Director Saltbox Training & Events
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What role can L&D play in the climate emergency?

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As global leaders embark on two weeks of discussions at COP26 in Glasgow, what can the L&D profession do to equip people for the climate emergency?

2nd Nov 2021
Director Saltbox Training & Events
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With COP26 now underway the eyes of the world are on those in power in the hope that they will have the courage and integrity to make good long-term decisions and implement the necessary actions to address the climate emergency - no matter how challenging, uncomfortable or unpopular these may be. 

Meanwhile, we in the L&D community should consider our own role and responsibilities in relation to the climate emergency. Whether we’re an in-house L&D person or an independent facilitator of learning, we can make a difference to individuals, organisations, and the world around us.

L&D can provide formal and informal learning activities which engage employees at all levels in the conversation about climate change

Business is a key driver for climate action, so not only do we need to prepare people for the effects of climate change on their jobs and their workplaces but we also need to enable and empower them to address their organisation’s impact on the planet. So what can the L&D profession do to equip people individually and collectively for the climate emergency?

Building awareness and understanding

Climate change is inextricably linked with other global challenges such as loss of biodiversity, race and gender injustice, health inequalities and the pandemic. Everything is interconnected and interdependent, and every element of an individual’s or an organisation’s work has a knock-on effect (such as on the natural environment, the local community, or the climate).

Employees and stakeholders need to understand this and to adopt a systems-thinking approach which enables them to see the big picture and pay attention to the impact of their company’s products, decisions, and behaviours on people and planet.  

 Leaders at all levels must generate an organisational culture which focuses on how to create a better future for people and planet

L&D can provide formal and informal learning activities which engage employees at all levels in the conversation about climate change and how it interconnects with other issues. By helping people to understand why and how things must change we can increase their commitment to what may be a very difficult and challenging path ahead. Some resources to support this include:

  • Carbon Literacy Training which gives people the knowledge and capacity to create a positive shift in response to climate change.

  • The SDG Academy online learning modules which help people understand the UN Sustainable Development Goals and how they can contribute to them.

  • The Our Planet: Our Business film, which explores how businesses can help to tackle the world's environmental crisis.

  • Nature-based learning approaches which help people to connect with themselves, others, and the world around them and to be more environmentally aware.

Developing critical skills

Organisations operate in an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world and our L&D strategies and interventions need to help people to accept the fact that change, crisis and disruption will be a permanent feature of our workplaces, as well as equipping them with the tools and skills they need to work effectively in this environment. Examples of these tools and skills include... 

  • Anticipating, understanding, and responding to change 

  • Making effective decisions in the face of uncertainty

  • Navigating through complexity, chaos, and confusion

  • Creative thinking, problem solving, and innovation

  • Systems-thinking

  • Specific technical skills for new technologies and processes

  • Self-care, personal resilience and wellbeing 

Leadership and organisational structure 

The future of our planet requires businesses to prioritise compassion and sustainability over consumption and profit - for many organisations this will necessitate a fundamental shift in leadership style. Leaders at all levels must generate an organisational culture which focuses on how to create a better future for people and planet rather than how to make more money or be more powerful. 

Leadership development programmes and strategies need to challenge the traditional leadership narratives based on masculine principles such as confidence, competition, power, and authority, and embrace feminine leadership principles such as connection, co-operation, sharing, empowerment, and humility.

There are many models of leadership which can be drawn on to support this including Regenerative Leadership, Feminist Leadership, Compassionate Leadership, Humble Leadership, and Holistic Leadership.

Many forward-thinking, ethical organisations are emerging whose purpose, values and culture are built around wellbeing, sustainability, and climate action

Leaders also need to recognise and understand the connection between personal health and wellbeing and the health and wellbeing of the planet. When people are stressed and burnt out, they find it hard to embrace new ideas, generate creative solutions, and change to more sustainable habits, and they make short-term rather than long-term decisions. Organisations must therefore prioritise the wellbeing of their people in order to prioritise the wellbeing of the planet, and L&D has have a role to play in this. 

Many forward-thinking, ethical organisations are emerging whose purpose, values and culture are built around wellbeing, sustainability, and climate action – many of them becoming a Certified B Corp (a business that balances purpose and profit and considers the impact of its decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment) - and their L&D strategies are designed to support this.

For more traditional businesses a profound and challenging transformation will be required, and L&D strategies need to help change the expectations and perceptions of leadership, transform leadership style, and catalyse culture change.  

Giving employees a voice

Leadership is a practice not a position, and everyone within an organisation can be a leader, regardless of their job role or position. All employees should be supported and enabled to be the change they want to see (setting an example and role modelling the behaviour that they want to see in others) and to communicate the change they want to see in a way that others hear and take notice.

We in the L&D community need to also have the courage and integrity to make difficult decisions and implement appropriate actions to help address the climate emergency

If employees speak up when their company is causing harm (to customers, employees or the environment) they become a force for change. Employee activists can put pressure on their employer to use more ethical/sustainable services (e.g. banks, pension providers, or energy suppliers), adopt greener production processes, or boycott companies or products that are damaging. L&D has an important role in equipping employees with the skills and confidence they need to step up and lead in this way.

Time to step up

Like our political leaders, we in the L&D community need to also have the courage and integrity to make difficult decisions and implement appropriate actions to help address the climate emergency. We all need to use our roles and our personal agency to help generate the shift that is required for the benefit of individual employees, the organisation as a whole, and the future of life on earth.

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