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How to be a climate activist at work

Any job can be a climate job if you’re pushing your employer to set and follow climate goals.

How to be a climate activist at work
[Source Image: ismagilov/iStock]

Even as some of the world’s biggest companies continue setting new sustainability goals, businesses still aren’t moving quickly enough to address climate change. Investors are pressuring CEOs to do more. But employees can also help speed up progress, even when they don’t work in a sustainability department. A new guide from the nonprofit Project Drawdown outlines a strategy for taking climate action at work.

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“We wanted to enable the democratization of climate work throughout a company,” says Jamie Alexander, director of Drawdown Labs, a program at the nonprofit that works to scale up climate solutions in the private sector. (Or, as the report says, “In this most all-encompassing challenge in human history, every job must be a climate job.”)

Alexander was inspired to create the guide after working with Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of workers who publicly challenged Amazon on its carbon footprint (and may have accelerated Amazon’s announcement of its “Climate Pledge,” though the company maintains that its plans were already in the works).

“Employees across the company came together to say: ‘How can we use our power as employees to help the company move faster?'” says Alexander. “I was really inspired that it came from all parts of the business—from coders and delivery people and warehouse workers.”

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The guide outlines a suite of actions that companies need to take for systemic change to be possible. The list includes:

  • Going beyond vague “net zero by 2050” goals to speed up timelines and add interim targets for cutting emissions, without relying too much on carbon offsets
  • Lobbying and supporting strong climate policy, including through trade associations
  • Engaging employees throughout the company instead of just the sustainability team
  • Aligning products, partnerships, and procurement with climate goals
  • Making sure corporate investments and retirement accounts are aligned with climate goals (for example, divesting from fossil fuels)
  • Transparently sharing the company’s carbon footprint and the risks it faces from climate change
  • Transforming the business model to scale up climate solutions, instead of thinking of sustainability as an “add-on” to the core business
  • Shifting from a focus on quarterly returns to long-term planning

To get started, the guide suggests forming groups with like-minded coworkers and beginning to brainstorm solutions and set goals based on the company’s particular leverage points. It also recommends “power mapping” networks of people inside and outside the company that can help accelerate change. As it walks through each piece of transformation a company will need to undergo, it explains the basics of the problem and translates common climate jargon.

“We really wanted to help employees and the general public have a better understanding of what ambitious climate action looks like, and how companies can either be leading in all these areas or kind of complicit in the status quo,” Alexander says.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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