If you don’t understand climate change, you’re going to stand out in the business world. And not in a good way. Climate change is affecting everything from running an office, to managing supply chains, to investing. If you want to contribute to charting your company’s path forward, you’ll need to be knowledgeable and conversant. The time for sitting on the sidelines has passed.
The pressure on businesses to respond to climate change is enormous — which means that pressure is on every employee. If you need proof of that, think about your customers. A study late last year found that 85% of consumers have shifted to purchasing more sustainable options over the last five years. The change is especially concentrated among the young, which is a telling sign of the future.
Your time to shine
You’ve likely already seen this generational shift among colleagues, who are increasingly pushing management to hasten its actions. Last year, more than 1,100 employees of consulting giant McKinsey sent a letter to the company, asking them to reveal their clients’ carbon emission numbers.
As BlackRock Chairman Larry Fink wrote in his 2022 letter to CEOs, “Every company and every industry will be transformed by the transition to a net zero world. The question is, will you lead or will you be led?”
This is your chance to shine, both as a business leader and as an employee. Managers will be probing the ranks for green ideas, whether they are in service of your clients or your company itself. Those who excel in this kind of thinking will be rewarded, given the growing demand for environmental knowledge.
You could even choose to specialize in ESG. According to a consultant at a London-based private equity recruiting firm, salaries in late 2021 for ESG specialists were up between 50% and 100% from the previous year.
How to get started
Begin by staying abreast of global business publications like The Economist and Wall Street Journal. Make sure to stay alert for bias. Climate change is a divisive issue. Beware the extremist source that takes sides in an all-good or all-bad way. You should also assess your own biases. You’ll be negotiating this landscape with people who may not think the same as you. Your knowledge must be broad enough to understand where they’re coming from.
When you’re ready for a deeper look at the nuts and bolts, try Environmental Finance, ESG Today or the Society of Environmental Journalists. They cover all aspects of ESG, from science to regulatory changes to green business developments. This is your chance to gather rounded expertise that’s adaptable to any situation.
You can also follow thought leaders like Mark Carney, Damilola Ogunbiyi, Selwin Hart and Christine Lagarde. Then come podcasts like ESG Insider, which discusses matters shaping business, and The Sustainability Story, produced by my organization. As your knowledge expands, you’ll find it easy to seek out podcasts more specific to your interests.
Another way to deepen your understanding of climate change is to get involved with a climate change–focused organization or demonstration. There, you’ll meet people who are well-educated on the issue, and you’ll become better informed by the discussions you have with them. You’ll also get a firsthand look at the seriousness of the challenge facing us. For instance, I recently volunteered picking up trash near where I live. The experience made clear to me the immensity of the recycling problem in the U.S., and afterward, I felt more inspired to do something about it.
Finally, you can always get an ESG or climate professional certificate. But if your endgame is becoming a respected voice in the workplace, the best route is to simply put in the hours educating yourself.
Integrating your understanding of climate change into your life will require a developed set of soft skills, such as open-mindedness, empathy, negotiation and conflict management. You’ll need self-reflection to examine why your views may be wrong or out of date. And if you’re confronted by someone who doesn’t believe in climate change at all, you’ll have to deploy deft communication skills to find common understanding and be persuasive.
Those soft skills will go a long way toward enhancing your discussions at work around how to play a positive role in fighting climate change. And they’ll establish you as someone who knows how to handle a difficult topic — an attribute highly valued in a leader.
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