Can employees lead the charge on climate action?

If we’re to solve the climate crisis, we’ll need to deploy every trick in the book. We’ll also need to engage people where they live, work, invest and vote. It’s not one or the other: We’re now in an all-of-the-above world.

None of this is news to sustainability professionals. But what about our colleagues and co-workers? What roles can they play? How should we engage with and empower them?

A new guide from the nonprofit Project Drawdown aims to help.

Project Drawdown, you may recall, was formed out of the 2017 book “Drawdown,” which laid out and assessed the most impactful solutions to slow climate change and, eventually, reduce the concentration of climate-warming gases in the atmosphere. The organization it spawned — which unabashedly calls itself “the world’s leading resource for climate solutions” — has been developing a library of resources and initiatives to help identify and propagate ways to head off climate catastrophe.

Everyone’s job

One of its divisions, Drawdown Labs, produced the guide, released last week, titled “Climate Solutions at Work: Unleashing your employee power.” It aims “to help employees like you to apply your skills and expertise to the climate crisis while holding your company accountable for sweeping climate action.” This is no easy feat. Employee engagement on sustainability issues has been a challenge for companies ever since — well, for as long as there have been sustainability issues in business. Companies have struggled for years to engage their rank and file to, at minimum, be mindful of environmental and climate issues in their own roles and departments, as well as in their community volunteering and personal lives.

In this most all-encompassing challenge in human history, every job must be a climate job.

In a small but growing corps of corporations, encouraging employees to take action beyond their immediate sphere — in shopping, voting and investing, among other things — has become a way to attract and retain younger generations more concerned about and attuned to climate issues. And more recently, organizations such as ClimateVoice (I’m an unpaid adviser) are working to turn employees into activists, prodding their employers to back proactive climate legislation.

Climate Solutions at Work

“Climate Solutions at Work” begins with a straightforward premise: “Inside most companies, only a handful of people with ‘sustainability’ roles consider climate issues part of their workday. But in this most all-encompassing challenge in human history, every job must be a climate job.” Moreover, it notes: “Employees hold tremendous power — you and your colleagues are instrumental to how your company functions, innovates, and survives through uncertainty.”

As readers quickly learn, exercising that power is far from straightforward. For starters, more than a little science is involved, and Project Drawdown — an organization run and staffed by scientists — tries its best to make it accessible.

Science may be the easy part. The guide makes clear that engaging your company can require understanding a breathtaking array of topics related to a company’s climate policies and processes: goal setting, buying carbon offsets, counting supply-chain emissions, ensuring “climate competent” boards of directors, setting science-based targets, and engaging in sustainable finance, climate disclosure, even business model transformation. Not the stuff that your typical middle manager, line worker or sales rep likely understands, or probably wants to.

But for those with sufficient motivation, there’s lots of good stuff here. Take the section on carbon offsets, part of a larger chapter on emissions reductions. It lays out the role of offsets and the need to address historic emissions as well as current and future ones. Seasoned sustainability executives may find value here in the clear, concise explanations. Indeed, the entire report may serve as a valuable resource for those who engage with employees through trainings, seminars, workshops, volunteer days and the like.

I was also pleased to see Project Drawdown devote an entire chapter to “drawdown-aligned climate policy advocacy,” although it focused more on a company’s role — publicly advocating for progressive climate policies and aligning campaign contributions, lobbying dollars and association memberships — than the role of individual employees. I doubt most employees will have the knowledge, clout or temerity to convince their company’s government relations departments to take a more aggressive stance on climate policy. It would have helped to provide a bit more insight into how an individual employee can be influential in this regard.

Nonetheless, this free guide may be just what’s needed in these perilous times as companies try to step up employee engagement on climate change. True, “every job must be a climate job” these days, but it remains a formidable task for most firms — yet an essential one for those seeking to be seen as an employer of choice, let alone an attractive brand, investment and neighbor.

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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