CEF Spotlight

To lead on climate action, engage your employees—all of them

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

By Aiyana Bodi, Senior Associate, Drawdown Labs

We are reaching an important juncture within the corporate climate landscape. In a recent Deloitte survey of over 2,000 C-suite executives, 97 percent said “their companies have already been negatively impacted by climate change,” yet only 19 percent of these companies were identified as “leaders” in sustainability. At the same time, climate solutions are proving to be beneficial to business: companies that take climate action seriously see more revenue per employee compared to the average—and those who don’t, see below average revenues. Climate change is becoming increasingly top of mind for companies, but—despite the clear business value of being a sustainability leader—only a small portion of them are taking the necessary actions. 

To remedy the disconnect between concern and action, we must redefine the standard for corporate climate leadership, while also broadening who is involved in helping reach this standard. Companies have enormous social, political, and financial leverage—and the obligation to use it. Last year, Drawdown Labs—Project Drawdown’s private sector testing ground for going beyond “net zero”—introduced a new framework for corporate sustainability, showing that businesses, through things like policy advocacy and reevaluating financial relationships, can positively impact climate beyond reducing their own direct emissions. 

The key to reaching this elevated standard for climate action starts with expansive engagement of employees. Employees represent a range of skills and knowledge that can scale solutions in the workplace and beyond. To deploy solutions that match the magnitude of the climate crisis, we will need everyone—and in the corporate context, this means sustainability can no longer be the purview of leadership or sustainability teams only. Every job needs to become a climate job

Drawdown Labs recently published seven Job Function Action Guides focused on common corporate job functions to help leadership and employees implement solutions across the board. By understanding how ubiquitous corporate teams have opportunities at their fingertips to implement climate solutions into their responsibilities, decision-makers can spread climate action throughout their organizations for more effective, meaningful, and long-term impact. Below we overview three powerful actions your finance, human resources, government relations, legal, marketing, procurement, and sales teams can take. (Visit the Job Function Action Guides web page for many more actions and further information).

  • Banking
    Direct decision-makers toward banks that are: minimally
    financing the fossil fuel industry and deforestation; shifting their financing to climate solutions; committing to aggressive anti-fossil fuel policies; and calculating their financed emissions.
  • Insurance
    Inform insurance brokers that the company wants to consider not only policies and pricing during each insurance renewal, but also the sustainability of insurance carriers.
  • Employee retirement benefits
    Team up with the human resources and operations team to evaluate whether retirement plans, 401(k)s, and other portfolios are invested in fossil fuels—and if they are, working to shift the default retirement option to a climate-safe one.
  • Policy and regulation
    Increase transparency about how the company spends political contributions and lobbying dollars, and allocate more dollars to lobbying in support of climate policy.
  • Public support
    Work with the marketing and communications teams to develop effective communications strategies and campaigns to publicly support climate legislation.
  • Trade associations
    Assess the trade associations the company belongs to and encourage these associations to lobby in support of climate action.
  • Benefits
    Offer employees financial support for their own individual climate action, such as renewable energy purchasing and low-carbon transportation. 
  • Recruitment and professional development
    Integrate climate and sustainability requirements and metrics into job descriptions, objectives and key results, and performance reviews and bonuses.
  • Workplace culture
    Foster a work culture where employees feel comfortable and are able to bring up climate concerns, creating consistent pathways and forums for employees to provide feedback to leadership.
  • Governance
    Work with the board’s compensation committee to tie C-suite compensation to achievement of the company’s climate targets. 
  • Work with external counsel
    Work with law firms that are committed to offering their clients services that
    “align and facilitate client decarbonization” and do not work with fossil fuel or other extractive industries. (Take note of the best and worst actors.)
  • Legal agreements
    Adopt contractual language that requires taking into consideration climate risks and impacts. 
  • Internal communication
    Normalize the climate conversation. By crafting a new narrative within your own company and team, you can more easily do the same for your customers and clients.
  • Customers
    Find creative ways to nudge consumers to take their own climate action.
  • Campaigns
    Choose creative agencies that have robust climate initiatives, and ask all agencies what they’re doing on sustainability and climate.
  • Suppliers
    Work with the operations team to develop company policies that give preference to sustainable suppliers and require suppliers to adopt
    science-based emissions reduction targets—and create penalties for noncompliance. (See and use as a template Salesforce’s supplier agreement). 
  • Data
    Invest in systems to gather, store, and utilize data on customer use to develop more sustainable products and processes.
  • Design
    If your company has its own name brand products, collaborate with designers to develop products with low-carbon materials that are optimized for circularity (repairable, upcyclable, and recyclable).
  • Managing sales
    Institute incentives based on sustainability targets (for example, providing bonuses if a salesperson sells to a certain number of companies with science-based climate targets).
  • Pricing and fees
    Work with the sustainability and finance teams to integrate the cost of carbon into your products and services (a ‘carbon fee’), and reinvest that cost into emissions reduction and sequestration.
  • Engaging customers and clients
    If your company serves clients: serve more clients that work in climate advocacy (consider doing some pro bono work), and encourage clients to consider climate implications as they make their own business decisions.

Once you look beyond traditional leadership and sustainability roles, you will see limitless opportunities for tangible climate action throughout your business. To learn more about how every employee can help your company become a climate leader, go to drawdown.org.

As senior associate with Drawdown Labs, Aiyana Bodi works to help corporate partners scale climate solutions to make a more meaningful impact in the broader world. Bodi is passionate about intersectional environmentalism and aims to use creative and informative communications to ensure that climate solutions center justice and equity. She uses her background in natural climate solutions and interest in social justice to encourage the private sector to think holistically about how it treats both the land and people in pursuit of a livable climate.

Aiyana joined Project Drawdown from Pacific Forest Trust, where she worked with policymakers and other stakeholders to bolster forest conservation and climate policies at the state and federal levels. At Pacific Forest Trust, Aiyana also managed a research project on California’s cap-and-trade program and forest offset projects, and was responsible for developing primers on emerging forest issues. Previously, Aiyana served as a summer fellow at Mighty Earth, where she conducted a meta-analysis on the social, economic, and environmental benefits of agroforestry to inform campaign direction, and engaged with global rubber industry representatives to promote sustainable supply chain practices.

Aiyana holds a Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University, where she served as a research assistant to a lead author of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and led a consulting project for the World Resources Institute. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Geology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia, her home state.

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