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Why a business’s legacy can hinge on their climate change values

By Kace O'Neill | |7 minute read

Employee activism is becoming more and more prominent throughout workplaces across Australia, and climate change is often a pillar of that activism. It’s important that businesses hold space within that conversation.

Climate change is one of those polarising issues that seemingly everyone has an opinion on. A number of people, regardless of age, are extremely passionate about combating the issue head-on and have strong feelings towards the set values that they hold in regard to climate change, and there is often an expectation that the organisation which they work for resembles those values.

HR Leader recently spoke to Lucy Piper, a corporate climate expert and director at WorkforClimate, about how organisations navigate employee activism and the effect that it can have on their long-term legacy.


“It’s really important for companies to kind of facilitate that conversation, hold the space for it, and almost like, foster the energy that exists inside a company when employees are getting behind issues,” Piper said.

“Whether it be climate, whether it be social justice, whether it be anything, that there’s an opportunity for a business to help drive change instead of managing change internally and managing conversations.”

Of course, the need for organisations to somewhat support their employees’ political or social values has not always been the case. In fact, suppressing one’s thoughts and values and certain topics was expected as soon as they walked in the door to their respective job.

“[In the past] you’d turn up at work and you’d leave your values at the front door when you walked in and sat down at your desk, and you’d almost switch off from the things that you cared about or the things that you were politically or socially engaged with when you’re at work. That was not a time to think about these things,” Piper said.

“But as time has gone on and issues are getting more kind of mainstream media coverage, or how are feeling the impacts of climate change every day in our lives, whether that be floods, torrential downpours, continually, bushfires, extreme heat. People are now feeling the kind of things that they can’t switch off from stuff when they get to work; they can’t just leave their values at the front door anymore.”

Nowadays, especially with the presence of social media, leaving behind those values can almost be impossible as there are always avenues to be exposed to them. This detachment from reality to enter a tunnel-visioned, work-focused mindset is no longer a widespread attitude, and it is not constricted by generation.

“We are seeing a generation or multiple generations actually mingling in the workforce. So, this is from young Gen Z entering the workforce through to Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers who are feeling the acute urgency of this moment that we are in and wanting to take action, express their concerns, feel like they are not complicit in maintaining the status quo,” Piper said.

“We are definitely seeing more and more companies [that] are either coming out with their own statements of support for particular initiatives, or coming out with net zero targets, or their increasing their climate ambition, or their social justice initiatives that they want to support.”

That sharing of ideas and having a space where employees and their employer can have open conversations about real-world issues that both parties hold strong feelings about is crucial for business practices and is something that is being adopted across Australia.

What comes with that terrain, however, is pressure on HR teams and organisational leaders to ensure that their companies are actually representing those values and putting them into practice by implementing strategies.

“Now there’s a lot more talk, there’s a lot more sharing of ideas and also the acute nature of the cost-of-living crisis that everyone is feeling. All of those things add up to a global workforce who are just feeling all of these pressures from different directions, and they’re sharing how they’re feeling on these channels that didn’t used to exist,” Piper said.

“That creates pressure on the inside of the system. It’s really important for companies, for HR leaders to acknowledge this moment in time, make space for it, and really be intentional about how they are going to capture that energy in a positive way and point it at impactful change.”

In terms of the long-term legacy of these organisations, capturing the energy of inspired employees and directing it towards an issue like climate change can make all the difference between a company that last two years and one that lasts 100.

“Companies should be looking at their values. What is the legacy that they’re trying to create in the world? Really digging in deep to why do we exist as a company. What is it that we’re here to do? What is the problem that we’re solving? What is the service that we’re providing?” Piper said.

“If you want to be a company that is around in 100 years (very few companies make it past 20 years), if you want to be a company with longevity, with a legacy, now is the moment that corporate leaders need to be looking at, OK, why do we exist? What are we here to be doing? And acknowledge the sentiment from employees, the way that the workforce is feeling, the things that they care about and tap into it.”

This current practice is an opportunity for organisations to take that leap and transcend past the realm of merely business. Having values that motivate your employees to want to work for your organisations can create a host of positive impacts, in the short term, and more importantly, the long term.

“This is why we exist, adapt, and evolve to be relevant for the future that we’re trying to build. I think it’s a really powerful moment for corporate leaders right now,” Piper concluded.

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Lucy Piper, click below:

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.