If you’ve felt concern or anxiety in the face of ecological breakdown and the climate crisis, you’re not alone. You also might have heard that the best antidote to these feelings is action – but how? Where do you start? How can you have a real impact?
An obvious first step is to make changes in your personal life. This could mean changing your habits to reduce your own footprint or taking part in collective action like volunteering with a climate NGO, putting pressure on politicians or attending a protest.
But what if you’ve already made these changes, or you’re looking to level-up your impact in other areas? Enter: your job. Yes, the place where you spend (on average) 1,700 hours each year. There are plenty of reasons to escalate climate action in the workplace, the most undeniable being that companies are a huge contributor to the climate crisis, and rapid transformation is needed if we’re going to create a future that can sustain us. Wearing your climate hat in the workplace has personal benefits, too. It addresses the unpleasant “cognitive dissonance” many of us feel when there’s a disconnect between our day jobs and our personal values.
“Business is the only mechanism on the planet today powerful enough to produce the changes necessary to reverse global environmental and social degradation”. – Paul Hawken
So the big idea is to make your job a climate job. To dedicate some – if not all – of those 1,700 annual hours on the clock to solving the biggest, most important issue humanity has ever faced. Sounds worthwhile, no?
Okay, now the question isn’t really whether you should make your job a climate job ( yes, obviously!), it’s how?
I often get asked this question. And while I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer, given the path to climate work is unique to each person, I do have some insights on how to frame the question.
Should I stay or should I go?
Let’s say you’re an employee of a company. Broadly speaking, there are two ways you can make your job a climate job.
- Option A: Stay with your company and make change happen from within.
- Option B: Leave your company and find your way into the climate and sustainability industry.
It might be tempting to go with Option B because it’s the path of least resistance. It’s definitely not easy or comfortable, and I’m aware that not everyone can “afford” to quit their job, but if you’ve been experiencing cognitive dissonance at work, then you might feel like leaving is the best option.
But let me make the case for Option A – stay, and become an agent of change.
The reality is that the climate movement desperately needs people actively working on the inside to help shift corporations. Most companies won’t make the necessary changes without persuasion, because it competes with the imperative of maximising short-term profits. That’s where employees come in. Employees are arguably the most valuable asset a company has, and that value brings power. Power to advocate for the environment. To drive real change. To push climate action up the corporate ladder.
One question to ask yourself is: Can you see your company evolve to productively contribute to solving the climate crisis, and building the world we need?
Let yourself imagine it’s possible. What would that look like? How would you feel walking into the office each morning, or telling people that you work for a climate champion that’s doing the work in a genuine and meaningful way?
"The climate movement desperately needs people actively working on the inside to help shift corporations."
If you think your organisation can change and you feel up for the challenge, I recommend you stay and have a go at influencing your company from within.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into how.
If you stay: Incorporate a climate lens into your job
One way to bring climate action into your day job is to consider how your existing role can positively contribute to your company’s transformation. If you work in HR, for example, you can look to provide greener employee benefits, or create a more climate-friendly travel policy.
If you work in finance, you can bring sustainability into performance measurement, or do a climate and supply chain risk assessment.
If you work in marketing, you can make sure the company nixes greenwashing and communicates with integrity and transparency, or you can engage with customers and communities on climate initiatives.
If you work in logistics or supply chain, you can switch to suppliers who lead on sustainability, or work with suppliers to disclose their own emissions and set targets.
The list goes on.
The idea is that sustainability should not be the sole responsibility of the sustainability team. Sustainability should be embedded everywhere in the organisation, and every employee can help make this happen.
Project Drawdown, one of my favourite organisations in the movement, recently published high-impact action guides for specific jobs and departments. You can check them out here.
If you stay: Organise
Beyond your day-to-day role, there’s something perhaps even more exciting to do: build collective power and influence with an employee climate action group.
Creating internal momentum on climate can help you advance and achieve ambitious climate goals for your organisation.
This action is about employees actively contributing to and interrogating their company’s action on climate. What should be prioritised? What is the company doing well and where is it falling short? Where is there opportunity to step up and do better? Find your people, consider these questions and put an action plan in place.
When to leave?
If (or when) the inside work becomes too much or you feel like you aren’t making enough headway, then it might be time to consider leaving and finding your way into climate work.
If you do decide to leave, there might be an opportunity to have a multiplying effect by talking about the reasons for your decision. This could take the form of an email to colleagues or a social media post (see examples here and here). Or if you worked for a “controversial employer”, you can go with a “bang” (see here or here).
You never know who your message will touch and the impact you will have.
If you leave: Find your way into climate work
The most straightforward way to do climate work is to join a climate-first organisation.
That is a company whose vision and mission are articulated specifically around solving climate change. Climate Base has a great database of climate-first organisations.
There’s a high demand for talent in climate-first organisations, and your skills, experience and care for the world will be much better applied at a company focused on deploying a climate solution. Terra.do is an amazing organisation that helps people find their in-road to climate work.
Another option is to deviate or slow down by transitioning into a totally different career path; one that has its place in the thriving, equitable world we’re looking to build. Learn a type of craftsmanship? Learn permaculture? Build an ecovillage? These are just a few examples.
When it comes to doing work that aligns with your climate values and ambitions, remember that it may not be a linear process. But whatever you decide, there is no wrong path. Every person, every business, every community pushing for change is getting us closer to our end goal: a climate that can sustain us, our environment and future generations to come.
This is the work of our lifetime. Let’s get to it.
Want to accelerate your company's decarbonisation efforts while upskilling yourself for the coming climate transition? Our WorkforClimate Academy teaches you the knowledge and tools you need to become a climate leader at work.
Planet Groups - Climate Leadership for employees presentation.