In 2020, author and social researcher Rebecca Huntley released her book ‘How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference’. Here, she shares her advice on how to approach this topic in the workplace in a way that furthers understanding and sparks genuine change.
My climate awakening came during the 2019 School Strikes for Climate. Up until that point, I didn’t connect climate action with a personal need to act. I thought the hard work needed to be done by governments and corporations, not at an interpersonal level. But seeing those kids filling the streets around the globe was inspiring. It hit home that I had an obligation to future generations – both as a human being and a parent – to act on such a critically important issue. So, I did what I could within my area of expertise: I did the research, had the conversations, and wrote a book.
I connected climate to what I value: a safe world for the generations to come.
Looking back, there were many small moments leading up to this point. That’s how many people make the progression: you might have an experience in nature, or go through an extreme event, and that’s how you connect to the climate and take action. For me, I connected climate to what I value: a safe world for the generations to come.
If you’re looking for some actionable steps to start meaningful climate conversations in the workplace, here’s how I’d approach it.
Starting the climate conversation at work
For starters, you don’t need to be an expert to talk about climate change. It helps to understand the basic science, but you don’t need to explain it like the scientists from the CSIRO, NASA or university departments. (And, let’s be real – those people have been screaming about it for 30 years and still struggle to shift mindsets.) Thinking you need to know everything about the topic can get in the way of telling a persuasive story about why acting on the climate is beneficial, and why ignoring it is costly.
The workplace climate discussion requires a different approach to how you’d talk with family or friends. Before you even open your mouth, do a bit of basic market research. Who are you actually talking to? Once you understand the mindset and values of your colleagues, you can start planning your approach to the conversation. Many businesses already have a climate framework in place – find out if yours does, then look into what your competitors are doing so you’re well-equipped to tailor the way you start the discussion.
Workplace climate action: some practical steps
Internal employee groups are a powerful and effective way to bring about change. Find some like-minded people at work, ideally in different divisions – someone from finance, someone from HR. All you need is three or four people. Come together and work out your company’s existing framework, actions and commitments. Then compare this to what your industry is doing at large, and what best climate practice looks like. You might be in an industry super fund and realise your competitors are doing much more on climate action than you are.
When you’re feeling exhausted, it’s OK to gear down a bit; trust that you are one of millions of people doing this work.
Then find a forum to raise these conversations. It might be something informal, like a cupcake afternoon tea or some kind of breakfast (baked goods or social drinks are usually good to get people talking!). You’ll also need to work out if there are already existing forums you can tap into. Is there a head of sustainability who can get you in front of the board? Those kinds of pathways can be very helpful.
To generate enthusiasm and value, think about choosing one thing to work on that will get you a reasonably quick win. That might be installing solar panels, introducing a policy around electric car procurement, offsetting all company travel or encouraging the business to invest their money ethically. These sorts of early wins can help to build momentum.
Remember you’re part of a movement
Talking about the climate – at work and outside of work – is hard. You might have a really supportive CFO who is into climate action – and then they leave and you have to start again with a new person. In some organisations, you have to re-prosecute the case. Don't be discouraged though, because it can go the other way. You could have a CFO who isn't supportive at all and then suddenly you have one who is – take that opportunity. When you’re feeling exhausted, it’s OK to gear down a bit; trust that you are one of millions of people doing this work.
Everyone has a part to play in the solution.
Know that the challenges, risks and opportunities of climate change are coming. This is not a can that we can continue to kick down the road. The question is, how well are you positioned to deal with it? And are you helping to equip your industry, profession, and company to deal with it too?
One person, organisation or company isn’t going to solve the climate crisis. The only thing that will solve it is every single person, company and government body working together. Everyone has a part to play in the solution.
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