Company practices on climate justice

Anna Triponel

June 17, 2022
Our key takeaway: A growing number of companies are integrating climate justice into their sustainability strategies. They are looking for ways in which to co-create forward-thinking solutions that support affected communities, which seek to counter current injustices, build resilience, and provide protection from further harm. A new guide delves into what this approach can look like. A joint learning is the need to start with education and internal dialogue - bringing external voices in in the process. If employees don’t understand what this topic is about, it won’t be possible to advance meaningfully on integrating it into the business. Although each company’s approach will differ, a common refrain is the importance of building structures for meaningful external stakeholder engagement, aligning company engagement with its operations and value chain, and contributing financial resources to magnify impact. 

Transform to Net Zero, a cross-sector initiative to accelerate the transition to an inclusive, net zero global economy, has published its latest Transformation Guide on Climate Justice where companies share their approaches to integrating climate justice into their business transformation:

  • Climate justice approach to business transformation: The guide observes that a climate justice approach to business transformation “seeks to co-create forward-thinking solutions to support affected communities, which seek to counter current injustices, build resilience, and provide protection from further harm.” This climate justice-focused transformation “incorporates human rights principles, emphasizes fair and inclusive decision-making, promotes a just transition to renewable energy, and features the use of business resources to support frontline communities.”
  • Seven takeaways for companies: There are seven takeaways for companies undertaking this work, based on lessons learned from companies. First, “Do the internal work first. Employees will be a significant resource in addressing climate justice issues. Company-wide engagement is critical to success. Assess your employees’ understanding of climate justice, and provide opportunities for them to lead, learn, discuss and engage.” Second, “Develop an approach aligned with your company’s values. Authentic engagement in climate justice must reflect your organization’s values, and its commitment to equity and justice. Actions ranging from supporting a just transition to renewable energy, to supporting community resilience, require an understanding of where your company believes it can have the most impact.” Third, “Incorporate climate justice into your company’s sustainability strategy. A climate justice approach that is built into the core strategy will have a broader impact. Along with building employee engagement and capacity, the work of revisiting and refining sustainability strategies to center on equity and justice is critical. Include climate justice criteria in decision-making.” Fourth, “Carefully prepare for external engagement. Authentic engagement in climate justice at the community level requires extensive preparation. Begin by deciding which geographies to work in, and reach out to key external stakeholders. Respect and apply stakeholders’ advice. Build formal structures within your organization to listen and learn.” Fifth, “Align engagement with your operations and along your value chain. Climate justice impact will be magnified when initiatives fit within your organization’s purpose, deploying operational and value chain capabilities. Choose initiatives carefully to leverage core capabilities and partnerships to amplify impact.” Sixth, “Contribute financial resources to magnify impact. Community capacity building is a critical component of climate justice work. Financial resources should be deployed through mechanisms such as foundations, grants and loans, which can magnify and scale impact beyond value chain and geography.” Seventh, “Be humble, be patient, and learn from experience. Listen before leading. Acknowledge that your organization is not an expert on climate justice, but that the affected communities you work with are. Take time to co-create solutions. Expect setbacks and mistakes, but learn from them.” 
  • Company approaches: The guide delves into the approaches taken by Starbucks, Unilever, and Wipro. For instance, Starbucks encourages its employees “to complete Al Gore’s Climate Reality training, which includes information on environmental justice. The company also held workshops with supply chain, store development, and product teams to consider the disproportionate impact of climate change on under-resourced communities.” The company invites key voices to speak at employee resource groups to learn more about climate justice. Starbucks listened to feedback from a range of stakeholders on its approach to integrate climate justice, which included “the need to establish formal structures for understanding community needs and a caution to listen before leading. Stakeholders asked the company to develop timelines, milestones, metrics and evaluation mechanisms for the work, and to commit to transparent reporting on progress.” The company is supporting farmers with loans to farmers to build their resiliency to climate change, and grants to small businesses and neighborhood projects that are addressing the inequitable impacts of climate change. Unilever has employees from climate vulnerable locations across the globe that “act as climate justice champions, sharing their knowledge and experiences and setting up space to co-create solutions that benefit their communities and help deliver on global goals.” The company is developing a climate justice toolkit to support these local teams “explaining the importance of acting on the topic, the global approach, and key messaging.” The company has held focus groups at senior levels - with the company’s sustainability advisory council and on a one-to-one basis - and at ground level, “with employees in offices and factories, within the larger value chain, and with those most likely to be affected by climate change impacts, such as smallholder farmers.” This engagement strategy engagement strategy “increased knowledge and passion around climate justice and helped to create alignment on what the company aspires to do.” The company’s “global climate justice strategy currently incorporates an impact study, an internal communications campaign, and external advocacy strategy.” Wipro has “been working with water-stressed communities and regions near its operations, where there is high dependence on informal sources of water.” The company initiated the Bangalore Sustainability Forum which “provides a space for deliberations and dialogues on urban sustainability issues, and supports collaborative community grant projects in areas like climate change, water and biodiversity.” The company “has also worked with waste picker organizations in India’s informal sector to ensure social benefits and entitlements, build community resilience, and increase upcycling and recycling.” Wipro is developing ‘responsible energy principles’ with other companies, “to integrate social and long- term community impact dimensions into renewable energy development”, and runs “Wipro Wipro earthian, the largest environmental education program of its kind in India.”

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