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Two Steps Forward

How Deloitte is schooling its global workforce on climate action

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What does it take for a company concerned about climate change to educate, engage and empower hundreds of thousands of employees around the world? The global consultancy Deloitte is about to find out. This month, it launched an initiative to educate all of its 330,000 employees on the topic.

Three hundred thirty thousand employees. Full stop.

The goal, the company said, is to "inform, challenge and inspire Deloitte people to learn about the impacts of climate change and empower them to confidently navigate their contribution to addressing climate change by making responsible choices at home and at work, and in advising our clients."

It seemed bold, audacious and, of course, admirable, so I thought I’d look into it. I wanted to understand more about the program: who created it, what it covers, how it’s being deployed and what Deloitte hopes will happen as a result.

I said, ‘We need to elevate this the same way we have ethics and independence at Deloitte.’

Deloitte is hardly the only company stepping up its efforts to engage employees around sustainability and climate issues. Employee education about these topics is a growing part of corporate training and engagement programs. In the past, most such initiatives were relegated to the third week of April each year, surrounding Earth Day. Increasingly, they are being folded into companies’ year-round efforts to attract and retain talent.

A few current examples:

  • Steelcase, the office furniture company, produced a brief, animated whiteboard video, narrated by its CEO, Jim Keane, focused on its recently announced carbon-reduction strategy.
  • Flooring company HMTX Industries collaborated with the International Living Future Institute to conduct a three-part webinar series for its employees.
  • Facebook has engaged 5,000 or so global employees through such things as employee-led green teams, sustainability product hackathons and promoting external climate education programs, including Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps training.
  • The commercial real estate services firm JLL produced a four-part video series on sustainability in commercial real estate, plus function-specific modules for various company roles.
  • HSBC offers an in-house "university" with more than 15 courses on climate change, ESG and energy transition topics.
  • Genentech hosts a climate action website on its intranet, along with a growing library of toolkits designed for individual functions.

But no other company has, to my knowledge, set out to educate a third of a million employees around the world about climate change.

The module grew out of Deloitte’s WorldClimate initiative, launched last fall to promote the company’s net-zero-by-2030 commitment and to empower Deloitte employees "to become advocates of proactive climate action," according to a company statement. It began when Kathryn Alsegaf, who leads Deloitte’s internal sustainability team, took the idea to the firm’s World Impact Council, chaired by its global CEO, Punit Renjen.

"I said, ‘We need to elevate this the same way we have ethics and independence at Deloitte,’" she told me. The council agreed.

45 minutes

The resulting program, developed with support from WWF and being rolled out over the next six months, consists of a digital learning module featuring videos, interactive data visualizations and testimonials from Deloitte employees already taking climate action. It is complemented with "a dynamic global learning platform of comprehensive climate content in a variety of mediums to increase climate literacy."

Deloitte climate course

Screenshots from the Deloitte course's climate literacy section. Courtesy Deloitte.

The module has four components, according to a company presentation:

  • Part 1 tees up climate change as the defining issue of our time and the need to take action now.
  • Part 2 speaks to how we can respond to the urgency required together, as a collective.
  • Part 3 focuses on the role we all must play and how we are uniquely positioned to create a new future.
  • Part 4 ends with a commitment to take shared responsibility and act to protect our planet, our home.

At the end, employees are encouraged to make commitments and can choose to receive a follow-up email reminder. "I wanted people to walk away feeling like they could be agents of change," Alsegaf said. The whole program, which is available in eight languages, takes about 45 minutes.

Forty-five minutes? I wondered how much can be conveyed on this complex and critical topic, including both problems and solutions, in less than the time it typically takes to, say, cook dinner — and possibly eat it, too.

"We put it in the context of other learnings we do, like independence or ethics, that tend to be half an hour or hour-long chunks," explained Alsegaf. In fact, she said, the program was originally intended to be just 30 minutes, but there was enough content to extend it. "And if they click on every option on every page, it might take them 60 minutes."

"It's a start," acknowledged Sarah Glass, vice president for private sector engagement at WWF, who led her organization’s support of Deloitte’s course. She pointed to the fact that the training module offers optional educational information "so employees can go deeper, and that information is structured in a way that's relevant to their work."

Glass and her team were brought in early to help ensure that the content of the module was scientifically sound. It tapped experts from across WWF’s various programs — climate, food and ag, plastic waste and others — to provide content and review the training.

It's creative, it's dynamic, it's interactive, it's memorable. It sticks with you.

"There are several things that Deloitte did with this training that I really liked," said Glass, who spent five years at Accenture and another five in international development before landing at WWF in 2019. First and foremost, she said, it is "incredibly compelling."

"It's creative, it's dynamic, it's interactive, it's memorable. It sticks with you. So, while there certainly needs to be more than 45 minutes, to me, it's the right place to start."

Like many successful sustainability programs, this one set out to combine head and heart. "We know there's the rational side of all these arguments, but there's also an emotional side," said Alsegaf. For example, the module features a poem performed by Jael Benjamin, one of the firm’s senior consultants who on the side is an accomplished spoken-word artist. There’s also a strong visual component, with bold graphics and type fonts.

One and done?

One risk of such self-directed e-learning programs like this, even when mandated by employers, is that they can become a check-the-box activity for many employees, an obligatory, one-and-done chore they must endure.

But that’s old thinking in a world where today’s employees, and tomorrow’s, are demanding that companies step up to the tough realities of the moment. At Deloitte, for example, 80 percent of its global workforce are millennials or Gen Z, two cohorts that seem ready, willing and able to vote with their feet when it comes to the companies for which they toil.

WWF’s Glass believes that Deloitte’s efforts on these topics will endure past the time it takes for an employee to go through the course.

"One of the things I liked most is the way that they pulled through staff and leaders who are integrating their work on climate change into their business. They identified those people as contacts and resources in a number of different pillars of their business. And so the training really shows, ‘Here's how this integrates — it's not a standalone thing. And there are actual people who are doing this work, and you can tap into the wealth of resources that are additional beyond the training to integrate it into your work.’"

Still, as Glass noted, Deloitte’s climate education module, however ambitious, has room to grow. "We want to see Deloitte and their staff continuing on this journey. I believe we're going to need new and additional commitments that take on climate and nature in a way that identifies how interdependent they are. We're going to need to continue to see from Deloitte and from all of our corporate partners continued increased ambition, not just to meet their existing commitments, but to make additional ones."

Meanwhile, Kathryn Alsegaf is optimistic, given the enthusiastic response so far. "I've been surprised, both by the number of companies that reached out and the emails I'm getting from people who have additional ideas, or asking, ‘Can I share this with my family?’ So that's been exciting."

One small victory: Alsegaf is part of a team that reports to Deloitte’s global deputy CEO, Michele Parmelee. She "took the training and is now committed to composting."

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz, from which this was reprinted, and listen to GreenBiz 350, my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy.

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