Talking about climate action at work is the first step to taking climate action at work. You don’t need to be an expert in all things climate to bring things up, just the confidence to make the first move. But the more we talk about it, and the more colleagues we get on board, the louder our voices – and the more likely our managers and CEOs are to take notice and take action.
Lisa Whiston, recruitment and training coordinator at Climate for Change, an incorporated organisation and registered charity that centres the importance of better conversations when it comes to addressing the climate crisis, has some advice on how to have climate conversations at work that will make a difference.
“Workmates are a really good audience, because the relationship is already there,” Lisa explains. “Social research tells us that we process the information we’re exposed to by having conversations with people we know and trust. A workplace relationship has already got that level of established trust.”
1. Start the conversation by asking a simple, open question.
A great way to get started is by posing a question, and relating it to something topical. “Starting with something like ‘Has anyone heard about the stuff going on with COP26? How do you feel about that?’ or ‘I’ve noticed this is happening – what do you think about it?’ is a really good opener for a conversation with a peer at work,” she says.
Asking questions is a way of connecting with others, and helps them feel supported and heard. Their initial responses can also help you get a feel for where people are at on their own climate journey, and give you an idea about how you might navigate the conversation as it progresses.
2. Listen closely for what resonated with your coworkers
Being a good listener is an essential part of having good conversations. And once you’ve established the base level of conversation, the next step is to keep the conversation light, and listen closely for their reactions and what resonated most with them. You can then use that as the basis to propel the discussion forward. “If your colleagues say ‘It all seems complicated’ or ‘I feel a bit overwhelmed, I don’t understand’, you can relate to them on that same level,” Lisa suggests. “You could say ‘It is complicated, but here’s what I’ve done to find out more about it – this is what I’m doing about it’.”
3. Be patient (but persistent!)
When you approach a conversation about climate change with someone, it’s really important to meet them where they are, and really listen to what they’re saying without judgment.
While a lot of people are already at the point where they’re starting to make small changes in their lives at home, like eating more vegetarian meals, switching their banking or superannuation to more ethical and climate-friendly funds, or using public transport instead of the car, others are disengaged because the problem feels so big and complicated, and making meaningful change in the workplace often feels like someone else’s problem to solve.
“Acknowledging that and relating to those feelings of overwhelm can be a good first step to starting the conversation,” Lisa says. “Don’t try to push solutions that are beyond what people are ready for.”
Instead, Lisa suggests keeping some resources handy to be able to share for people to explore more in their own time, without any pressure or expectation. It could be a book, a podcast, an article about climate change or a link to a great documentary – anything that takes the big, complex issue of the climate crisis and makes it more accessible.
4. Work together to spread the conversation further
Once you’ve started a dialogue and found people who are keen to get on board, Lisa recommends putting together an action plan or working on a project together. Within the workplace, this might manifest as starting a regular climate action meetup, setting up a Slack channel or a regular internal newsletter, starting petitions for your company to take more climate action, and strategising ways for you and your colleagues to approach managers and CEOs about some of the big ticket items, like switching to renewables.
“If you can have a collective voice, it’s so much more powerful that just one person trying to make a change individually,” she says. “We need everybody to be talking about climate, and we need conversations to be happening en masse if we’re going to achieve the scale of change that’s required.”
Although the majority of Australians do care about climate, not everyone realises that the person next to you in the office cares as much as you do, because we don’t talk about it enough. “By starting the conversation, it opens up the dialogue for more people to go ‘I’m glad you said that, because I’ve been thinking about it too but I wasn’t sure where to start’,” Lisa says.
Impactful climate action often starts with a conversation. Take the next step in helping your workplace on their climate journey by subscribing to WorkForClimate for more tools and advice.
Image: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via Unsplash