There is an increasing amount of information in the media, and from public figures, advocating for reducing our climate footprints. A little digging into what we can do suggests making positive changes to the way we travel, the way we eat or the way we shop.

Hopefully, we’re all beginning to make these changes in our everyday lives, but what if you work for a company that you feel isn’t doing its share in addressing the climate crisis?

If your own relationship with the climate doesn’t quite match up to that of your employer, you may feel guilty picking up that paycheck, but you are in a unique position to positively impact a climate offender from the inside. You can raise awareness with your employer that more can be done, and suggest practical actions to achieve this.

How do we determine climate offenders?

In a way this is subjective. Depending on your own level of engagement with the climate crisis you may see areas for change where others may not. However, there are undoubtedly some companies that are greater climate offenders than others, who present more obvious areas for change.

On the spectrum of companies, there is a big difference between companies that need a push to start contributing to the zero-carbon transition (just 10% of UK companies have strategies to cut carbon emissions!) and those which have a serious negative impact.

The latter are those we’re referring to as climate offenders: companies that negatively affect climate change and the transition to a carbon neutral world. It is these climate offender companies, rather than the disengaged, that need the immediate shove.

Simply put, an organisation’s level of ‘climate offence’ can be measured in two ways:

  1. Levels of greenhouse gas emissions
  2. Type of climate leadership. This one is a bit less obvious and includes:

Identifying the biggest climate offending companies is often not as clear cut as the industry or country they’re in. For example, the fashion and clothing industry produces around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the USA is the world’s second biggest CO2 emitter.

However, this doesn’t mean all fashion related or US-based companies are climate offenders. Patagonia is based in the US, fashion is its core business, and yet their pioneering advocacy work to engage their customers with environmental issues (not to mention their carbon neutral by 2025 target) makes them not only an industry leader but a model for sustainable businesses globally.

So, while regional and sector averages are important for context and ranking, averages aren’t always reliable, so we must look at businesses individually.

Establish comapny greenhouse gases emissions

The easiest way to find this information is to search for your company on the CDP website (a charity running the largest database of company climate change information) or search for your company’s sustainability report online.  

Accurate ranking is notoriously difficult due to issues with data availability and the consistency / transparency with what is included in the overall count of emissions. Due to this, emissions reports are often not free however, two examples of leading estimations include:

While it’s more likely that large organisations will measure and report their emissions (under UK law the majority of publicly listed companies based in the UK are required to report), in general, if your employer is small or doesn’t report they still have emissions and should still engage with their climate impact.  

Is your company a climate offender or a climate leader?

Traditionally when assessing climate impact, only emissions have been considered. However, with the immediate need for ambitious action and climate policy, we also need to consider how companies may act as a barrier to progress.

For some companies, this could have an equal or even more significant impact on their climate footprint.

Lobbying, such as interacting with governments over policy, is the more traditional way for companies to block progress however it also includes more obscure activities such as altering public climate opinion through advertising, public relations or sponsoring misleading research.

InfluenceMap identifies the world’s 50 most influential companies in terms of climate policy. Worryingly, of the 50 biggest influencers, 35 were actively opposing the Paris Agreement. This means only 15 were using their influence to progress the transition to a carbon neutral economy. Have a look at the diagram of the top 50 from InfluenceMap below.

Company climate engagement activity and their support of climate policy

Smaller companies tend to have less obvious leadership and are generally unlikely to have the clout to lobby, however, they can be positive climate leaders.  

Is your company vocally advocating for change or publicly setting an example for reducing its impact? Or is it featuring in the news for climate-related controversies? Unearthed, the environmental investigative journalism group sponsored by Greenpeace, provides a good database of news articles that you can search for mentions of your company.

What can you do?

Ok, so you have an idea of how much of a climate offender your company may be. But what can you do?

Although some companies will be better than others in addressing the climate crisis, together we have a collective impact, and all companies can improve that impact.  Ideally, we want to achieve a carbon neutral economy and every business will need to engage with their impact to achieve this.

The POW Mountain provides some inspiration for what you can do to reduce your impact at work, and positively impact the company and people in it more widely:

Green Run – actions you can take right now

Consider signing up with our partners Mossy Earth to measure your work specific carbon footprint. This will allow you to work on reducing your impact and offset what you can’t achieve yet.

Blue Run – once you have reduced your own impact, it’s time to help your colleagues to change.

Consider organizing awareness events or fundraising to spread the urgency of the climate crisis. Your company may benefit from an organized employee-led effort to get everyone on the green run at work.    

Red Run – begin to have a larger impact by influencing your company.

Employee activism is undervalued but holds enormous potential to push big and small companies into engaging with the climate crisis. With the urgency to act increasingly obvious and a new generation of sustainability engaged workers. Companies will have to respond, or risk being left out by those uninterested in working for a climate offender.  

For example, at Amazon earlier this year the employee activist group ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’ wrote an open letter to the CEO, Jeff Bezos, demanding action on climate change. While not binding, the more pressure that company management come under to improve the better.

Black Run – start to dig deeper to find out about your company pension policy.

Find out who your company pension provider is and find out what companies they are invested in. Consider shifting this into climate aware funds and spreading the impact this can have with your colleagues. Check out ShareAction’s campaign Pension Power to find out more.

When advocating for companies to begin to engage with the climate here are the two vital starting points:

  1. Measure their climate impact and report this publicly.
  2. With their emissions known, set science based targets in line with the Paris Agreement.

All in all, while some companies may be bigger climate offenders than others, all of them will need to make efforts to address the climate crisis. As an employee, you are in a unique position to impact not only your own actions while at work but the way your employer contributes to a carbon neutral society.

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