From scorching summers to devastating floods, it’s become impossible to ignore the impact of climate change. As a result, there has never been more desire from and demand by people around the world for countries to adopt more sustainable agendas. Companies, too, are now forced to reckon with the part that they play in climate change and develop environmentally-focused strategies.
Conversations about climate change often occur within the workplace, and it’s imperative that co-workers have conversations within their teams about common climate challenges and what their organizations can do to lessen their climate impact. These conversations help companies establish more environmentally-friendly habits from the ground up, habits that will benefit both the companies and the planet.
Climate change may have once been easy to put to the back of our minds, but no longer. And yet, it still feels that many business leaders are unaware of the direct impact climate change will have on their companies.
In 2019, the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that productivity losses equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs will accrue by 2030 due to heat-related climate change. But that’s not the only concern. Many companies are woefully unprepared for the unpredictable impacts of climate change on supply chains, energy access, and, consequently, finance. Understanding what climate challenges mean to the future of your business can help prepare your company and your workforce for such changes.
Companies everywhere need to think more proactively about what they can do to decarbonize the way they conduct business. While decarbonization is a good thing, changes to business models and investing in sustainable measures to achieve this takes time and resources. Some employees may not be as responsive to systemic changes within their organizations—which is why conversations about the benefits of adopting sustainable practices are vital.
From an employee level, a 2021 report by IBM found that 71 percent of employees wanted to work for companies that are environmentally and socially responsible. This suggests that one of the main benefits of adopting more sustainable business practices is greater staff retention.
As a result of increased focus on environmental policies, we’re also noticing an uptick in the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
This is a broad, self-regulating model that serves as building blocks that businesses can use to know that they’re doing well by the planet and their employees. CSR aims to benefit all sectors within a business by creating an expansive framework and workable targets that demonstrate progress toward better ways of working.
To ensure the success of any CSR initiative, companies must achieve employee buy-in to the conceptual goals and practical objectives of the program. And one of the best ways to do this is to promote and foster employee conversations about what the company can do to achieve its sustainability goals. This will not only promote a culture of change, but it will also yield practical steps the company can take that might not otherwise come to the fore.
Discussing climate change among your team can be one of the most beneficial things that you do today. Peer-to-peer communication can be a lot more effective than one-way messaging from the top down. A recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that 23 percent of people heard other people talking about the climate crisis at least once a month.
One larger benefit here is that internal conversations can propagate externally, leading employees to discuss climate change with their families and friends, which increases the wider acceptance of a commitment to counteract global warming.
It’s important to approach climate change conversations in a way that mitigates panic or frustration among employees. Rather than harping on the worldwide environmental distress that climate change is causing, highlight the potential benefits of adjusting your company’s business model. Try adopting a solutions-based approach, with meetings that focus on specific, strategic initiatives. There’s no need to negate or belittle the company’s current business model. Instead, focus on developing practical solutions with concrete, achievable results.
Another key to a successful CSR is transparency. Being transparent about climate-friendly procedures can help companies develop, manage and amend their internal policies. Only when the company is fully open about its climate impact can it truly reap the rewards of setting about to neutralize that impact. Transparency helps an entire team develop a unified strategy for achieving meaningful changes.
Most important, the company needs to act. But the steps that a company takes to address climate change don’t have to be grand and sweeping. There are numerous ways that a company can start making its commitment to change visible, one small step at a time. For instance, something that might seem too insignificant to adopt like a monthly public transportation allowance for employees could get you on the right track. You can provide reusable dishware and utensils to replace disposable ones. You can also offer work-from-home options to reduce the size of the office and thus energy usage.
Of course, companies need to do much more than just offer visible, internal signs of its CSR commitment. Larger gestures are equally, if not more important, including carbon accounting. Carbon accounting requires that companies calculate the emissions they are responsible for across the entire business process, so that they can develop environmental goals necessary to improve their carbon footprint.
Other initiatives that businesses should establish include an environmental management system (EMS), which helps companies achieve their environmental goals through a system of continuous action, measurement, and improvement. Companies can also pursue ISO 14001 certification to ensure their efforts are real, quantifiable and effective. These efforts also improve a company’s credibility and commitment to real change in the eyes of employees, customers and investors alike.
One way to start raising your employees' awareness about sustainable development is through e-learning. The more they know about the effects the company has on the environment and what specific steps the company can take to mitigate those effects, the more they can contribute to implementing your CSR approach.
There is a growing amount of e-learning software on the market that is specifically geared toward helping employees understand CSR and the carbon footprint of their everyday working lives. Providing employees with tools such as mobile apps that track real-time energy data usage is an engaging way to connect your staff to the surrounding environment.
The good news is that company-wide efforts to address climate change are catching on. Currently, some nine out of 10 companies in the U.S., U.K. and Canada incorporate ESG (environmental, social and governance) into their business strategy.
Of course, there’s often a wide gap between what a company claims to be doing and what it is actually doing, and greenwashing is unfortunately all too common. To make sure that your company doesn’t fall prey to greenwashing, it’s important to create opportunities for company-wide engagement on the subject of climate change. Only by holding itself accountable can a company truly change.
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Image credit: Francesca Di Pasqua via Unsplash
Alexis Normand is CEO and Co-Founder of Greenly, a platform for carbon accounting and management helping 600+ companies on their climate journey. Before this, he co-founded Embleema, a Techstars company that offers a bioinformatics platform used by the FDA.