Date posted: 10/05/2024 5 min read

How to find or create a more sustainable workplace

Tips for finding an employer taking positive action on climate change, plus how to drive change from within your organisation.

Quick take

  • Workers – especially young generations – expect their employers to take positive action on climate change.
  • When looking for a new employer, job candidates can research companies’ environmental credentials and check the progress they’ve made on sustainability initiatives.
  • Employees wanting to stay in their current role can still inspire change from within their organisation, with finance professionals in particular able to wield significant power.

The target to halve CO2 emissions by 2030 is looking increasingly unlikely and employees are frustrated with business leaders’ lack of commitment to sustainability. ‘Climate quitting’ is on the rise, with many job candidates are intent on finding new horizons where they can make a difference.

Concern is high particularly among younger generations. Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, which gathered insights across 44 countries, including New Zealand and Australia, revealed almost half of the respondents had previously rejected work assignments due to ethical concerns, while more than a third had turned down employers whose values did not align with their own.

But how difficult is it to find employers that are genuinely committed to making real change happen?

Richard Evans, CEO of Talent Nation, a trans-Tasman recruitment agency specialising in ESG roles, says the commitment of an organisation is largely linked to that of the CEO and the board.

“If you want to assess whether an organisation is walking the talk, the first thing I would look at is the CEO’s position on sustainability,” he says.

Evans says a Google search of the company can reveal a lot.

“If they are outspoken on their environmental credentials but, for example, have questionable social practices, that indicates that they are not genuine in their commitments.”

He says B Corp Certification is a credible accreditation that businesses can pursue to demonstrate to job seekers that ESG is embedded in their purpose.

Other external certifications, such as Climate Active, Toitū or Ekos – which allow organisations to legitimately claim they are prioritising environmental responsibility – can also be helpful, “although these standards can usually be reached through the use of offsets”.

For larger businesses, he recommends checking to see if they are aligned to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to develop their emissions reduction and net-zero targets.

Evans says any candidate going through a recruitment process should do their research before they’re in the room with the hiring manager. Information is available from organisations such as the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark and the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (now taken over by the IFRS Foundation), which monitor companies’ ESG progress.

“You should know their net-zero ambitions and whether they disclose their emissions publicly,” he suggests, adding that it can also be worthwhile speaking with existing employees. “A quick LinkedIn search should identify connections that you can reach out to and validate your findings.”

During the recruitment process, there are questions candidates can ask to get a measure of the company’s climate commitment.

“Where organisations are currently getting tripped up is that they have set targets but have not developed the roadmap to get there. Ask them what they see as the biggest barriers for their business in achieving their net-zero ambitions,” says Evans.

Driving positive action from within

Lucy Piper is the director of WorkforClimate, an organisation that helps employees organise and advocate for accelerated climate change. It offers guidance and resources on how workers can enact change in four key areas: energy, emissions, money and influence.

She recommends candidates read a potential employer’s sustainability report, “and if they don’t have one, that would indicate they are not thinking in this space at all”.

“But if you are interviewing at an organisation which is lacking in this area, that’s a great opportunity for you to make that suggestion. You don’t need to yield that in a way that creates conflict, you want to help the company.”

She says the public has been falsely convinced in recent years that they can have the most positive impact on climate change by adapting their individual day-to-day activities.

But, she says, your job is your most powerful climate tool.

“We spend most of our time at work inside businesses which have power to rapidly move resources and to engage hundreds or thousands of people.

“If you can influence the business you work for to do better, such as getting your company to switch to renewable energy, you are having a much bigger impact on the climate.”

An important role for accountants

Piper says green skills and decarbonisation knowledge are becoming critical.

“Every employee needs to have a basic understanding of what their department can do to mitigate climate risk. Anyone with financial capabilities has extraordinary power,” she adds, “and they don’t often realise that they have power.

“Financial arguments are the core of every good business case and in leveraging that expertise you can build business cases for transformation in a way that has credibility and influence.”

But, she says, it’s not all about numbers.

“It is also about the moral and ethical part of the business. Leveraging storytelling is crucial, helping people understand the longer-term view on climate action.”

Piper recommends financial professionals and accountants familiarise themselves with sustainability strategies, such as doing a course that offers entry-point knowledge to gain confidence.

“For example, WorkforClimate teaches the technical side of corporate climate goals and the big concepts, such as reducing emissions.”

Employees in a small business can have even greater control.

“Ascertain where in your manufacturing, supply chains or services you are creating emissions, and you can pull levers that are going to have a much bigger impact. Accelerate the good things and the solutions.”

Evans says awareness and interest in positively impacting our planet is at an all-time high and accountants have a crucial role to play.

“With mandatory disclosures coming into place and investment frameworks being used to assess risks and opportunities, there is financial benefit to organisations transitioning to a net-zero economy, and for that we need accountants.”

CA ANZ sustainability micro courses

CA ANZ has a range of micro courses that focus on sustainability – from essentials to assurance. Visit the CA ANZ online store for this and other options.