Engaged employees are asking their leaders to take climate action

Jennifer Steinmann is Global Sustainability & Climate Practice Leader, Kathryn Alsegaf is an Associate Director, and Derek Pankratz is a Senior Research Leader at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. This post is based on a Deloitte memorandum by Ms. Steinmann, Ms. Alsegaf, Mr. Pankratz, David R. Novak, and Nirmal Kujur. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Illusory Promise of Stakeholder Governance (discussed on the Forum here) by Lucian A. Bebchuk and Roberto Tallarita; Stakeholder Capitalism in the Time of COVID (discussed on the Forum here) by Lucian A. Bebchuk, Kobi Kastiel, and Roberto Tallarita; and Lifting Labor’s Voice: A Principled Path Toward Greater Worker Voice And Power Within American Corporate Governance by Leo E. Strine, Jr., Aneil Kovvali, and Oluwatomi O. Williams.

Employees with strong environmental awareness can play a pivotal role in accelerating corporate sustainability plans, yet Deloitte survey data shows that leaders could be doing more to engage their full workforce around the need for action.

Addressing climate change will require both system-level changes and billions of individual ones: from how we get around, to what we eat, and how we do our jobs. Deloitte’s researchers have been tracking the world’s emerging eco-consciousness across generations, at the leadership levels of companies, among employees, and in society. A look across the landscape of these survey results shows that those with high climate awareness are ready to act in more sustainable ways at work, and they have been making their voices heard. Leaders are starting to heed the call for change, but are they doing enough to get everyone involved?

The call for climate and sustainability action is coming from employees of all ages

Among employed adults surveyed by Deloitte Consumer Center in March 2023 for its global State of the Consumer survey, 69% said they want their companies to invest in sustainability efforts, including reducing carbon, using renewable energy, and reducing waste.[1] This sentiment is higher among surveyed employees between the ages of 18 and 34 years old, who showed a stronger interest in sustainability initiatives than respondents from older generations.

This desire for sustainable action among about a quarter of the workforce is starting to evaluate potential job opportunities, too. Among respondents to Deloitte’s ConsumerSignals survey, 27% said they will consider a potential employer’s position on sustainability before accepting a job.[2] This data indicates that at least one in four job seekers investigates what potential employers are doing—or not doing—to address environmental impacts, and may be willing to make decisions accordingly.

Young people, in particular, tend to believe they can be a powerful force for change at work. According to Deloitte’s latest Gen Z and Millennial survey, which surveyed a globally-representative sample of more than 14,000 Gen Zs and 8,000 millennials (adults been the ages of 18-40) from 44 countries, 64% of respondents believe in the power they have to drive organizational change, and that their organizations are listening and incorporating feedback.[3] This means that as young employees are entering the workforce, many not only have a strong environmental awareness but also an expectation that their employers will be responsive to their input.

Inaction on climate and sustainability is also affecting job satisfaction

These shifts in employee expectations could have a downside for companies that aren’t taking sustainability into account. Among respondents to Deloitte’s ConsumerSignals survey, about a quarter have considered switching jobs to work for a more sustainable company.

Leaders recognize employees are among the most important stakeholders

According to a Deloitte survey of more than 2,000 C-suite leaders, employee morale and well-being and employee recruitment and retention are among the greatest benefits of their sustainability efforts so far. This reinforces the findings from the ConsumerSignals research on the importance of sustainability to employee satisfaction and retention.

Employee activism is starting to influence corporate sustainability efforts

This demand for action seems to be having an effect. Among Deloitte survey respondents, employee activism is a significant driver of corporate action on sustainability, with 80% of C-suite leaders reporting that their employees have already impacted their sustainability plans, or soon will.[4]

In fact, 59% of all leaders surveyed said “employee activism” caused them to increase their sustainability efforts over the past year, with 24% describing the impact as “significant.”

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

Yet employees say they are still not seeing “enough” climate action in the workplace

While sustainability plans are gaining steam, only 38% of those surveyed by Deloitte agree that their employer “is doing enough to address climate change and sustainability.” Most respondents are either neutral or are dissatisfied with the efforts they’ve seen so far.

Leaders are not having regular conversations with employees about sustainability

There may also be room for organizations to open a dialogue with their employees about climate change, and the company’s response to it. According to Deloitte’s ConsumerSignals survey, 45% of employees have never talked with their managers or supervisors about sustainable practices at work.

Employers have an opportunity to bolster satisfaction and accelerate impact by engaging workers on climate and sustainability issues

Business leaders should not take their environmentally aware workers for granted. They can lend their skills and knowledge to tackle climate-related business problems, flag potential issues for leadership, and help catalyze deep organizational change.

To better appeal to them, organizations can communicate frequently about their commitment to climate action, make tangible, material changes to the company’s operations, and invest in learning and development that empowers employees to contribute. Companies should make workers active participants in their climate and sustainability programs and provide them with opportunities to share feedback via dialogues and forums that can lead to change. While some employee-driven initiatives—eliminating single-use plastics or increasing recycling, for example—may not drive the greatest impact on emissions, being responsive to these suggestions can create visible reminders of the company’s commitment to sustainability.

And as the climate continues to change, employees and customers are looking to see that business is stepping up to the challenge.


1The Deloitte State of the Consumer survey was an online panel of more than 23,000 respondents in 23 countries, with responses concentrated in North America, Europe, East Asia, and South Asia. The questionnaire has been revised and is now being fielded as the ConsumerSignals survey.(go back)

2The Deloitte ConsumerSignals survey is an online panel across more than 20 countries, with responses concentrated in North America, Europe, East Asia, and South Asia. Each country-level data set represents approximately 1,000 adults (18 and older), more than 20,000 in total. The results included in this report were collected between March 23-30, 2023, and between Sept. 21-27, 2023.(go back)

3Deloitte’s Gen Z and Millennial Survey reflects the responses of 14,483 Gen Zs and 8,373 millennials (22,856 respondents in total), from 44 countries across North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific. The survey was fielded between Nov. 29, 2022 and Dec. 25, 2022. As defined in the study, Gen Z respondents were born between January 1995 and December 2004, and millennial respondents were born between January 1983 and December 1994.(go back)

4The Deloitte 2023 CxO Sustainability Report was conducted among 2,016 C-level executives by KS&R Inc. and Deloitte, between September and October 2022. The respondents represent 24 countries: 48% from Europe/Middle East/South Africa; 28% from the Americas; 24% from Asia Pacific. All major industry sectors were represented in the sample.(go back)

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