Ask any HR leader or talent acquisition specialist about what younger talent values in an employer today, and sustainability will be somewhere in the mix. For these employees and candidates, the importance of climate change ranges from the intensely practical to the deeply idealistic; and the same goes for many employers, with sustainability seen as a fundamental part of doing business simply because it is a matter of survival on one hand and the right thing to do on the other hand.
Sitting right in the middle of this discussion is the irrefutable connection between sustainable business and the well-being of that business's employees. Organisations that strive to be sustainable recognise that they are part of the community and the environment. In exactly the same way, employees live in the community and the environment, and they bear the effects of climate change even more directly than the business does.
This point is frequently made in discussions of why organisations need to support diversity. It's no different for sustainability.
In today's world, much is spoken about the cost of tackling climate change, with massive international movements taking place to direct billions of dollars worth of financing into green technology and decarbonisation. But while these expenditures are being racked up, millions of people around the world have for years been already bearing the cost in ways that are much more difficult to account for, but which add up to a bottom line far greater than the overtly financial.
What's all too often overlooked in sustainability discussions that when we talk about paying for climate change, we are already paying. We are paying in rising electricity bills as our air conditioning works that much harder to keep us cool. We are paying in higher food costs as agriculture and aquaculture yields are affected by rising temperatures. We are paying in flood damage and storm damage as extreme weather events become more common, in soaring mortality and illness rates from heat waves or cold snaps. We are paying in a higher incidence of insect borne diseases as vectors such as mosquitoes and flies breed more readily in the warmer temperatures. We are paying in increasing geopolitical instability around us as the most vulnerable parts of the world suffer from water stress, food stress, medical stress.
Organisations that care about their employees need to acknowledge this – and many of the most responsible have already deeply recognised it. Climate change hits the well-being of people right at the most basic foundation of the hierarchy of needs. As important as flexibility and mental health benefits are, these would only be a band-aid over the stresses that environmental degradation places upon practically every population in the world today.
Simply put, if organisations care about their employees, they have no real choice but to care about the state of the environment. Not all will have the means to take action, or at least the kind of far-reaching action they may dream about. But they need to at least start by recognising just how profound a negative influence climate change is on everyone's life today, even if a good many of us have the privilege to not be significantly affected by it so far.
Being sustainable assuredly incurs a cost of doing business. But not being sustainable places an even greater cost upon the people who make up that business.
This World Earth Day, let's remember one thing – climate change has by now become personal to everyone in some way, and caring about sustainability is today an inseparable part of caring about people.