By Khyati Rathore August 18, 2020

Young professionals and students can be the change agents and wield their influence to drive corporate ambition on climate action.

The net-zero greenhouse gas commitments made by companies – along with implementation of innovative technological solutions – is slowly shifting markets away from business as usual. As consumers, employees or investors, we need to ensure that this momentum can be leveraged to move to a 100% clean economy where all companies across the spectrum are on board with this transition.

Corporate leadership for sustainability and climate action can create the urgent shifts required to achieve the global targets in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Ford and Lyft have demonstrated this leadership and are redefining the auto industry and modern transportation. Ford’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050 and power all its manufacturing plants with 100% locally sourced renewable energy by 2035 makes it one of the few automakers to assume a leadership role for climate action. Additionally, along with Honda, BMW and Volkswagen, Ford has stood for strong vehicle greenhouse gas standards that are under attack by the Trump administration.

Few leaders, many laggards

By contrast, other major automakers like General Motors, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler have supported the administration in its attempt to slow down the efforts to save our planet.

While these initiatives are creating a shift in the market through manufacturing, Lyft is catalyzing a shift in the newly created rideshare sector through its commitment to transition to 100% of the cars on its platform to electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030. This initiative is paving the path for a sustainable rideshare and car rental industry with the hope that other companies will follow suit.

With a few leaders and many laggards, we are still far from achieving the target of a 100% clean economy by 2050. Nevertheless, it may yet be achievable if we use all the levers to promote private sector leadership for climate action and strengthen the public policies to enable this transition.

Calling all young professionals and students

Young professionals and students can be the change agents and wield their influence to drive corporate ambition on climate action. With their futures ahead of them, young people have the most to lose from climate paralysis and the most to gain from climate action. They can leverage their power as employees, consumers and active climate advocates to accelerate the global transition to a clean and sustainable future.

Here is the call to action for my fellow young professionals and students to create an impact as effective advocates for corporate climate action:

  • As potential and current employees: Increasing number of millennials and Gen Zers are aligning their careers and lifestyle choices with their values, especially when it comes to sustainability. This is resulting in increased pressure on the companies to act responsibly, in order to be able to attract and retain the best talent in today’s competitive market. Companies spend a lot of time and resources to recruit, train, and retain their employees. Hence, students and young professionals have the power to voice their opinions and create a change. Furthermore, employees are one of the most important assets for any organization and should be a critical part of their roadmap to a more sustainable future and a more successful business. Collective action from employees can turn the tide. In 2019, over 8000 Amazon employees petitioned the company to re-think how it addresses and contributes to climate change. Their collective voice led the company to commit to carbon-neutrality by 2040. This initiative, that was initially conceived by a few active climate advocates at Amazon, also encouraged several others in the tech industry to step up and demand change. You can download an Employee Action guide here.
  • As consumers: As millennials reach their peak earning potentials, they are becoming the largest and highly coveted segment of consumers. Additionally, the new generations will be the primary buyers in the near future, so the companies need to align with their priorities. If the companies are looking to build brand value and a loyal customer base, they need to cater to the demands and choices of these current and future buyers. Hence, young people’s engagement for climate advocacy and responsible choices as consumers are critical in raising the level of climate ambitions, leading to breakthrough commitments and actions by the private sector organizations.
  • As active climate advocates: We often tend to underestimate the extent to which the C-suite executives care about any reputational risk to their organizations. As climate advocates you can make your voices heard, demand change, support the climate leaders and call out the laggards. Public support and criticism of the companies can influence their corporate behavior. You can find more resources here.

In addition to ambitious targets, strategic collaborations, and technological innovations, leveraging companies’ political power to enact climate policies is crucial. To date, the private sector’s voice has largely been dominated by companies and trade associations bent on blocking the policies we need to avert the climate crisis. It is time for companies to engage as positive voices in the climate debate and as stewards of their employees and communities. We need private sector leadership along with the right public policies to deliver emissions reductions at the speed and scale needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Your voice counts! Ask your current and future employers to do the right thing and lead the transition to a 100% Clean Economy.

Follow Khyati on Twitter.

This post first appeared on the EDF+Business blog.