To chart a more sustainable future, look to your employees

If a company is serious about hitting their climate goals and achieving business success, they need to look to their people.

This post was originally published on the Climate Leadership Conference’s website.

Employees across the country are calling on their corporate leaders to change how they operate, particularly as it relates to climate. Recently, Silicon Valley has experienced the most such activism, with employees from tech giants Google and Amazon demanding more strategic and higher impact action to combat climate change.

From investors to customers, employees and media, stakeholders are watching closely how companies choose to respond to this collective action. Rather than pushing back – we saw from Amazon how threatening to terminate employees concerned with the company’s environmental policies only led to further action – companies should view their employees as a critical part of their roadmap to a more sustainable future and a more successful business. In fact, that’s exactly what sustainability vet Bill Weihl is hoping to do through his new and promising ClimateVoice initiative.

The race to meeting climate goals

Scott Wood, Director, Climate Corps

Corporate leaders are feeling heightened pressure to act fast on climate. But understanding their unique climate risk, setting measurable, transparent goals and then devising strategies for reaching them can be daunting. Nestle and Proctor & Gamble both publicly stated that they would fall short of their 2020 deforestation commitments.

To meet their climate goals, companies are re-envisioning business from every level. Sustainability is becoming increasingly embedded across operations, from procurement to finance, rather than confined to a single department or team. Today, employees work on sustainability efforts regardless of their title or department.

Former Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Williams-Sonoma, Inc., Danielle Jezienicki, said sustainability is part of every stage of the company’s supply chain, from design, to merchandising, sourcing, production and marketing.

But ensuring corporate commitments turn to action and impact requires a comprehensive sustainability strategy that not only engages key stakeholders from across the business but, importantly, factors sustainability into the hiring process – something too few companies are doing.

The power of people

Millennials represent the largest generation in the American workforce today, and they are hungry for the opportunity to contribute to climate and energy solutions. Data from over 6,000 Climate Corps applicants show that demand for climate related jobs has nearly doubled in the last five years. And, almost three quarters of millennials say they would take a pay cut to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda.

Companies can stand out as a desirable place to work by not only taking bold action on climate but by communicating how sustainability carries over into their broader talent frameworks and decision-making.

Sustainability may be core to a company’s strategy, but it also needs to be core to their culture in order to attract and retain this passionate talent. Individual employees want assurance that they can have a positive impact within the company, regardless of their title or department.

And along with the growing interest of employees to work for companies committed to climate action, they are increasingly knowledgeable about what real corporate climate leadership looks like today. Setting goals and improving operations remains important but, in light of the urgency of climate change, these inward-facing actions no longer cut it.

Critical to achieving the emissions reductions at the scale and speed required to limit the worst impacts of climate change is meaningful engagement in climate policy advocacy.

To get started, corporate leaders can follow the AAA Framework for Climate Policy Leadership: advocate for policies consistent with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050; align trade associations’ climate policy advocacy with the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050; and, allocate advocacy spending to advance climate policies, not obstruct them.

The three pillars of the AAA Framework for Climate Policy Leadership: Advocate, Align and Allocate.

If a company is serious about hitting their climate goals and achieving business success, then they need to look to their people. This will help to bring in talent with diverse skill sets and backgrounds who are passionate about taking climate action and who will reward the company by staying motivated to drive increased value for the business.

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