Living within the planet’s means…. how corporate climate action can help solve a global sustainability challenge

Written by Valentina Zajackowski

An increasing urgency to act is fuelling change within the environmental sustainability landscape. Just recently, Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank, announced that Earth Overshoot Day in 2023 fell on 2nd August. Given that overshoot day marks the day within the calendar year that global consumption of natural resources exceeds those that the planet can replenish annually, the global population is clearly living beyond the planet’s means. And the rate at which we are consuming is accelerating; overshoot day this year has shifted forward by four months and 23 days since the concept originated in 1971 and overshoot was recorded on 25th December.

Thankfully, there is growing acceptance that responsibility for climate action does not exclusively sit with governments. Corporate action is being urgently compelled through increasing environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) rules and regulations for businesses globally.

The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) came into effect across the EU in January this year and has seen the implementation of major changes in how companies account for their carbon footprint. According to the Carbon Trust, almost 50,000 companies are anticipated to be impacted, which is roughly equivalent to three quarters of business in the European Economic Area.

And new legislation, the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), will be introduced by the European Commission in early 2024 to require companies to report and take action to achieve environmental goals. In the UK, greenwashing and sustainability messaging is under scrutiny from the Advertising Standards Authority in collaboration with the Competition and Markets Authority, demonstrating the importance placed on the accountability of businesses. These are just some of the regulatory initiatives driving corporate responsibility for environmental sustainability.

If Earth Overshoot Day is a stark reminder of the need for collective climate action, regulation is making it happen. And businesses that are embarking on, or that have already started, their sustainability transition journey have a huge opportunity to capitalise on their climate friendly credentials beyond the need for compliance. When correctly engaged, empowered and upskilled, a workforce can be loyal to, and hugely motivated by, an employer seeking to achieve long-term global sustainability. But where do organisations start and how should employees be educated and engaged to optimally support the transition to a sustainable business model? There are a number of factors to consider.

  1. Where is your organisation on its sustainability journey?

If your organisation is at the beginning of its journey, employee engagement forms the foundation of successful environmental action. Research by KPMG has found that 82% of UK office workers want to link values and purpose with the organisation they work for and 30% researched a company’s ESG credentials before applying for a role, with environmental impacts (46%) one of the key factors that workers looked at. With a workforce open to supporting sustainability activity, it is important to not overwhelm employees by the magnitude of challenges faced. With this in mind, bite-sized, relatable content to translate complex environmental issues within a business context is key, with a focus on inspiring their engagement.

Organisations that have already started to implement a sustainability strategy should focus on ongoing education. Content should be easy to understand and provide concrete steps towards taking meaningful action.

  1. What resources can you offer to engage and educate employees?

Giving employees – regardless of location – online access to customised educational resources, ideally integrated within your own learning platform, is the first step towards bringing staff along on any corporate sustainability journey. Not only will it ensure that climate-related concerns are at the top of everyone’s agenda, it will also seed and nurture a collective and consistent corporate ambition to prioritise long-term sustainability.

  1. Can you demonstrate progress?

Sharing organisational progress against sustainability objectives and targets with your workforce and reinforcing the integral role of employees in sustainability ambitions, will stimulate engagement, empowerment and motivation. According to KPMG, 96% of the world’s 250 largest companies by revenue (based on the 2021 Fortune 500 ranking worldwide) now report on sustainability. In addition, many companies globally have targets in place to reduce their carbon emissions. If your organisation can collect data in any form, and monitor progress, targets can and should be set and reported against.

While training alone will not transform companies and society, there is a growing educational ecosystem that is geared towards supporting and facilitating a sustainable transition for businesses. The opportunity for employee engagement in corporate sustainability journeys has never been greater; the more collective effort extended towards driving positive change, the more likely we are to succeed in ‘moving the date’ of Earth Overshoot Day back to the end of the year and beyond…where it belongs.

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