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It’s a climate crisis: What’s your company doing?

Climate|ESG and Sustainability
Climate and Resilience Hub|Climate Risk and Resilience

By Holly Teal | November 10, 2021

Businesses can harness the power of their employees to help reach their climate ambitions.

This week, the UN and world leaders convene at COP26, coordinating globally on how to keep our earth below the 1.5 C average temperature increase that will take us from being in a precarious situation to a dangerous one.

As these world leaders meet, I’ve been reflecting on my own personal role in climate change efforts. Years ago, I started to make 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 individual 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. 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 better understand racism, enhance our colleague experience and engage in our communities.

At Willis Towers Watson and companies across the U.S., diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) was suddenly a top priority, and companies were taking real and significant steps to advance racial equity and inclusion. 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 climate crisis our world is facing? Could we get them to care enough about this issue to make significant strides to be part of the solution?

Your employees care about the environment. Will you meet them where they are?

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, it’s just good business. In a competitive talent market, we know that many employees are seeking out organizations that have a purpose beyond improving the bottom line.

This isn’t all that surprising. In light of the pandemic and social justice movement, people are really taking stock of what’s important to them.

Studies show, 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. believe that it is important to their employees that an environmental-climate strategy is part of their value proposition, according to the Willis Towers Watson HR and Climate Survey. Results showed that almost all respondents agree that employees have a significant role to play in the delivery of 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 company’s 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.

Tangible ways to engage employees and reach your climate ambitions

Leaders can create a culture where employees are a critical part of 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 a change management and employee engagement campaign 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 benefit package to encourage and enable employees to minimize and offset their own 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 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, be sure to 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 C or less. Scientists have been sending warnings about this for decades, but society as a whole hasn’t been listening.

People want action from their governments and companies. It’s now up to employers to inspire action inside the workforce and in communities, just as many employers did during the social justice movement.

Employers have a unique opportunity to harness the power of their employee base to not only achieve their climate objectives but stand out as a leader in this fight against climate change.

Author

Senior Director, Client Management

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