Clover Hogan: Businesses must go beyond token actions to prevent ‘climate quitting’
Force of Nature Founder Clover Hogan is imploring companies to go beyond “token actions” on environmental sustainability, with staff getting savvier at spotting them, and with broader opportunities to be reaped from more transformational change.
Earlier this month, former Unilever chief executive Paul Polman posted the results of a survey of 4,000 workers across the UK and US. The findings, he said, prove that the workforce is “entering an era of conscious quitting” where employees will walk away from businesses that fail to showcase strong values related to society and the environment.
Almost half of those polled (45%) said they would consider resigning from a role if their employer’s values were at odds with their own. And three-quarters said they look for publicly available environmental and social commitments when considering a new job, as a “key factor”.
The findings chime with recent research into so-called ‘climate quitting’ in the UK workforce by KPMG. KPMG found that almost half (46%) of people look at the environmental impacts of a business before choosing to file a job application, with 20% of office workers likely to turn down a job if action here was lacking.
In short, it would seem that the so-called ‘great resignation’ is not attributable to people not wanting to work at all. Instead, people only want to work for employers that treat workers, communities, society and the environment well.
Commenting on this trend ahead of her appearance at edie 23 in London next week (scroll down for more details), Force of Nature founder and youth climate activist Clover Hogan says: “People are definitely aware of – and skeptical of – token actions. People feel really disillusioned sometimes when they’re given a list of 10 things to do in their personal life, starting with recycling. Those actions are super important from a values perspective, but they matter little if we’re not advocating for more systemic change.
“Companies, with the best intentions, will hold an employee sustainability day focused on recycling in the office, for example. I think people are tired of that. They want their values to be reflected in the way a company runs, the way it creates products, offers services, creates value. So, the best thing a company can do is turn that lens back on itself and ask what it needs to change strategically.”
As well as providing teacher training, student training and public climate cafes, Force of Nature describes part of its work as ‘challenging business-as-usual’ mindsets. Hogan is one of many of its members trained in advising business leaders on sustainability. These people provide services such as youth advisory boards and consulting (and are often described as ‘consulting activists’). They are a global team, including young people from some of the places in the global south most impacted by climate change, and places in the global north grappling with challenges such as more frequent and intense wildfires, or water scarcity.
Force of Nature’s services are provided to businesses that have been working on sustainability for years, right down to those still struggling to gain boardroom buy-in to set out initial work to catch up with their industry peers. In any case, hearing new voices – voices that often invoke similarities with professionals’ own children or grandchildren – can serve as a push for heightened ambition.
“When the business case for sustainability does not work, when the terrifying headlines do not work, sometimes, it takes a dinner table conversation… the intergenerational piece is so important,” explains Hogan.
“We can all afford to disrupt our perspectives and challenge the ways we the world. I think anyone in a climate bubble is entertaining some level of denial, myself included. It’s important to expose ourselves to new perspectives and ideas, to recognise that we are not going to solve the problem with the same thinking that created it.”
Hogan reflects on how she and her team have, through work in the private sector, often seen leaders who are used to “talking down” to staff, telling them what to do. Recommended actions are often to be taken within their personal life rather than within their day job. This can be interpreted as condescending and staff frequently question the true impact.
When senior staff do try and lead by example, Hogan says, they often take tokenistic steps. She recounts hearing a chief executive of a large business in a high-carbon sector bragging about turning lights off and taking the stairs, not the lift, to save energy. All the while, this business had no public plans to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
Force of Nature advocates the development of bold pledges, aligned with climate science and environmental science as a minimum. It also provides guidance on backing these commitments with robust delivery plans, covering investment, technology changes, process changes and, crucially, changes to company culture.
The idea is that businesses will need to identify the passions, skillsets and influence points that their staff have, and leverage these, to meet goals they have never met before. This identifying process is similar to that offered up through a publicly available quiz from Force of Nature, aimed at helping individuals determine what kind of change-maker they are.
“Involving employees at this level is incredibly important and also incredibly exciting,” Hogan argues.
From identifying how staff members can best be change-makers and presenting this as an opportunity for staff – not an extra item on the to-do list – businesses can then begin rethinking job titles, role descriptions and even team structures. For example, edie recently explored Grosvenor Property UK’s decision to create a sustainability and innovation team and will shortly be delving in to why Futerra has appointed staff as ‘solutionists’.
Opportunities for training and upskilling may also be identified through this process. New teams may warrant upskilled staff, or the process may encourage staff to request information on a career change or taking on additional responsibilities. The key factor, Hogan notes, is creating an environment in which staff are able to co-create solutions and feel comfortable discussing their concerns, strengths and personal passions.
It bears noting that, despite extensive research into climate quitting, it remains to be seen whether talk will match action – especially amid the cost-of-living crisis.
The UK Government’s latest quarterly public attitudes tracker on climate and energy was published in December 2022, revealing consistent levels of climate-related concern despite increasing concern relating to personal finances. Just 3% of the 20,000+ adults polled said they were “not at all concerned” about climate issues.
Almost half (45%) said they are “very concerned”, but time will tell whether levels drop as the cost-of-living crisis rolls on, and with a Prime Minister in place who has not made any notable noise about climate in his post yet.
For Hogan, now is a crucial moment to ensure that workers – and the general public more broadly – appreciate that “climate isn’t something abstract, happening far away”.
Hogan says: “I think eco-anxiety is omnipresent and is increasing, especially in young people. I also think it is, to a degree, quite a narrow term that can have its limitations.
“From my perspective, anxiety about being able to pay your energy bill, because we’re all caught in a fossil fuel economy, also relates.
“I know a lot of people are anxious about whether they’ll be able to put food on the table and, again, we must relate this back to the decisions that policymakers are taking that keep us ensnared in this old-school system.
“Trying to get that kind of big picture thinking at scale is very different… when people are in a mindset of survival.
“I think one of the biggest flaws of the ‘sustainability’ movement for decades is that, for decades, it has talked about nature, biodiversity, climate. And the people talking about those things were generally white, middle class and otherwise privileged. We still see a lot of this.
“And it completely ignored the very human elements, the intersections between gender and climate, for example, or racial and social justice and climate. With the energy and cost-of-living crisis in the UK and abroad, this is a really important moment to help people make the connection.”
Understanding the scale of the problem, Hogan acknowledges, can cause eco-anxiety in and of itself. The important thing, she says, is to ensure that, if feelings such as anger, frustration, anxiety and grief arise, they are not left to sit and turn into feelings of powerlessness, overwhelm, doom or even denial.
Instead, Hogan says, it is important to use these feelings as “catalysts for action”. She points to “connection and community” – at work and outside of work – as factors that can help to turn short-lived “sparks” of emotion into action that ensures.
Additionally, she emphasises the importance of every person involved in sustainability work clarifying their values, their passions, their skills and the difference they want to make in the world. This can ensure they focus accordingly, maximising their impact while minimising the risk that they spread themselves too thinly.
Hear from Clover Hogan at edie 23
Taking place in London on 1-2 March 2023, edie’s biggest annual event has undergone a major revamp to become edie 23, with a new name, new venue, multiple new content streams and myriad innovative event features and networking opportunities.
edie 23 will take place at the state-of-the-art 133 Houndsditch conference venue in central London. Held over two floors, the event will offer up two full days of keynotes, panels, best-practice case studies and audience-led discussions across three themed stages – Strategy, Net-Zero and Action.
Clover Hogan will be speaking on Day Two of edie 23 (2 March), providing a keynote speech on courageous business leadership for sustainability on the Strategy Stage from 3pm.
Other speakers on the Strategy Stage for edie 23 include former COP26 High Level Climate Action Champion Nigel Topping; youth climate activist Mikaela Loach; food strategy review author Henry Dimbleby and Temasek’s chief sustainability officer Steve Howard. Don’t miss your chance to attend.