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Tina Casey headshot

Global Climate Strike Moves the Needle on Employee Activism

By Tina Casey
Global Climate Strike

Public enthusiasm for the Global Climate Strike was practically a given, but U.S. corporations were slow to catch on at first. In recent days, hundreds of businesses have publicly promoted the event and taken steps to encourage their employees, customers and clients to participate. Meanwhile, as of press time, the crowds worldwide, from Berlin to Sydney (shown above), have been huge.

Now, the real question is: What happens after September 20?

The Global Climate Strike gathers steam

As of last week, only a handful of progressive companies—like Lush, Ben & Jerry’s, Nature’s Path, Patagonia, Seventh Generation and Burton Snowboards—were publicly supporting the Global Climate Strike, most of them through the climate action organization 350.org. Last week, hundreds more also signed on to a new Digital Climate Strike, deploying their websites to help ramp up public awareness.

That trickle turned into a tsunami practically overnight. Earlier this week, the American Sustainable Business Council, representing 250,000 businesses, announced its support for 350.org and the Global Climate Strike on September 20, as well as a cap-off event on September 27.

More than 300 companies have now signed onto the 350.org statement in support of the Global Climate Strike, and thousands of websites have joined the digital strike.

Tech giants climb on board the Global Climate Strike train, kind of

Though the list of businesses publicly participating in the Global Climate Strike has grown, so far, the focus is mainly on smaller companies with long established track records in corporate social responsibility.

Noticeably silent are the U.S. tech giants. However, there is some indication that the grassroots movement is gathering steam. The newly formed Tech Workers Coalition, for example, lists worker groups publicly joining the Global Climate Strike at Amazon, Atlassian, Cobot, Ecosia, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Square and Twitter.

Among those companies, Australia-based Atlassian is notable because the company itself is also actively promoting the day of action.

Amazon and climate action

Amazon is also noteworthy, though for another reason. Workers at the company have spent several years circulating petitions and lobbying the company to ramp up its climate initiatives, to little avail.

Earlier this month, hundreds of workers took their efforts to the next level by publicly pledging to join the Global Climate Strike as Amazon employees.

Coincidentally or not, on September 20—hours away from the beginning of the strike—Amazon announced that it was pairing with the firm Global Optimism to launch a new climate initiative aimed at meeting the Paris Agreement goal 10 years early.

Through its so-called “Climate Pledge,” Amazon has committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and net-zero carbon by 2040. To kick off the activity, Amazon has ordered 100,000 all-electric delivery vehicles, invested $100 million in reforestation projects, and launched a new sustainability reporting website.

Still, Amazon has some unfinished sustainability planning, as the company faces pressure from employees to address issues like immigration policy and worker rights.

Nevertheless, the new Climate Pledge demonstrates that the company has been paying attention to its employees. That’s an important step for companies that seek to attract the best and brightest in the up-and-coming generation of workers, in addition to retaining top talent.

Microsoft dips a toe in Global Climate Strike—not

Microsoft, unfortunately, took a more tone-deaf approach. Last week, Microsoft president Brad Smith exhorted attendees at a Thomson Reuters event in New York City to “know what you stand for” and “connect the courage of your convictions” with a focus on the bottom line.

Microsoft workers have taken that message to heart. As reported by Gizmodo earlier this week, shortly after Amazon workers announced their intentions to join the Global Climate Strike, workers at Microsoft followed suit through their group, Microsoft Workers 4 Good.

Nevertheless, on September 17, following on the heels of Smith’s speech and just days before the strike, Microsoft announced that it was pairing with two giants of the global fossil fuel industry, Chevron and Schlumberger, to accelerate oil and gas extraction through a “digital transformation” of the industry.

The news prompted a gloves-off response from Microsoft Workers 4 Good, which drew attention to their company’s recent contracts with two other titans of the industry, Equinor and ExxonMobil, as well as its participation in a global oil and gas conference under the theme of “Empowering Oil and Gas with AI [artificial intelligence].”

In their response, the Microsoft group hammered on the emerging issue of employee complicity in the fossil fuel industry, and in other aspects of social responsibility.

Unless Microsoft and companies like it turn the wheel around, the next generation of innovators, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs will find work that makes them contributors to progress, not enablers of business-as-usual.

Image credit: Marcus Coblyn/Wiki Commons

Tina Casey headshot

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.

Read more stories by Tina Casey