Climate action and sustainability: How individual education can support corporate goals

April 26, 2022

A study by the University of California in Los Angeles, USA, finds that companies that take sustainability standards into account are 16 percent more productive than the average. An article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review comes to a similar conclusion: Sustainable business practices have many more benefits than a positive environmental and social impact. Incorporating sustainable practices can help to improve the commitment and productivity of the entire team.

Companies should create a comprehensive understanding of sustainability and climate action among their employees. Key strategies include:

  • Defining your company's long-term climate action goal.
  • Ensuring that your employees have knowledge and competence in sustainability and climate action.
  • Converting all employees into sustainability champions.

When integrating sustainability into your business processes, it is necessary to involve and empower all stakeholders accordingly. Companies will only be successful in the long term if everyone is involved in the transformation towards sustainability. Sustainability should also be a part of their personal development goals.

Sustainability is a business strategy

Sustainability includes all aspects of environmental protection and climate action, as well as principles that combine social and economic issues. It ranges from topics such as resource conservation, recycling and circular economy models to aspects such as gender equality, co-determination and labour rights to principles of good corporate governance. A generally applicable assessment framework for this are the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the UN SDGs.

For companies, a broad understanding of sustainability means developing products, including production processes and services, in a sustainable manner. Companies must also fundamentally shape their business understanding in a sustainable way and take their employees along with them on this path. Information and training are both an opportunity and a challenge because companies should first establish appropriate values and cultures.

Awareness for sustainability requires education processes

Depending on the industry and company culture, the methods for implementing sustainability can differ significantly. Companies with a high awareness of environmental and social aspects undoubtedly have a head start. They have already defined issues and starting points and ideally already aligned themselves accordingly. However, if there is still a lack of sensitivity for sustainability and the need for climate action, it is important to communicate the importance clearly. Sustainability cannot be installed overnight - rather, it is formed by establishing immutable principles, setting an example "from above" and systematically empowering every single employee.

Education and training on sustainability support corporate transformation

Transformation processes require understanding and knowledge. Companies should involve employees as they can drive and strengthen the desired changes from within. Sustainability and climate action should be treated and implemented as a topic of special training and qualification. Such programmes create the preconditions for a proper understanding of sustainability as well as an active internalisation and support of the corresponding corporate goals.

"Anchoring sustainability with all its facets is without alternative for the success of companies. It is one of the innovation, competition and job drivers of the future," explains Dr Christopher Jahns, CEO and founder of the online education platform XU, which launched the XU School of Sustainability together with ClimatePartner.

A functioning, trusting and satisfied team is the prerequisite for any process of change. Sustainability training is an integral part of this. Moritz Lehmkuhl, CEO and founder of ClimatePartner adds: "Teaching environmental and social values enables the team to contribute to the company's sustainability goals. Furthermore it also considers the demand for personal development and shows that a company is willing to invest in its employees."

Sustainability can be learned

The XU School of Sustainability pursues what the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) demands of educational institutions. According to this, they have the task of increasingly creating the necessary basic prerequisites of knowledge and competences. The United Nations also acknowledges training and qualification as an essential component of comprehensive and holistic measures for sustainable development and addresses this as an explicit goal of the SDGs (SDG 4: Education for Sustainable Development).

Companies that train their employees in sustainability and climate action are also fulfilling their responsibility in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals. Qualification on sustainability aspects improves the performance of the teams and ultimately the company, as the UCLA study cited. Sustainable and climate-conscious standards enable innovation through a better understanding of procedures and processes, and can promote a fundamentally constructive-progressive attitude among employees. This development not only manifests itself within the teams or the company, but is also beneficial when competing for talent.