December 9, 2022

To lead on climate action, engage your employees—all of them

by Aiyana Bodi

Insights_engage_employees.jpg

Employee climate action
StartupStockPhotos | Pixabay

We are reaching an important juncture within the corporate climate landscape. In a recent Deloitte survey of over 2,000 C-suite executives, 97 percent said “their companies have already been negatively impacted by climate change,” yet only 19 percent of these companies were identified as “leaders” in sustainability.

At the same time, climate change solutions are proving to be beneficial to business: Companies that take climate action seriously see more revenue per employee compared to the average—and those that don’t, see below average revenues.

Climate change is becoming increasingly top of mind for companies, but—despite the clear business value of being a sustainability leader—only a small portion of them are taking the necessary actions. 

To remedy the disconnect between concern and action, we must redefine the standard for corporate climate leadership while also broadening who is involved in helping reach this standard. Companies have enormous social, political, and financial leverage—and the obligation to use it. Last year, Drawdown Labs—Project Drawdown’s private sector testing ground for going beyond “net zero”—introduced a new framework for corporate sustainability, showing that businesses, through things like policy advocacy and reevaluating financial relationships, can positively impact climate beyond reducing their own direct emissions. 

The key to reaching this elevated standard for climate action starts with expansive engagement of employees. Employees represent a range of skills and knowledge that can scale solutions in the workplace and beyond. To deploy solutions that match the magnitude of the climate crisis, we will need everyone—and in the corporate context, this means sustainability can no longer be the purview of leadership or sustainability teams only. Every job needs to become a climate job

Drawdown Labs recently published seven Job Function Action Guides focused on common corporate job functions to help leadership and employees implement solutions across the board. By understanding how ubiquitous corporate teams have opportunities at their fingertips to implement climate solutions into their responsibilities, decision-makers can spread climate action throughout their organizations for more effective, meaningful, and long-term impact. 

Below we overview three powerful actions your finance, human resources, government relations, legal, marketing, procurement, and sales teams can take. Visit the Job Function Action Guides web page for many more actions and further information.

FINANCE

  • Banking
    Direct decision-makers toward banks that are: minimally financing the fossil fuel industry and deforestation; shifting their financing to climate solutions; committing to aggressive anti-fossil fuel policies; and calculating their financed emissions.
  • Insurance
    Inform insurance brokers that the company wants to consider not only policies and pricing during each insurance renewal, but also the sustainability of insurance carriers.
  • Employee retirement benefits
    Team up with the human resources and operations team to evaluate whether retirement plans, 401(k)s, and other portfolios are invested in fossil fuels—and if they are, working to shift the default retirement option to a climate-safe one.

GOVERNMENT RELATIONS AND PUBLIC POLICY

  • Policy and regulation
    Increase transparency about how the company spends political contributions and lobbying dollars, and allocate more dollars to lobbying in support of climate policy.
  • Public support
    Work with the marketing and communications teams to develop effective communications strategies and campaigns to publicly support climate legislation.
  • Trade associations
    Assess the trade associations the company belongs to and encourage these associations to lobby in support of climate action.

HUMAN RESOURCES AND OPERATIONS

  • Benefits
    Offer employees financial support for their own individual climate action, such as renewable energy purchasing and low-carbon transportation. 
  • Recruitment and professional development
    Integrate climate and sustainability requirements and metrics into job descriptions, objectives and key results, and performance reviews and bonuses.
  • Workplace culture
    Foster a work culture where employees feel comfortable and are able to bring up climate concerns, creating consistent pathways and forums for employees to provide feedback to leadership.

LEGAL

  • Governance
    Work with the board’s compensation committee to tie C-suite compensation to achievement of the company’s climate targets. 
  • Work with external counsel
    Work with law firms that are committed to offering their clients services that “align and facilitate client decarbonization” and do not work with fossil fuel or other extractive industries. (Take note of the best and worst actors.)
  • Legal agreements
    Adopt contractual language that requires taking into consideration climate risks and impacts. 

MARKETING

  • Internal communication
    Normalize the climate conversation. By crafting a new narrative within your own company and team, you can more easily do the same for your customers and clients.
  • Customers
    Find creative ways to nudge consumers to take their own climate action.
  • Campaigns
    Choose creative agencies that have robust climate initiatives, and ask all agencies what they’re doing on sustainability and climate.

PROCUREMENT

  • Suppliers
    Work with the operations team to develop company policies that give preference to sustainable suppliers and require suppliers to adopt science-based emissions reduction targets—and create penalties for noncompliance. (See and use as a template Salesforce’s supplier agreement). 
  • Data
    Invest in systems to gather, store, and utilize data on customer use to develop more sustainable products and processes.
  • Design
    If your company has its own name brand products, collaborate with designers to develop products with low-carbon materials that are optimized for circularity (repairable, upcyclable, and recyclable).

SALES AND OTHER CLIENT-FACING ROLES

  • Managing sales
    Institute incentives based on sustainability targets (for example, providing bonuses if a salesperson sells to a certain number of companies with science-based climate targets).
  • Pricing and fees
    Work with the sustainability and finance teams to integrate the cost of carbon into your products and services (a ‘carbon fee’), and reinvest that cost into emissions reduction and sequestration.
  • Engaging customers and clients
    If your company serves clients: serve more clients that work in climate advocacy (consider doing some pro bono work), and encourage clients to consider climate implications as they make their own business decisions.

Once you look beyond traditional leadership and sustainability roles, you will see limitless opportunities for tangible climate action throughout your business. To learn more about how every employee can help your company become a climate leader, see Drawdown Labs. 

More Insights

Profile  |  January 24, 2023
Drawdown Science team member Yusuf Jameel
Drawdown Science Profile: Yusuf Jameel
This article is the third in a series introducing the members of Project Drawdown’s new science team. Yusuf Jameel joined Project Drawdown in 2021 as a research manager for Drawdown Lift. In January 2023 he transitioned to the Drawdown Science team as associate scientist, data science. A multidisciplinary scientist with experience in water resources, public health, data analytics, and science communication, he’s passionate about finding solutions to climate change and bridging the gap between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Yusuf obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Utah. Please welcome Yusuf as he shares his thoughts on growing up on the banks of the Ganges River, enhancing human well-being through the adoption of climate solutions, porcupine hair, and more. Q: When people ask you what you do with Project Drawdown, what do you tell them?  A. As a member of the science team, I work on climate solutions using my experience in data analysis, especially on solutions that also address the food–energy–water nexus. I also work on translating the science in a way that makes it widely accessible.  Q: Of all of the things you could be doing, why did you choose to join Project Drawdown?   A: Project Drawdown is on a mission to actually address the biggest problem the world is facing today, climate change. I was really impressed by the book. It was the first to lay out that yes, we can address climate change—it's not just about gloom and doom, it’s also about opportunity. Project Drawdown addresses climate in a way that’s multidimensional, promotes the best science, addresses the different audiences, and passes the mic. That really motivates me. Q: What do you consider some of the biggest obstacles to implementing and scaling up climate solutions?  A: First is unlocking the finance to fund climate solutions globally. We need capital from the private sector, from banks divesting from fossil fuels, and we need to invest in green solutions. Another challenge is politics. We need to think more altruistically. This is a global challenge requiring everyone to join hands, yet it has not been the case so far. The good news is, public perception is changing. Hopefully politics will change, and more capital will be funneled into climate solutions. Q: OK, time for a break. What’s your favorite food? A: I would go with my comfort food, and that’s biryani. It’s a big tradition in South Asian countries, and if you ask anyone in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, biryani is probably one of the top dishes. It’s not the healthiest dish, but it’s just so comforting.  Q: I’m sure you have many, but can you tell us about one superpower you bring to this job? A: I’m a jack of all trades. Whether it’s high-level thinking, brainstorming ideas, or actually doing the work, I’m comfortable doing it all. I’m also adaptable. If a situation requires me to step up and take the lead I can, or I can step back and follow.  Q: What's a childhood experience that relates to the work you're doing today?  A: I grew up on the banks of the River Ganges. Every now and then there would be flooding. As a result, many people would go through an annual cycle of losing crops and be entrenched in a cycle of poverty, unable to get out. This had a profound effect on me. When I started reading about climate change and seeing flooding events become more and more intense, I recognized the need to address climate and development holistically.  Q: What’s your favorite Drawdown Solution?  A: There are so many of them! I really like Distributed Solar Photovoltaics and Reduced Food Waste, but my favorite is Clean Cooking. I think that solution can revolutionize the lives of billions of people in the world, especially young girls. It not only addresses climate but also vastly improves health, addresses gender equality, and opens up economic opportunities. If we can implement clean cooking and distributed solar, we’ll see huge changes in the lives of billions of people globally.  Q: Time for another break. If you were a nonhuman animal, what animal would you be?  A: As a kid I had short hair that was like vertical hair, as if I had had an electric shock. So many of my friends called me Porcupine. People  would rub my hair all the time as it felt like velvet. Now I keep my hair long.  Q: What gives you hope?  A: I derive my hope from two things. First, we’re rapidly advancing technology—a lot of people from across the world are putting their effort into finding and implementing the best and most important solutions to address climate change. Second,  when I was at COP27, I saw that young people are really leading the movement. That gives me hope that we can do meaningful work on this very important but challenging issue. Q: Anything else you’d like to share?  A: I like nature. I especially like mountains. This is something I realized very late in life, maybe because I grew up in cities with very little nature around. When I moved to Utah, I started going to the mountains. I realized how peaceful and how nice it is, and I can’t not talk about it.  As human societies are getting more urbanized,  a lot of us, especially young people who live in large metropolises, are cut off from nature. And I hope they reconnect with nature. We need to appreciate nature and biodiversity much more than we do. Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back. We need to love it, respect it, and protect it.
Read more