There’s a renewable power source for driving climate action forward at your company: your employees. According to Kite Insights, 8 out of 10 employees are ready and willing to take action on climate change in their jobs, and 45 percent are ready to go even further and become pioneers of climate action within their teams and functions. And management appears to be listening: In its 2023 CxO Sustainability Report, Deloitte found more than half of C-suite executives said employee activism on climate had led their organizations to increase sustainability actions over the past year; 24 percent said it led to a "significant" increase.
As climate change becomes more of an unavoidable and disturbing part of their daily lives, employees are getting even more motivated to get involved at work. According to Drew Wilkinson, a remarkable leader who co-founded the employee sustainability community at Microsoft, "We’ve finally moved a critical mass of people from ‘why should we do anything about the climate crisis now?’ to ‘how do we do as much as we can as fast as possible and how do I uniquely contribute?’"
For many companies, employee engagement means individual actions: planting trees; recycling; even making green-friendly 401(k) investments. This is all valuable, of course, but these individual actions, even taken together, do not begin to address the scale and urgency of the climate crisis at this point in history. We are at a tipping point with limited time left to prevent almost unimaginable disasters, and must respond accordingly.
To achieve a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, as we must do to have any hope of meeting planet-saving benchmarks, we need the strongest federal, state and local public policy possible to drive change at the speed and scale required. It will take a plethora of policy advances across America to address all of the complex issues involved in the clean energy transformation. There is plenty for everyone to do — and employees can play a key role in turbocharging the action required to get us there!
Getting involved may be the best way for employees to address their climate anxiety — and for companies to power their own action forward.
While engaging in public policy on climate can feel like a stretch for many employees, a growing number are educating themselves and preparing to be internal advocates for bold climate policy, urging their influential companies to step up their lobbying efforts. Mary Dube, a senior executive at Hewlett-Packard, puts the learning process this way: "Often, we don’t start out as someone credibly representing a broader concern. There is a process and journey involved in being seen as an employee leader and understanding the key issues to be addressed to drive meaningful change."
Employees see that when companies weigh in on climate, it makes a crucial difference. In California, the future of the climate disclosure bill Senate Bill 253 in September looked very doubtful, until companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Salesforce used their clout in the final days to tip the scales in favor of passage. The new legislation set a national standard for climate reporting by companies, and may influence federal policy as well.
Also important: Employees at several companies raised the question internally of whether their company would support the California disclosure bill; we believe that helped some companies decide to speak up publicly. We saw a similar dynamic play out with the Build Back Better Act in 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022: After groups of employees asked (at town hall meetings or on internal chat channels) why their company had not (yet) supported the bill publicly, several corporations spoke up in support.
For employees who want to raise their voices (and their company’s voice) on climate policy, there are now some terrific resources out there. ClimateVoice’s new Climate Action at Work employee toolkit walks employees through four key steps:
1. Get the facts: Understand your company’s stance on climate.
2. Find your influence: Take advantage of your insider access to connect with colleagues who are key influencers and decision-makers (government affairs teams); map your connections and define the case for change.
3. Engage your co-workers: Host climate-advocacy events or start a working or employee resource group.
4. Advocate for action: Craft an effective action proposal, draft an advocacy letter, make the pitch and set goals on specific outcomes desired. Get clear on each next step and take each action one step at a time.
Getting involved may be the best way for employees to address their climate anxiety — and for companies to power their own action forward. At this critical juncture, it is key to remember that our individual actions do matter — yet we need large-scale systems and policy change in order to best tackle the climate crisis. Companies and their employees can lead this much-needed charge, calling for strong climate policy leadership and making public statements in support of local and federal climate policy solutions. Executives can also support employee engagement by sharing resources, listening to the growing list of employee concerns and ideas, and providing a safe and supportive space for climate action to truly flourish.