4 steps climate-conscious executives can take to become changemakers

4 steps climate-conscious executives can take to become changemakers
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  • 79% of executives say we're at a tipping point for climate-change response, a Deloitte survey found.
  • Executives are well-positioned to advocate for climate-change action.

Executives are often the voices of their organization, with the ability to influence their ecosystems and magnify impact beyond their own operations. This makes them inherently well-positioned to lead and advocate for climate-change action.

Business leaders have a platform readily available to support their own organizations' climate transformation efforts, engage their employees in meaningful action, and help further external organizations' steps to fight climate change. When these leaders collectively use their voices, they can effectively collaborate and innovate on sustainability solutions across industries and disciplines.

The 2022 Deloitte CxO Sustainability Report: The disconnect between ambition and impact, which polled more than 2,000 C-suite executives across 21 countries, revealed that CxOs — defined as the range of roles across the C-suite — appear to show much higher perception of, exposure to, and concern for climate change than the general public.

In fact, 81% of CxOs surveyed said they've been personally affected by climate-change events (e.g., extreme heat, more frequent and powerful storms, flooding), compared to a survey of the general public, which found that only 49% reported recently experiencing a climate-related event. This intimate understanding presents leaders with a unique opportunity to share their personal experiences and normalize the view of climate change as a very real and consequential force.

Deloitte's research also showed that almost 79% of executives see the world at a tipping point for responding to climate change, but there is a prevailing sense of optimism, as 88% agreed that with immediate action, we can limit the worst impacts of climate change.


So how can CxOs become climate changemakers and help tip the scales in favor of our planet's life span?

Clearly communicate the organization's climate change strategy, how it was developed, and why it's the right one for the organization

Communicating the organization's climate strategy to stakeholders — including regulators, shareholders, consumers, and employees — is almost as important as determining which climate actions to take in the first place.

And with CxOs reporting feeling increased pressure from these stakeholder groups around climate action, transparency on measuring progress and meeting goals are even more crucial.

Leaders should involve and engage the whole ecosystem — suppliers, clients, peers, governments, and more — to collaborate, share leading practices, and inspire greater commitments.

They can show how the business's climate strategy is both good for the planet and good for the company with credible action plans that use widely recognized frameworks and include tangible, measurable goals and incentives in the short term to help ensure long-term goals stay on track.


Identify the hierarchy of climate actions that affect the greatest change

Early insights into Deloitte Global's 2022 Millennial and Gen Z Survey show respondents ranked sustainability measures such as reduction of plastics and recycling in the workplace as being most important to them.

While these actions are highly visible, they are not the actions that make the most impact. CxOs should amplify communication around the "needle-moving" actions they're deploying that demonstrate they have embedded climate considerations into their culture and have the senior leader buy-in and influence to effect meaningful transformation.

4 steps climate-conscious executives can take to become changemakers
Kathy Alsegaf, Global Internal Sustainability Leader, DeloitteKathy Alsegaf/LinkedIn

The less visible needle-moving actions — such as requiring suppliers and business partners to meet specific sustainability criteria or developing new climate-friendly products or services — are less likely to be widely recognized within an organization. However, CxOs should find a compelling way to communicate these less obvious but highly effective sustainability actions.

Make it personal

Leaders should openly discuss the steps they're taking to protect the environment.

Whether it's composting, reducing travel, or eating less meat, leading by example may inspire others to follow suit. Given the number of CxOs who indicated they've been personally impacted by climate change, they can seize the opportunity to share insight into their own experiences, normalize it as an issue impacting people at all levels, and reinforce that no one is immune from the effects of climate change.


Be optimistic but realistic

CxOs need to infuse optimism into workplace culture to catalyze action. While recent reports show the current environment can lead to defeatism and inaction, leaders with a positive mindset will help to motivate employees and challenge the notion that it's too late to make a difference.

Clear, authentic, and frequent communication — backed up by real commitment and progress — is central to all four steps in becoming a climate changemaker. CxOs that increase transparency and prioritize climate change by voicing their personal experiences can prove that collective action outweighs inaction, tipping the scales in favor of a more prosperous and prolonged existence for the Earth and its inhabitants.

Kathy Alsegaf is the Global Internal Sustainability Leader at Deloitte