Millennials and Gen Z-ers make up the largest portion of the workforce and also worry the most about humans' impact on the environment, according to a recent Gallup poll. And as employee-based stakeholder activism grows, it's creating increased demands on employers. 

In mid-September, for example, thousands of tech company employees descended on the streets of Silicon Valley to lend their voices to the global climate strike, demanding more progressive action from employers like Google and Amazon to address climate change.

As a result, the two tech conglomerates revealed new plans to fight climate change in anticipation of the planned walkout. The day before the global climate strike, Amazon agreed to add 100,000 electric vans to its delivery fleet and committed to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early, and Google made the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history.

Bryce Smith, CEO and founder of LevelTen Energy--a Seattle-based startup that helps companies purchase renewable energy--said tech companies must take this pressure seriously to attract and retain top talent.

But boosting retention isn't the only motivation for environmentally responsible practices. In addition to the ethical implications, there are practical business considerations associated with transitioning to more sustainable practices.

"It's nice when the right thing to do is also good for your brand and defensible from a cost perspective," Smith says. "Renewable energy sits at that nexus, which is why you see so much corporate investment."

The surge in corporate investment extends to both large and small corporations, enabling clean energy buying to almost triple in 2018. While not every company has the capital to buy into huge projects the way Fortune 10s do, all companies can make changes that significantly decrease their carbon footprints.

Five ways to show your employees you're serious about fighting climate change

Companies address their carbon footprints in many different ways, and it can be difficult to know where to start. To get schooled on the topic, Smith explained to me in great detail that employing any combination of the following five tips can help corporate leaders join the global climate change fight:

1. Reduce consumption and become more energy-efficient.

Many offices rely on old, energy-intensive equipment--switching over to newer tech can lower operating costs and reduce emissions. For example, Home Depot installed energy-efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in 91 stores to meet its 2017 emission-reduction goals.

2. Opt for clean energy alternatives.

Replacing coal boilers with natural gas or upgrading your fleet to electric vehicles (EVs) are two ways to reduce fossil fuel use. Since switching partially to EVs in 2010, PepsiCo has reduced diesel fuel consumption by more than a million gallons--and the company has also pre-purchased 100 Tesla Semis in 2017.

3. Purchase carbon offsets.

Corporations that can't reduce emissions significantly can make up for this by buying carbon offsets, which are used to fund green initiatives like forest preservation projects. In 2018, Lyft purchased enough carbon offsets to make each of its over one million daily rides "carbon neutral."

4. Buy renewable energy certificates.

Renewable energy certificates are documents that organizations purchase to prove they're funding renewable energy. These documents quantify how businesses offset the energy they expend for their operations. By purchasing a renewable energy certificate, electricity generated by clean sources is fed into the power grid, reducing the need for "brown" power--such as oil and gas--which ultimately reduces carbon emissions. Whole Foods offsets 100 percent of its energy needs through a combination of renewable energy certificates and on-site energy production.

5. Install solar panels.

Though most companies don't have the internal resources or expertise to manage on-site power production, big companies can reduce the amount of power they purchase from utilities by generating clean power themselves. Tesla's Gigafactory and Apple headquarters' 17-megawatt rooftop solar array offer prime examples of on-site renewable energy initiatives.

Managing your impact isn't one-size-fits-all: Business leaders can and should customize emissions reduction and sustainability plans in ways that are feasible to their own companies. The most important takeaway is that every business must do its part to fight climate change--or risk losing employees and endangering the planet's future. 

Published on: Nov 9, 2019
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