Employee demand for workplace sustainability learning content on the rise


With millennials and Gen Z driving the sustainability conversation, people across the world are feeling the effects of the climate crisis – and are determined to do something about it.

Views on climate change, environmental impact, and sustainability are now being carried into the workplace and influencing employee decisions – according  to research from IBM, 1 in 3 people who changed jobs accepted an average pay cut of 28 per cent in order to work for a more sustainable organisation. Businesses, however, are seemingly hesitant to meet employee moral expectations and admit that commercial objectives are deemed more important during economic hardship. They will even go as far as to say that they would pay regulatory penalties as an alternative to investing in sustainability initiatives.

Evidently, despite recognising that sustainability initiatives need to be implemented, businesses are somewhat reluctant to turn plans into actions. When organisations make commercial objectives a higher priority, it enables the misconception that investing in sustainability does not generate a strong return on investment.  On the other hand, employees deem sustainability to be of high importance, and are willing to allow their views to reshape their jobs and influence their career trajectories.

Recent research from Cornerstone, a leader in talent experience solutions, revealed that employee demand for corporate responsibility and workplace sustainability learning content increased by 100 per cent from 2021 to 2022. “The key discovery to come out of our trends report is that employees are specifically asking for self-directed content,” Mark Lamswood, Regional Director of Content at Cornerstone, says. “The demand is there; people do not need motivation because they are already motivated. Now, it is down to the companies to respond by providing the right resources that will not only teach employees about sustainability in the workplace but will support them in carrying out their own changes and creating an eco-friendlier work environment.”

From these findings it is clear that companies should heed the call from their employees and take steps to align their values with employee morals – and the first step in achieving change, is education.

What does sustainability content consist of?

According to Lamswood, sustainability content is broken down into three areas, which align with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. The first is environmental practices, such as affordable and clean energy, responsible production, and consumption. The second topic covers social concerns, like wellbeing and gender equality. The third focuses on governance responsibilities, more specifically topics like economic growth and innovation.

“Good content does not just exist to educate people as to what these topics are and what they mean – it’s also about encouraging employees to think about how they can make a positive impact. Good content should educate, inspire, and motivate,” he adds. “Organisations can also harness demand and use it to their advantage. By communicating the importance of sustainability to existing employees, organisations can then use this as a selling point to attract and hire new talent who share like-minded views.”

What’s important to consider is that organisations are transparent about their motives to implement sustainability initiatives as a means of increasing their societal impact. It comes down to meeting moral expectations – employees are aware of commercial objectives being factored into business decisions, but organisations should want to implement sustainability focused content to educate and positively shape the workplace, instead of just needing to tick a box on the ESG list. Learning content is a great springboard to encourage lasting eco-friendly changes.

The intersection between sustainability and wellbeing

Cornerstone’s recent research not only uncovered an increase in the demand for sustainability focused learning content, but also predicts that the demand for this type of content will completely overtake other learning priorities in the coming years. “One of the reasons the desire for sustainability focused content will continue to be widespread is because it intersects with other trending workplace needs, like employee wellbeing, as environmental concerns are believed to have a direct link to mental health”, Lamswood explains.

Recent research shows prevalence in climate anxiety and despair in younger generations – over 70 per cent of young people feel hopeless at the current circumstances surrounding the climate crisis. As a result, more than 93 per cent of employees say that acting on the climate at work is important to their wellbeing.

Reversing our collective impact on the environment – and dealing with the consequences on employee wellbeing – is a long-term investment. Small changes create quick wins, but companies need to focus on the bigger picture, too. Sustainability focused learning content encourages discussion around climate anxiety between employees and employers and helps shift the perspective to a more optimistic outlook.

Inaction costs

More than two-thirds of the planet’s population are convinced that the consequential costs of climate change will be far greater than any investment needed to undergo ecological transformation. “Companies may be hesitant to invest time, money, and energy into corporate responsibility and sustainability learning content, but it encourages corporate mindfulness,” Lamswood continues.

Lamswood cautions that businesses cannot just ignore the effect their activities and decisions are having on the environment whilst employees are taking conscious steps to decrease their impact. People want to look to their employers by way of example, which is why investing in sustainability focused learning content is so important.

“It’s an easily implementable step, and it signals that a company is not only mindful of its environmental impact but is serious about reducing it,” he concludes. “Sustainability focused learning content will also shine a spotlight on business decisions and practices and encourage more eco-friendly choices on an executive scale.”

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