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'Not just about profit': Fostering a climate-positive culture at work

Toronto-based Carbon Neutral Club drives climate action in workplace via software platform

IMAGE: Carbon Neutral Club's three founders
From left to right, Carbon Neutral Club's co-founders Roee Eidan, Jack Bruner and Jeff Packer. (Courtesy Carbon Neutral Club)

Engaging employees in company-wide initiatives and incentivizing them to make small changes on an individual level are both important to creating a climate positive culture, according to participants in a panel led by Carbon Neutral Club co-founder Jack Bruner.

Founded in July 2021, Toronto-based Carbon Neutral Club (CNC) drives climate action and awareness in the workplace via software that tracks and incentivizes cutting individual greenhouse gas emissions as part of a friendly competition.

Panelists included Megan Chiu, head of Deloitte’s national climate office; Hasitha Sridharan, Greenly's North American growth lead; and Serena Li, who heads up go-to-market in North America with Patch. CNC offers a partnership with San Francisco-based Patch for members to purchase emissions offsets.

“The climate culture, to me, is marrying . . . the very big global targets that we have, to really simple operational footprints that we can control,” Sridharan said during the panel.

“What I found is, I think we have a culture in the country (and) across the globe of people caring about the planet that they live in, people caring about their environment, but they really don't know how to translate that into what they do at work every day, so really helping define that.”

Carbon Neutral Club and climate culture

However a company institutes its own climate culture, Sridharan noted it is most important the direction starts at the top of the corporate structure and is backed by real data.

There were also noted changes in the way ESG strategies are being carried out. Chiu and Bruner both agreed small sustainability teams of five to 10 people too often become siloed from the rest of the company and can be too independent in their structures.

“So what we're starting to see more is, how do we embed sustainability considerations in the larger corporate strategies? How do we then effectively make changes to the ways that we operate it before? And really, I will sound like an anti-capitalist for saying, but it's not just about profit,” Chiu said. “It is very much about . . . the four Ps: the purpose, people, planet, then profit.”

One challenge for raising employee awareness around climate culture is in education. Li noted a previous consumer research project Patch was involved with suggested poor understanding of new carbon removal technologies and how carbon credits work.

“The only technology types where more than half of the respondents were familiar with (were) renewable energy, reforestation and bio-oil. Twelve per cent or less were familiar with REDD+, direct air capture, biochar and enhanced weathering,” Li said. “So as you can see, there's quite a large range of understanding that we need to kind of work towards and improve education amongst buyers.”

On the theme of giving employees stakes in their company’s sustainability agenda, she also suggested offering them education about the credits, and a means to participate in the actual carbon credits transaction process.

Every panelist discussed small but impactful changes, including a sustainability Slack channel or providing employee incentives. Even the little things – like encouraging Wi-Fi usage over 5G due to the emissions profile of the different platforms – count.

Climate challenges

Chiu discussed Deloitte’s latest Gen Z and millennial survey to highlight the climate anxiety felt among younger generations and how it is impacting the workplace. In the global survey, 50 per cent of Gen Z and 46 per cent of millennial respondents said they and their colleagues are pressuring businesses to take action on climate change.

“And what do you think happens when they don't see change?" Chiu asked. “They leave.”

The same survey states 39 per cent of Gen Z and 34 per cent of millennial respondents have turned down jobs with employers that do not align with their values.

Regarding employee climate action incentives, there was a distinction made between the individual employee and the larger corporation. For example, more executives are tying parts of their compensation to their climate targets or ESG performance.

“I really liked the idea of incentives functionally rather than personally. Because no, at the end of the day, the real impact is going to be in corporate reductions, and not necessarily in personal behaviour changes,” Sridharan said. “And so I do think there's that benefit.”

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