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How to engage employees in climate action

Become a truly sustainable company by engaging your employees in climate action – in the office and beyond.

Rachel Stall
Rachel Stall
May 18, 2022 | 7 min

The path to a sustainable economy is a long and winding road. As scientists’ warnings about the impact of climate change become increasingly dire, the odds can seem insurmountable. But the solutions are out there! In our efforts to facilitate the transition to a sustainable economy, we have built a network of companies – across more than 30 countries – who share their climate goals and reduction strategies with us. Although these organizations range in size and sector, all are united in their shared goal of finding new and innovative ways to reduce their carbon footprint and meet their climate goals. We’ve compiled some of our community’s favorite, easy-to-use resources and ideas to help you review your climate action and bring employees along on your sustainability journey. 

Engaging employees in the workplace

Your company’s sustainability journey begins in the workplace. In our day-to-day work lives, it can be easy to fall into patterns and routines based on convenience, rather than organizational values and climate goals. By revisiting and reimagining the ways in which your company’s daily routines could be decarbonized, you can create a company culture which prioritizes sustainability – with positive effects compounding over time.

1. Develop sustainable mindsets and values

The first step in achieving your company’s climate goals is creating a strong foundation for understanding and implementing your sustainability strategy. Hosting workshops and training sessions – which educate employees at all levels about the structure of your carbon footprint and reduction strategies – is a great way to get everyone on the same page about your vision for a sustainable business model. Climate Fresk is a wonderful option for expert-facilitated workshops for motivating employees and educating them on climate issues. The SME Climate Hub is another option which offers a free online training course teaching employees how to approach climate issues. Investing time or money in programs like these helps employees to understand how their own role fits into your company’s wider sustainability framework.

2. Go remote first

Another approach to reducing emissions is to reduce the need for your employees to travel for work entirely. Compared to an average commute, holding a meeting virtually produces 100 times less carbon emissions. The early days of the pandemic showed the world how rapidly it was possible to move business online. Researchers have also found that remote work saves time and money for both the employer and the employee. Among others, companies such as Universal Music Group are continuing to conduct business remotely or in a hybrid work environment moving forward. You can make an even stronger impact by finding a way to subsidize green energy for your employees in their homes. 

3. See team events as an opportunity

We’re sure that throughout the year you organize many team-building or networking events. In planning them, you can take this great opportunity to take action collectively by combining your typical activities with a sustainability initiative. For example, you could partner up with a local forestation organization and plant trees together as a team activity, leaving a tangible contribution after this day. You could also choose a day to have your team clean up a park together or volunteer at a local, climate-oriented organization. In any case, if there is any food offered to participants in your planned event, make sure it has the lowest carbon footprint possible.

4. Incentivize a more climate-friendly commute

Sometimes commuting is unavoidable. In 2020, transportation made up 25% of carbon emissions worldwide. While we all know that cycling and public transport create the least emissions, it’s not always easy or possible to make that switch. However, as a company, you have the power to make these means of transport more appealing, affordable, and accessible for your team. 

To give you an example, the Germany-based bike-sharing service Nextbike has a tariff designed for companies, which includes up to 60 minutes’ cycling per rental – costing you just €4 per employee per month. Depending on your location, another option may be to join your government’s bicycle subsidizing program, removing taxes on bicycles and related equipment. 

One way that Holidu – one of our members – is encouraging their employees to cycle is by holding workshops for them on how to repair their bikes. Holding similar programs or even making basic equipment and tools available to your employees can make biking a more accessible transportation option. 

Another of our members, Murmann Publishers GmbH, is reducing their carbon footprint by focusing on business trips, such as for conferences or client visits: moving forward, they plan to use trains instead of planes for domestic travel of <4 hours’ travel time. 

To transform your company’s travel habits, it’s not enough to just create a stricter flight policy. Instead, it’s about making it into a real, shared value that has a place in your employees’ personal lives. Programs like Climate Perks offer paid ‘journey days’ to empower your team members to live their values and choose low-carbon holiday travel, such as trains and boats. 

Influencing personal lifestyles

Beyond the emissions produced by your company’s activities, you can also take steps to influence the level of emissions produced by your employees in their personal lives as well. Since we spend a lot of our time, it presents a real opportunity for you to foster a community which promotes sustainable habits and routines with an impact beyond your workplace.

1. Facilitate conversations about the climate

Get the conversation going! A good way to make your workplace community a place where your employees can raise their climate awareness is by talking about sustainable life choices. 

This could be as simple as setting up an office library on reducing food waste and energy consumption, or getting together to watch climate documentaries available for free on the WaterBear platform. 

Taking it a step further, you could begin a regular program of guest speakers or group discussions. These events can both provide your team with new information and ideas, and enable them to get personally tailored or peer feedback. 

Lastly, climate activism can be a great way for your employees to engage with these issues and feel invested in the fight against climate change. You could offer them paid days off to attend climate strikes or protests, and notify them about upcoming events run by Fridays for Future and similar movements.

2. Start some friendly competition  

You can implement your company’s sustainability values in your day-to-day operations by utilizing social media as a tool to directly provide your employees with actionable information about how to live sustainably. Apps such as JouleBug and Pawprint are private social networks which allow employees to record their climate goals, and receive information about their progress. Tools like these can be especially useful in promoting sustainability that carries over from employees’ work into their personal lives.

Plus, apps like Active Giving can engage your whole team by hosting sport group challenges and enabling employees to support each other on their climate action journeys.

You can also encourage your employees to subscribe to newsletters such as Earth Dayand Meatless Mondays for regular reminders and resources that can help them to take climate action. By turning organization-wide goals into actionable everyday practices – and signposting a space where your team members can encourage each other – you can help make sustainability more accessible for the whole team. 

3. Fund and reward sustainable changes

So, how can we accelerate your employees towards taking climate action? One approach is to attach a financial incentive to sustainable life choices or achievements. You can offer financial support for a range of climate-friendly actions, such as installing solar panels at home – or, as our member SpinLab does, compensate all employees for any flights they take. 

Similarly, Personio will be introducing the Personio Foundation which provides grants to teams displaying exceptional progress in climate change mitigation. Whether or not you already offer grants or bonuses, this could be the time to create a new incentive system which links climate progress with additional rewards for your employees.

Moving forward

Whatever efforts you decide to make as an employer, you can feel safe in the knowledge that none of us are alone. Each company tackles their climate goals in their own way, but teaming up with Leaders for Climate Action means that we can learn from each other as we go, accelerating our progress towards a more sustainable future!