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  • Writer's pictureLisa Dittmar

🗺️Climate Leader’s Survival Guide: Staying Resilient on the Road to Net Zero

It’s not hard to imagine a net zero, nature-positive future where we are all using renewable energy, active transport is the norm, we live in a truly circular economy, nature is healing and the air quality is within healthy limits. 🌍

What is much more difficult is imagining a path to get there, especially what we can do personally as business leaders and members of our community to get there.

Right now, it doesn’t feel hopeful, it feels stressful.

You feel the existential need to act fast, but you don’t want to act rashly and do something that has unintended negative consequences. Getting data right is hard, so you’re having to act on imperfect information. 

There are loads of “experts” out there who have a strong opinion about what you should do, and those “clear paths” will appear conflicting or too nebulous to action in any concrete way.

With all the proposed legislation, consultations, and customer requests for supplier information, it can feel like you’re gonna miss something that’s required. When you google it, the number of sponsored links and white papers makes it feel like everyone is out to just make money from you.

Meanwhile, your CEO or your board looks to you as the expert, so you feel the pressure, but it’s also quite lonely, save for a few Green Champions dotted about that are trying to do something side-of-desk, but are too busy to give their projects the time they need.

On top of it, you have the normal family and life stresses as everyone else. With big macroeconomic, political, and military things going on in the world, it can feel like too much to cope with. 

Does it sound familiar? You’re not alone. It’s one of the reasons the Sustainable Business Network started the Wolf Pack, a group of Surrey-based sustainability leaders that get together to exchange war stories, ideas, and solutions. 

I’ve felt all of these things at one point or another, so I thought I’d share my non-exhaustive list of things that I’ve found useful to deal with my own emotions around climate change.

Find your Pack

Whether it’s the SBN’s Wolf Pack or some other climate network, find people to connect with where you feel you’re getting good value. It helps if they are in the same industry, because you can share industry-specific tips. I work in healthcare, and I find the royal colleges and the trade associations can be great conveners and have developed really useful resources that are specific to my needs. 

It’s ok to “shop around” a bit until you find one that is both practically useful and has people that you feel you can connect with.

Focus on What You Can Control

Climate change is a systems problem, and it requires a system solution, it won’t be solved by any one person or organisation. Focus on what you can control and influence, and let the rest go. This includes reading about climate news. I’ve found reading climate news triggers my climate anxiety, so I usually only read it when I’m researching something specific. The exception is Edie’s daily news digest, which often has really helpful case studies and tools.

Focus on the Strategic Stuff

Because just about any activity done in a business influences carbon emissions at some level, and because there’s often a gap between actual material areas of emissions versus what employees perceive to be big issues, sustainability programmes can easily end up as a long list of little half-completed sustainability projects all over the place. This can make it difficult to finish anything, and can lead more quickly to overwhelm and burnout. 

A clear, focused strategy that is easy to communicate helps a lot with prioritisation and can be a good yardstick against which to evaluate projects.

If you’re struggling to set a sustainability strategy and can’t afford to get outside support, then look up the sustainability strategies of other leading companies in your industry for inspiration. If there aren’t any, look at strategies of companies that have invested lots of money into developing theirs, such as Unilever, L’Oréal, or Microsoft. Make sure it’s easily communicable, so Green Champions that want to do something can easily see where their projects fit within it. They will rely less on you if they feel empowered to operate with autonomy within the boundaries of the strategy.

Celebrate the Wins, No Matter How Small, and ...

Take People on the Journey

Celebrating wins will help you build more enthusiasts around you, and feel good for you too.

Climate change programmes are essentially big change programmes, so you can leverage a lot of change management good practice in climate work. One of those things is to celebrate the wins, because it will start to create a culture of change within your business. When someone gets recognised, especially by the boss, for doing something to reduce carbon, it can give people a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), and can encourage them to think about what they could do in their day-to-day. 

For example, one of our catering managers recently took the initiative to put a book exchange in the staff canteen at his site. We publicised it on our internal channels, and it got comments from other sites who wanted the same, or that had it there. Will it save tonnes of carbon? No, but it is visible to other staff, so it just might inspire the idea that will. 

Another example is that we arranged a site tour of our waste facilities to see what happens to our waste and recycling. We brought along some of our colleagues and created a little video for a wider internal audience so that they could feel part of the journey. People were really keen to participate, and it was a fun, informative day that helped build deeper connections with colleagues.

Remember to Have Fun and Be Kind (to yourself)

Every good blog post has a call to action, so here’s this one: have fun with the job, craft it to be what it needs to be for YOU to maintain your resilience. The role of sustainability with organisations is changing, and will require you to change with it. Change is hard, for you and the organisation that you’re taking along the journey with you, so be kind to yourself along the way.

Lisa Dittmar

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