Climate change is the defining issue of our time…
So say the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and 10,000 young people surveyed recently by Amnesty. Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, predicts that the death-toll resulting from the climate crisis “will be the equivalent of a coronavirus crisis every year” by mid-century. But he also describes creating a Net Zero global economy as ‘the greatest commercial opportunity of our time.” The Net Zero commitments made by governments, at the COP26 conference and elsewhere, are currently insufficient to limit global warning to below 1.5C by 2100. The reality might be much worse, with devastating consequences for potentially billions of people.
Faced with these weighty statements and stats, more and more businesses of all sizes and from all sectors are playing their part in tackling climate change. The global carbon disclosure organisation CDP recently released its ‘A List 2021’: 200 companies leading the way to a Net Zero future. There are some household names on the list, including Danone, HP, L’Oreal and Unilever.
But what does Employee Engagement have to do with Net Zero?
We already know that employee engagement can contribute to improved customer satisfaction, better workplace safety and better business performance. But can it also contribute to a different outcome – one that is vital for the planet, and for our flourishing on it?
Based on a review of academic research, and drawing on my own employee engagement experience, here are some simple first steps towards engaging your employees in the issues of climate change and Net Zero.
Some of you may work for companies that are just embarking on their Net Zero journey, whereas for others you are already ‘en route’.
If you are just embarking on your Net Zero journey, start here:
The language of climate change and Net Zero, with its acronyms, its reports and its science-based targets, can actually be disengaging to most people.
Despite this, it is highly likely that your employees are already thinking, or even worrying, about climate change (see recent research led by Bath University). They wonder what climate change means for them, their children or grandchildren. Will sea level rise affect their city, or their favourite holiday destination? Will severe weather patterns affect their houses or jobs?
So the first step on the Net Zero journey in your business is simply to start an open and honest conversation.
Here’s how you (or your leaders) can do this:
- Write an article or record a short video for your employees, sharing your thoughts about climate change, and why climate action is important to you. Don’t try to sound like an expert (unless you are an expert!). The more honest you are, the better – what you know and don’t know, and how you feel about the challenges ahead (Inspired to change? Excited? Anxious? Frustrated by lack of progress? Confused?…). Sharing your own personal reflections sets the tone.
- Set up discussion forums for employees to share their own thoughts. Introduce this with a short video: Sir David Attenborough’s speech at COP is an engaging, if sobering, summary of the challenges we face.
- Ask them to think about something or someone they truly value, enjoy or cherish. Then ask them to think about how climate change will impact this. The concept of climate change can feel distant and nebulous. This approach makes it personal. It energises the discussion and starts to build connection and shared momentum for change.
Making your first climate conversation about them rather than about your company gives you a better chance of bringing employees along with you on your company’s own Net Zero journey.
If your company is already en route on its Net Zero journey, start here:
A Net Zero company strategy means reviewing products, processes and supply chains looking for ways to make them more climate friendly. It most likely means re-calibrating short and long-term investment priorities. It can (should?) even prompt searching debate about the company’s core purpose and proposition.
It could therefore mean huge changes for your company.
You should involve your employees at every step.
Indeed, the journey will be smoother and quicker for you if you do. Research into organisational change is clear: when employees have a sense of personal ownership and shared responsibility, they are far more likely to support changes that affect them. Sadly though, as we know, many change programmes leave employees feeling ‘done to’ rather than ‘part of’. They are less motivated to act differently and can become resistant to the change.
So here’s how to ensure employee engagement is a pillar in your Net Zero strategy, rather than an afterthought.
- Plan a company conversation about climate change and Net Zero. No hidden agenda. It’s simply to get people talking. In the week before launching this conversation, create a buzz by sharing ‘nuggets’ of information about the reality and impact of climate change (via screensavers, posters, desk drops etc.). Two sources to get you started with this are earth.org, and the BBC.
- Meet with Heads of Departments to plan how to start Net Zero conversations with their teams. The aim here is to discuss how climate change affects their team’s work – whether they’re in finance, legal, production or HR. Ask the Heads to take the lead. Find out what resources or support they need. Create a shared goal – e.g. all employees to have been part of one Net Zero discussion in the next three months.
- Run a survey of employee attitudes towards climate change, asking for suggestions on what the company can do to respond. To encourage employees to participate in the survey, commit to making their feedback part of your Net Zero strategy.
There is no time to waste
We are at “code red for humanity”, according to the latest IPCC report. If climate change or Net Zero isn’t already on your engagement agenda for the next quarter, please put it there now. Join the climate conversation. It could be the most important one that you and your company will ever have.
A version of this article first appeared on https://www.netzero.work/blog/