5 times employees took climate action into their own hands

Need inspiration for your next workplace climate action? We have you covered.

Emily Kratzmann
June 7, 2022
Smiling female employee walks through an office

When it comes to taking climate action at work, knowing where (and how!) to start can be tricky. There are so many different routes to take and levers to pull that it can all feel pretty overwhelming at times. 

Fret not: the good news is that tens of thousands of employees all over the world are already taking action, and there’s no shortage of inspiration out there. 

From the Amazon employees pressuring Jeff Bezos to do more for climate and the Shell contractor who dropped a viral resignation video, we’ve rounded up a small selection for you to dive into and get inspired by.

1. The Amazon employees who walked off the job for climate justice

In September 2019, around 1500 Amazon employees downed tools and walked off the job, protesting the global behemoth’s lack of action on the climate crisis. It was huge news at the time; it was the first time in the company’s 25-year history that employees participated in a mass walkout. 

Days beforehand, with rumblings that a strike was on the cards, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos started enacting change. He pledged that the company would follow advice from the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases and commit to become carbon neutral by 2040. Bezos has also established a $2 billion investment fund for companies who are decarbonising. 

While Bezos’s climate pledge is a step in the right direction, employees want more action taken to reduce Amazon’s impact on the environment. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice are calling for more aggressive net zero targets, with 2030 as the year to eradicate emissions, as well as a request for the company to stop selling its cloud services to the oil and gas industry, and to cease donations to politicians and think tanks who are still denying that climate change is a thing (yup, they’re still out there). Whether or not Bezos will walk his talk still remains to be seen.  

2. The Microsoft staff who penned an open letter demanding climate action

A few days before 2019’s Global Climate Strikes, led by Greta Thunberg, Microsoft signed a major collaboration with Chevron and Schlumberger, two of the world’s biggest players in energy, oil and gas. The deal was a tipping point for Microsoft employees, who penned an open letter protesting the company’s complicity in the climate crisis. Enough was enough. 

Amazingly, their voice was heard. In early 2020, the tech giant made some big changes to their climate policy. While Microsoft has been carbon neutral since 2012 (through purchasing carbon offsets), they’ve committed to going carbon negative by 2030, and removing their historical carbon emissions – that’s everything they’ve emitted since 1975 – by 2050. They’ve also established a $1 billion climate innovation fund.  

Microsoft is still far from perfect – the company’s carbon footprint grew 21% in 2021 and it has faced criticism for providing cloud services to oil and gas companies – but the company’s own employees look prepared to keep turning up the heat. 

3. The Facebook employees who called for bans on political advertising  

No stranger to controversy, Facebook again made headlines in 2019 during Trump’s presidential campaign. Why? Because Facebook appeared to be allowing presidential candidates – nay, just about anyone – to post whatever they dang well felt like, regardless of whether it was actually true. 

Concerned Facebook employees put pen to paper, arguing that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave incorrect ‘facts’ on the social media site – particularly hate speech and denying the existence of climate change from Trump – was a ‘betrayal’ of Facebook’s ideals. The letter stated that Facebook’s original ethos was to protect the powerless, rather than the powerful, but that that had been turned ‘on its head’, and that ‘Facebook should be holding politicians to a higher standard than their constituents’. 

The letter proposed a number of changes, including a ban on misinformation in political ads, a ‘stronger design treatment’ for political ads, and limits on how much one politician could spend on ads. 

While Zuckerberg acknowledged that work needed to be done on how the site would tackle the spread of misinformation, he has continued to defend Facebook’s policy of allowing politicians to post whatever they want. According to Zuckerberg, it’s all part of a broader debate around freedom of expression.  

4. The McKinsey & Company staff demanding full disclosure on client emissions

US-based consulting firm McKinsey & Company has been advising corporations, governments and other organisations since 1926. And of those companies, at least 43 of the world’s top 100 polluters over the past 50 years have fallen under McKinsey’s remit. 

“The climate crisis is the defining issue of our generation. Our positive impact in other realms will mean nothing if we do not act as our clients alter the earth irrevocably.”

Around 1000 McKinsey employees have demanded, via an open letter, McKinsey & Company redress its own emissions, as well as disclose how much carbon their clients, who include the likes of ExxonMobil and BP are emitting.  

“The climate crisis is the defining issue of our generation. Our positive impact in other realms will mean nothing if we do not act as our clients alter the earth irrevocably,” the letter reads

McKinsey has responded, saying they have been supporting clients on sustainability and ESG for more than a decade, but that walking away from high-emitting sectors would do nothing to solve the climate challenge. The statement also claimed the organisation had been carbon neutral since 2018, and that they’d made commitments to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions in line with a 1.5 degree pathway.

Is that really good enough when you’re in bed with the big guns? You decide. 

5. The Shell consultant who dropped a viral resignation video 

In May this year, Shell consultant Caroline Dennett, who’d been working with the company for 11 years, sacked her client via a considered video resignation, which promptly went viral. She accused the oil giants of having a complete ‘disregard for climate change risks’ 

Caroline has worked with Shell as a safety consultant since the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster. In recent years, she’s grown more and more concerned that the company isn’t putting safety before production, that Shell’s continued oil and gas extraction is causing extreme harms to the climate, environment and people, and despite their safety ambition to ‘do no harm’, they’re ‘simply not winding down on fossil fuels’. 

Last year, several of Shell’s clean energy executives handed in their resignations, due to the company’s lack of urgency towards building a net zero future. A Shell spokesperson has said the company is committed to being a net zero company by 2050, and intends to hit short-, medium- and long-term climate targets. Watch this space. 

Ready to start making change in your workplace? We’re here to help. Subscribe to WorkforClimate to gain access to tools and resources that can help you turn your job into a climate job. 

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