join.
The campaign is encouraging site owners to keep the overlay up all day on September 20 and shut down for business. Those choosing not to shut down for the day can continue to use the closable overlay.
That impressed-looking figure of “1,000” caught the media eye, but there may be a bit less to the campaign than meets the eye, at least so far. As of September 12, the campaign website only listed a handful of familiar names as leading participants: Tumblr, Kickstarter, WordPress, Imgur and BitTorrent.
Whether or not other leading tech companies join the Climate Strike, the Fight for the Future campaign marks an important step forward for corporate activism.
The nonprofit was founded in 2011, in the run up to internet-related legislation under consideration by Congress.
The so-named SOPA and PIPA bills pertained directly to the operation of internet companies and related tech firms, which responded with a massive online protest in 2012. More than 115,000 companies participated.
Though the Digital Climate Strike has attracted far fewer participants at this point, it marks an important next step because it focuses on climate change, an issue that a first glance, does not seem to directly affect the operation of internet and tech sector companies.
However, climate change does have an impact on every business at least indirectly, and these risks ripple out to impact millions of tech users, customers and clients.
Bridget Kyeremateng, head of Tumblr’s social impact efforts, articulated that sentiment in a public statement for Common Dreams, explaining that “Tumblr’s passionate and driven community is always eager to find ways that they can get involved in their communities and the Climate Strike is a great opportunity to take issues off the platform and onto the streets.”
The firms that have joined the Digital Climate Strike may also be responding to the recent wave of employee activism. Whether by engaging in behind-the scenes protests, lobbying their company through letters and petitions, or taking their concerns to the mainstream media by participating in street actions, employees are speaking out on climate change, federal immigration policies, and other matters of fundamental social concern.
Companies are beginning to recognize the need to address employees’ social concerns as a bottom line issue, especially as it relates to losing out in the global race to attract top talent.
As far as the Global Climate Strike goes, it looks like the majority of leading U.S. tech companies still have some ‘splaining to do.
Editor's note: We’re in a brave new world of corporate activism, where CEOs are increasingly speaking out and, well, we can see that employees are making their feelings known loud and clear. So, what’s next?
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Image credits: Global Climate Strike
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.