In the past, climate change and sustainability have not been a focus in learning and development (L&D) circles, but people in the field are working to change that. In this episode of HowNow L&D Disrupt Live, host Gary Stringer joins Ajay Jacob, learning and development Manager at TomTom, and Fiona Morgan, director of purpose at SailGP, to discuss the ways that L&D can address climate change by influencing people’s behavior. If you are an L&D expert who wants to find ways to start championing sustainability in your organization, this podcast has great ideas for where to start.
- Connect employees’ individual actions with the big picture.
- L&D should work closely with other teams to embed sustainability in every business activity.
- Prioritize clear communication and frame sustainability efforts in ways that make people excited, rather than apprehensive.
Connect employees’ individual actions with the big picture.
Your employees make the day-to-day decisions that shape your business, such as which suppliers to use. Before you look to external partners to help with your sustainability initiatives, focus on educating your workforce.
“Your staff are the most important people in anything that you do…Make sure [they] understand what you’re doing and what role they can play in it before you go external.” (Fiona Morgan)
L&D has a role to play in connecting complex issues like climate change to simple actions that people can take that make a difference. Most people care about climate change and want to do things like reduce their carbon footprint, but they don’t know how their role at work or as a consumer connects to the bigger picture. L&D can help people care about the issue through storytelling. L&D can also answer questions such as, “What can I do? Will what I do make a difference? What is the end goal?”
Walmart set the goal of reducing its packaging by 5%. To help employees choose the more sustainable sources available from among its 60,000 suppliers, they created a packaging scorecard that employees could use to evaluate each supplier.
Provide information to employees at all levels on the science of climate change. Don’t make assumptions about what people know. Start with the basics, such as the causes of climate change and the targets that governments have set to fight it. The first step in engaging people’s interest can be something as simple as sharing a Netflix documentary.
L&D should work closely with other teams to embed sustainability in every business activity.
Sustainability is not a single activity; it is the result of an accumulation of small habits and changes. Rather than launching isolated initiatives, use consistent positive reinforcement and nudging to steer people’s daily actions in the direction of sustainability and to create change at scale within an organization. Keep the why of what people are doing front and center in their minds, so that when they’re overextended or tired they are still motivated to prioritize sustainable actions and choices.
Incentives can encourage changes in habits, which, when repeated regularly, tend to stick. We saw this with adoption of new behaviors in the COVID-19 pandemic, such as working from home. Companies can use incentives like an electric car benefit to reward individual behavior. They should also show they walk the walk by prioritizing sustainability in decisions such as the kinds of businesses or industries in which to invest employee pension funds.
“Everyone will have a personal connection to the problem.” (Fiona Morgan)
L&D needs to work closely with management, sustainability teams and other stakeholders. L&D and sustainability teams should work together to highlight the role of sustainability in every activity that people carry out at work. Frame the work your organization is already doing in terms of its effects on the environment. Maybe you have a bike-to-work program for employee health: That also has a climate dividend. TomTom’s mission is to make accurate maps, but one of the benefits of accurate maps is to reduce traffic and congestion.
Prioritize clear communication and frame sustainability efforts in ways that make people excited, rather than apprehensive.
Climate change is one of the top three risks business faces today, because of the profound changes it will bring to every sector of the economy. It should, thus, be a business and training priority. Even if your leaders don’t consider sustainability to be one of the company’s core values, sustainability is still good for staff retention, motivation and brand loyalty. SailGP, a new high-speed sailing competition, gained commercial and media partners because it differentiated itself by making sustainability part of its purpose.
“People who know their why will find their way.” (Ajay Jacob)
Prioritize openness and honesty. Own up to your organization’s shortcomings and explain them. If you can’t source electric vehicles because there are none available at an event’s location, for instance, communicate that to your people so that they know you are still taking sustainability seriously. Let people feel safe sharing stories about non-sustainable ways of doing things they chose in the past because they didn’t know the carbon impact. Employees should also feel safe expressing their skepticism in relation to sustainability. This will enable you to engage them on the reasons that sustainability is a positive choice.
Consider modifying “value-laden language” that can trigger people’s existing biases. When some people hear the term “sustainability” they see a niche concern. They may worry they’ll be asked to make difficult changes they won’t enjoy doing. When talking about sustainability, you can substitute terms like “bigger picture” that make people feel like they’re a part of something exciting that goes beyond just business.
About the Podcast
Ajay Jacob is learning and development manager at TomTom. Fiona Morgan is director of purpose at SailGP. Gary Stringer is Senior Content Marketing Manager at HowNow and host of this episode of the HowNow L&D Disrupt Live – a podcast dedicated to L&D insights and trends.