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Moving beyond buy-in to activation

October 10, 2023
Anna Adlard
Anna Adlard

The urgency of now

The conversation around the climate crisis is changing fast. Adverse climate effects are already starting to increase in frequency, and the latest science shows we’re closer than ever to trespassing the 1.5 degrees temperature threshold outlined in the Paris Climate Accords. 

This year alone, extreme weather events have dominated the headlines, and reality is sinking in. We’re no longer talking about hypothetical climate scenarios set in a far-distant future. It’s happening now

Calls-to-action are getting louder, as leaders grapple with the full scope and urgency of our climate emergency. Shareholders, stakeholders, employees and consumers are all demanding solutions, with high expectations for corporate leaders to take action. 

A 2023 report from Climate Impact Partners underscores this trend, revealing that two-thirds of Fortune Global 500 companies have made significant climate commitments (that’s a 3x increase from 2019). 

While this is heartening, the same report also illuminates the hard truth. There’s a big gap between commitment and action. Average emissions across the Fortune Global 500 actually increased 1.5% in 2023. 

To be clear: We need more action, and we need it now. 

How do we turn commitment into action?

We’ve got buy-in from leaders, but companies are still struggling to make progress. For sure, we need to pull all the external levers to drive change: regulation, market forces, incentives.  But we also need to support change from the inside, too. We need to create the conditions for corporate teams to move climate action forward. 

Changing the system from the inside is hard work. It takes courage, tenacity and ingenuity. It can also feel slow, frustrating and draining. We know how hard the work of corporate climate action can be. One of our clients recently described it this way: “I feel like I’m pushing a boulder up a mountain.” If you’re feeling stuck, you’re not alone. 

Moving the needle

The real question is: How do we create momentum? 

Here’s an empowering truth to hold onto: we all have agency to affect change. Action, with intention, has the potential to create  ripple effects that can transform an organization from the inside-out. 

Workshop has been in the trenches with teams for many years. We’ve seen what works, and we’ve learned what doesn’t (sometimes the hard way). We’re starting to learn that turning barriers into breakthroughs comes down to three fundamentals:

  1. Activating high-functioning cross-functional teams
  2. Making progress in ambiguity with agile best practices
  3. Tuning into what drives change in an organization

Activated teams: Climate action is part of everyone’s job now. It’s no longer the sole responsibility of a corporate sustainability team – it’s everyone’s business whether we like it or not. That means cross-functional teams are a requirement for progress. So, break down the silos and get the right people in the room to get things done. Line up your sponsor, but keep your team small enough to make progress. And maybe most importantly, set up your incentives to reward collaboration (instead of individual performance). 

Agile approach: Over the years, we’ve been adapting the best parts of agile methodology (typically used for software development or innovation) for climate action. Agile is made to create momentum and provide structure in ambiguous circumstances. For years, we’ve been structuring this complex work in agile sprints, which allows for intentional and iterative progress toward the goal. Through agile sprints, teams can make swift progress, while integrating new learnings as they go. While speed is crucial, the focus remains on moving with intention. 

Driving Change: Making good on climate commitments requires deep change across an organization. It typically requires a re-tooling of business processes and incentives. It often requires new mindsets and behaviors. It definitely requires transformational leaders who are walking the walk. As you work a climate goal through your organization, tune into your organization and leverage what drives change. Involving teams early in a solution fosters commitment and support later on. Make it easy to adopt a change by pinpointing key points of integration into existing processes and workflows.

We’re in this together.

This is a big challenge, but here’s what we want to say to you: We’re in it together. We see you, working hard, getting resourceful, pushing boulders up the mountain. And we believe in you, because we believe people will ultimately drive the change that’s needed. We’ve seen firsthand how powerful it can be when activated teams gain momentum on this work. 

Interested in learning more?

We’ll be unpacking these insights and more in our Climate Activation Series over the coming weeks. Next up, we dive deep into the DNA of cross-functional teams and how to set them up for activation. Sign up here to stay in the loop. 

Want to join the conversation?

When it comes to this work, every voice matters. We want to learn from you. How have you advanced climate action in your organization? When do you feel most stuck on this work? How have you navigated barriers and roadblocks? We’re always eager to amplify the experiences of our community. Share your experience with us on LinkedIn.

Ready to activate on your Climate Action goals?

If your organization is ready to activate on climate goals, we’re fine-tuning a 90-Day Activation Sprint designed to help cross-functional teams gain momentum and unlock meaningful progress on climate action. Reach out to us for more information.


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