As National Environmental Awareness Month happens in November, business leaders have a new opportunity to review their sustainability strategies and actions, determining whether they have met short-term milestones on the way to achieving long-term goals.
In some cases, they may need to establish those goals first. A recent report from EY Global found that while more organizational leaders than ever are disclosing the climate risks of their operations, many still are not taking the steps needed to decarbonize operations and respond to the desires of investors and customers.
Of course, not all environmental awareness begins in the executive offices. At many companies, change starts at the employee level. The goal is for environmental awareness practices to spread throughout the workplace, whether they travel top-down or from frontline employees up to leadership.
What is Environmental Awareness?
The most straightforward definition of environmental awareness is understanding the environment, how human behavior impacts the environment and the importance of protecting the environment.
An annual event such as National Environmental Awareness Month draws attention to ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the responsibility all people have toward protecting and preserving the planet and its ecosystems. This year, it also coincides with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the global forum where leaders from all nations can discuss climate change-related issues.
By calling attention to the fact that the planet’s future depends on the actions of the humans living on it, environmental leaders hope to raise the level of environmental awareness and focus attention on how to fix environmental-related challenges. In the workplace, this can start with programs that cut down on the use of paper, recycling programs, ridesharing to burn less gasoline and more.
Why is Environmental Awareness Important?
When examined from a global perspective, the need for environmental awareness is apparent on a daily basis. Even a cursory read of the climate change impacts listed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or Vital Signs of the Planet from NASA show the importance of putting sustainable strategies into practice as soon as possible.
While environmental awareness is important in all areas of society, it may have even greater importance in the business world. That’s because large businesses have more opportunities to make a positive impact on the environment through the sheer scope of their operations. They often can make operational changes that lower dependence on petroleum or materials that hurt the environment.
Unfortunately, many organizations do not take actions that reflect a high level of climate awareness.
For example, more companies are reporting climate-related financial data based on recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) created by the Financial Stability Board (FSB). The FSB is an international organization that monitors and makes recommendations about the global financial system. Those recommendations include disclosures about a company’s climate-related governance, strategy, risk management, metrics and targets.
However, EY (a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company) reported that the average quality score for these reports is just 44% on a scale where 100% demonstrates complete disclosure of all the details needed. Also, only 29% of companies in the EY survey said they report climate-related issues as part of their regular financial reports.
The good news: more companies (49%) reported conducting analysis to examine the likely scale and timing of climate risks in preparation for worst-case outcomes. Also, 75% have conducted climate-related risk analyses, 62% have undertaken opportunity analyses, and 61% have disclosed decarbonization strategies.
However, concerns remain that reporting and analysis are not translating into meaningful action.
ALSO READ: Climate Change Displacement Disproportionately Impacts Minority and Low-Income Families
Raising Environmental Awareness in the Workplace
As those in leadership positions begin to take small steps in addressing climate change, employees within companies can raise environmental awareness in the workplace through actions of their own or by lobbying business leaders to act in the following areas.
- Transportation. One of the biggest ways to make an impact is to cut down on carbon released through burning gasoline on the way to and from work. Employees can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by carpooling, taking public transportation, walking or riding a bike to work. Employers can reduce emissions by adopting hybrid or remote work policies that save employees a commute.
- Recycling program. A companywide recycling program, with bins placed in lunchrooms and in the copy room, can reduce a workplace’s carbon footprint.
- Suppliers. Companies can choose to purchase office supplies only from vendors who use recycled paper and other recycled office products.
- Donations. Rather than throwing away old supplies or office furniture, companies can donate them to non-profit organizations, local schools, community organizations or churches.
- Eliminate disposables. Companies can provide reusable products for employees, including plates, utensils, coffee mugs, water bottles and more.
- Sleep mode. The network of computers in the office uses large amounts of energy. Putting computers on sleep mode at the end of the day or during lunch breaks can lead to significant reductions in power usage.
- Energy-efficient lights. Start a campaign to replace all the lighting in the building with energy-efficient bulbs or motion-activated lights that shut off when no one is around.
Examples of Companies With Strong Environmental Awareness
As part of DiversityInc’s Top 50 survey, we ask participants about their policies, practices and procedures around environmental, social and governance (ESG) in addition to their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) data.
General Motors (No. 36 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list), is one example of a company that has “green” practices in place. The company is preparing for a “zero emissions, all-electric” future by prioritizing “climate actions that are inclusive for our current and future workforce, as well as the communities in which we live and work.” GM is doing so by making its global products and operations carbon-neutral by 2040, eliminating tailpipe emissions on new light-duty vehicles in the U.S. by 2035 and by “planning to source 100% renewable energy in the U.S. by 2025 and globally by 2035.”
Browse the Featured Partners section of our site to find out how our other partners prioritize environmental awareness.