Training Focus Switches from Digital to Green as the Climate Crisis Bites

Sustainability issues will soon have an impact on every facet of business. How can L&D professionals begin to transition from a focus on developing digital skills toward embedding green skills and knowledge in the organization?

Job roles are changing. Most companies are planning to develop their workforce to handle new technology. There is a parallel need for new green or climate crisis-facing roles, not least to attract and retain young employees who are growing increasingly frustrated with corporate inaction on the climate crisis. If you have an unconvincing answer to the question, “What is your company doing for the environment?” then you will struggle to recruit and retain workers.

Young staffers at the U.S. Capitol are staging sit-ins in their candidates’ offices to protest Capitol Hill’s climate response gridlock, exasperated that the climate legislation they’ve been working on is in peril and time is running out. When Europe’s museums grappled with historic heat waves, their sweltering employees demanded “extreme weather” work plans.

Younger workers have higher “eco-anxiety” than those who joined the workforce before them. Even those not specifically searching out professional paths that combine flexibility and a sense of purpose in organizations they feel could make a difference are highly sensitive to an organization’s green policies. In the same survey, for example, 65 percent of respondents said they were more likely to work for a company with strong environmental policies—that figure could be more like 100 percent in 2025, when Gen Z will make up nearly 30 percent of the workforce.

Sweating Your Assets

Internal climate activists can be a great asset. But if employees think the company is moving too slowly, or in the wrong direction, they’re likely to share that on social media. They may even resign, and tell all their networks not to work for you. On the flip side, you can turn this passion for the environment into a positive by tapping into employees who are committed to addressing the climate change issue. Start by setting up internal listening structures to identify these people.

Recruitment and employee engagement aren’t going to be your only green HR headaches. You will need to train your entire workforce on decarbonizing and finding practical ways to be greener. Everyone—from marketing to operations, R&D and supply chain, sales and purchasing—will need to be educated and empowered to make a contribution. If we want to replace plastic, how quickly can we do it? What’s the supply like in terms of alternative packaging? How much does it cost? Where does it come from? Is there a carbon miles issue there? The transition to green, and the risk it might bring, is a huge topic that needs a lot of thinking, debate, and training.

Making Learning Green

L&D departments themselves have a carbon footprint, and the first step is to do what you can to reduce that. Once you have determined the carbon footprint of the department, you can prioritize the more important reductions. These probably will be around the necessity for learners to travel to training venues and even what kind of food you serve during the training. Also, review any training processes that are still using paper. Look at your internal department footprint: how staff travel to work, what people eat when at work, how your office is cooled or heated.

Alongside your carbon “footprint” (what you emit or contribute to the environment), there is your carbon “shadow” (what kind of message you convey in your training about emission reduction). For training not related to sustainability, one approach is to display eco-conscious messages during the introduction or during coffee breaks. And regardless of the topic of the training, if you offer incentives for learners to complete training, consider an environmentally friendly incentive–i.e., planting a tree rather than an Amazon gift card.

If you haven’t considered major sustainability-focused training, it might be time to think about it. All best practices for an effective launch apply. Among those, the most important one is probably around aligning training with company strategy.

Addressing the Climate Crisis Now

Addressing the climate crisis is a huge L&D mission for the next 10 years. But it will have an impact well before that. In construction, when it’s too windy, too rainy, or too hot, you don’t go to the site. Will that soon be the issue for your headquarters or service center? You’ll need to create climate response teams, as well as look at employment contracts for your bankers and IT people, not just your bricklayers and carpenters. If you’re a global company, you need to think about not just next month for the U.S., but two months ago for India.

Looking to the future, there will be a class of new directly green jobs (think electric cars and associated infrastructure, climate and biodiversity support roles, carbon capture, renewable grid builders etc.). And in 10 years, there still will have to be marketing, sales, IT, and HR people, but their responsibilities are going to include the kinds of transition and green awareness noted above.

Entrenching Sustainability

The focus on sustainability is changing every business function. The marketing function is all about making your product more desirable. Yet, in a world where every time your product is being used it has a possible environmental impact, you sometimes might want people to reduce their usage of it, or delay renewal. Obviously, this is tricky, but it will become more and more essential.

Welcome to the paradoxical world of “de-marketing,” where transport, automotive, and tourism brands will be asking you to think before you jump on the plane, take the car for a short spin, or refrain from visiting that bit of nature (or perhaps waiting until it’s less busy). We can see early examples of this trend from brands such as KLM, Renault, and French national parks. Of course, the people writing those ads are still marketers, but they are using their skills for a different purpose.

The past 10 years was about jobs becoming more digital. The coming years are going to be about jobs becoming greener and extending our knowledge base further in this direction.