Climate literacy: Why ESG Training for Employees is Crucial

Forward-thinking Companies are Schooling Their Workforce in Climate Action, Building Corporate Sustainability Champions Committed to Being Agents of Change

Employees with strong environmental awareness and knowledge play a pivotal role in accelerating corporate sustainability.

That’s according to recent Deloitte research, which reveals that companies who educate, engage and empower employees in sustainability will not only bolster worker satisfaction – but accelerate impact and catalyse deep organisational change.

And employees want to learn.

According to Salesforce research on the Sustainability Talent Gap, over 8 in 10 global workers want to help their company operate sustainably, with 3 in 5 employees eager to incorporate sustainability into their current role.

"Leading companies today are not only setting science-based targets to slash emissions and drive progress through their supply chains. They’re also engaging their customers and employees to make smarter choices and build momentum for broader societal progress," says Carter Roberts, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund.

One step many companies are taking is investing in employee training – 50% of leaders surveyed by Deloitte say they are already educating employees about sustainability and climate change, while another 41% plan to launch such a programme within the next two years.

This commitment by companies arrives as the new European Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) comes into force (January 1) mandating 60,000 companies in the EU to educate and engage key stakeholders.

It is also likely fuelled by the upcoming SEC climate risk disclosure ruling in the US. 

Employee training on climate action is no longer a nice-to-have, but increasingly necessary if companies are to reach ambitious net-zero goals.

In an interview with Reuters a year ago, Microsoft President Brad Smith warned that thousands of businesses would likely fail to meet pledges to combat climate change unless they start training employees on sustainability.

"We have to move very quickly to start to bring our emissions down, and the ultimate bottleneck is the supply of skilled people," he said.

And recent research from LinkedIn’s 2023 Global Green Skills report released at the end of 2023 backs this up – showing that demand for green talent is outpacing the growth of green skills.

To address climate change, we need to understand it

Climate literacy extends beyond a basic awareness or knowledge of climate change and represents a deeper level of understanding, where individuals possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes to effectively engage in conversations and take informed action regarding climate-related issues.

IKEA for example has trained its 20,000 food workers in technology that has cut the Swedish furniture giant’s food waste by 50%. While drinks multinational Diageo is working with the University of Oxford to equip its executives with ESG skills to ensure a truly sustainable business.

And consultancies like Deloitte and Bain are investing millions in upskilling their consultants in ESG to ensure they have the skills to help clients transform – good for the planet and good for business.

In the words of Deloitte Global CEO Emeritus Punit Renjen: “To address climate change, we need to understand it.”

Under Renjen’s watch, as Global CEO, Deloitte was among the first big companies to roll out a climate learning programme for employees.

"Deloitte’s climate learning program is a powerful tool to unlock the climate ambition of our most valuable asset and superpower—our people. By educating and inspiring all 330,000 of us, we can help drive collective action at the scale required to help address climate change,” he said at the time.

For leading insurer AXA, whose Climate School is training its 145,000-strong global workforce in ESG, the benefits are multiple.

As well as building awareness about AXA’s climate strategy and increasing understanding of the impacts of climate change to the business, the training encourages change in employee behaviour and attitude and develops the ability to think critically about climate topics.

To achieve its targets, AXA must act as “an investor, as insurer and as an exemplary company by integrating climate issues in every job of the company”, the company says.

As well as training AXA employees, the Climate Academy is now working with more than 130 organisations worldwide – including organisations such as Microsoft, Unilever and Heineken – to integrate the Climate School, making it accessible to 4 million people worldwide.

Due to increased demand, AXA Climate School has more recently rolled out a new 10-syllabus curriculum called Net Zero School to help knowledge workers across professional services companies to fully understand the decarbonisation challenges of some of the most CO2 intensive sectors, to help their clients decarbonise.

Make employees your biggest sustainability champions

One company that has partnered with AXA Climate School to build sustainability champions among its employees is IT major HCLTech.

Committed to achieving net-zero by 2040 and recently recognised as an ‘industry mover’ in the coveted S&P Global Sustainability Yearbook, the India-headquartered tech giant is taking its 220,000-strong workforce across 54 countries on the climate journey with it.

In 2022, in partnership with AXA, HCLTech launched its Sustainability School and is delivering a comprehensive climate literacy learning series.

The climate literacy course covers topics such as the impending threats to biodiversity, the exploitation of natural resources, and the impact on livelihoods across geographical regions. It also delivers actionable insights, looking at the innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions within HCLTech and with clients – as well as helping employees understand how to reduce their own carbon footprint.

“Our people can be our biggest champions on sustainability and this learning series will provide them with practical tools so they can be agents of change within the company and their own communities,” says Santhosh Jayaram, Global Head of Sustainability at HCLTech.

French fashion conglomerate LVMH takes a similar stance, believing that “each employee can be an actor of change”, Helene Valade, LVMH’s Environmental Development Director said during the Change Now environmental summit that took place in Paris.

Key to this, according to Valade, is the provision of “expert training” and LVMH has committed to environmental education for all 200,000 employees by 2026.

Helene Valade, LVMH’s Environmental Development Director

From Vallée de la Millière, a 75-acre wetland located about an hour outside of Paris and home to more than 350 plant and animal species, the luxury goods giant will provide biodiversity awareness and training for employees with programmes tailored around specific employee functions – from a procurement specialist evaluating suppliers of raw materials, a sales associate responding to customer enquiries about a product’s eco credentials or a logistics specialist navigating the most eco-friendly modes of product transport.

Building the ESG expertise and skills of employees is a no-brainer, given sustainability is one of the defining issues of the time.

This is especially true for consultancies, financial institutions and tech companies for whom ESG is increasingly central to business success, as they work with clients to improve their ESG performance.  

Supporting the client transition – green skills

Take Nordea. As the largest financial services group in the Nordics, Nordea has an opportunity to support and strengthen clients through climate change – and is tapping this with the launch of a new modular sustainability training programme that allows its more than 30,000 employees to tailor the curriculum to suit their specific needs and roles.

According to Anne Schult Ulriksen, Head of ESG at Nordea’s Large Corporates & Institutions unit, the aim of the programme is to “help ensure that we remain relevant, competent and compliant on sustainability topics, and that we continue to support our clients’ transition towards a more sustainable net-zero future.”

Developed in-house to bring out the Nordea perspective (the bank’s own goals and policies and the challenges its clients typically face) the curriculum ensures all staff understand Nordea’s positions on sustainability issues and equips them with the skills to support client shifts to sustainable business practices.

Categorised into 10 core modules, the training covers topics ranging from Nordea’s sustainability strategy and the current reporting and regulatory environment to sustainable products and services, engagement and stewardship, and ESG ratings and research.

Anne Schult Ulriksen, Head of ESG at Nordea’s Large Corporates & Institutions unit

In developing its ESG curriculum, consulting giant Bain & Company realised the need for bespoke content and has tapped some of the world’s leading universities.

Long considered a sustainability frontrunner in the industry, achieving carbon neutral status for the past 10 years in a row, Bain is not just committed to tackling its own footprint but that of its clients – and this requires a deep understanding of ESG matters.

“To become the leading consulting firm in ESG, we needed to ensure all our employees have mastered these topics,” says Brussels-based Bain Associate Partner Alexandre Gueulette.

So, its Sustainability & Responsibility practice set about developing a programme to cater to employees with different baseline understandings – unveiling a global initiative with local implementation.

Each region partnered with a major university (12 world-class universities are involved) and developed its own curriculum to equip Bain professionals (Bainies) with the ESG skillsets they need, from carbon transition to circularity and food systems, tailoring each to the relevant demands of the thousands of consultants across 40 countries.

While the Italy team developed four modules with Bocconi University, Bain’s Australian offices partnered with the Melbourne Business School to create three modules and two masterclasses with training covering climate science and policy, planetary boundaries, doughnut economics, climate risks, and more.

In the Americas, the team partnered with MIT Sloan to develop the ‘Sustainability in Action’ training programme and 1,100 Bainies opted in to learn how to make the business case for sustainability and explore sustainable business strategies.

The training was rolled out to all Bain consultants digitally throughout 2023.

Bain's ESG training programme was rolled out to all Bain consultants digitally throughout 2023

Take a Sustainability Masters at EY

Taking sustainability education to even greater heights, Big Four firm EY offers its global employees the opportunity to undertake a Master’ Degree – without charge.

Launched in collaboration with Hult International Business School in 2022, the EY Masters in Sustainability aims to significantly expand sustainability and climate literacy among EY’s staff, helping them transfer their skills into sustainability services for clients around the globe.

Delivered entirely online and available to all EY’s 312,000 global employees, the customised curriculum looks to efficiently upskill students in high growth areas for client work.

“EY people are passionate about tackling global challenges and this qualification will help both the EY organisation and EY clients become true leaders in building a more sustainable world,” say Carmine Di Sibio, EY Global Chairman and CEO.

Whatever the approach, educating and empowering employees in the fight against climate change is a no-brainer.

Here are five more companies harnessing building climate literacy and ESG skills among employees.

1 OCBC Bank

The Singapore-based bank has rolled out sustainability training for its 30,000 employees a part of a structured approach to school more subject exprts or its sustainability push. The programme includes more than 20 modules, co-developed with sustainability exprts. OCBC has also added ESG-related jobs as a part of its ‘future smart’ programme.

2 BNP Paribas

The bank has an internal training programme for all of its 200,000 employees worldwide. Dubbed We Engage, the programme explains the role that all staff can play in the move to sustainable finance, both internally and with the bank’s customers with topics including the integration of ESG criteria into investments, support for financial inclusion, microfinance institutions and green bonds.

3 HP

In 2020, HP began encouraging all employees to set sustainable impact goals that relate directly to their job function. So, in a marketing team, it might be focused on communicating energy efficiency gains more effectively. To help employees achieve their goals, HP offers 19 different internal trainings on sustainability.

4 Salesforce

As well as more than 7,000 employees at Salesforce participating in employee-led Earthforce Groups, the tech company delivers climate literacy training through its online learning platform Trailhead. 

5 Bloomsbury Publishing

Bloomsbury Publishing is rolling out a Carbon Literacy Training programme for global employees to boost understanding of what climate change means both locally and internationally.  

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