The path to personal sustainability in ESG
For many people working in corporate sustainability, the past few months have been marked by emotional ups and downs.
On the one hand, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have entered a golden age of interest from investors, customers, employees and even policy makers. ESG skills and services are in such demand that there is an unprecedented war for talent.
On the other hand, the ravages of the climate crisis have never been so present or clear. July was the hottest month on record, with extreme heat waves in the American West, Eastern Europe and Asia. Devastating flash floods hit Germany, Belgium and China. Destructive forest fires are raging in California and Utah, as well as in Europe. And came this month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which released a “Code Red” for humanity. The lack of meaningful climate action means that a generation of extreme weather events is already stalled and we have little time left to avert an even worse climate catastrophe.
No one can solve the climate crisis on their own – yet, to corporate sustainability professionals, every negative headline looks like a personal setback. When it comes to advancing ESG, progress is slow and, at times, imperceptible. Burnout is a real threat.
If we are to elevate sustainability in the world, we must also discover it within ourselves.
Manage “climate anxiety”
Climate anxiety is palpable – by now many have had some sort of personal confrontation with the climate crisis. And exposure to climate-related natural disasters can lead to anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
A 2020 American Psychiatric Association poll found that more than two-thirds of Americans (67%) are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on the planet, and more than half (55% ) are somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on their own mental health. Meanwhile, about 40% of Americans feel “disgusted” or “helpless” in the face of the climate crisis.
You’re not helping anyone when you pour into a completely empty mug, so know that you can take a moment to mourn the news and do something to take care of yourself, like shutting down your laptop to go for a walk in nature. .
One strategy for dealing with climate anxiety is to recognize and accept it. “For me, I have found it very helpful to take the time to sit down with negative news like the IPCC report,” said Charles Neidenbach, head of sustainability solutions at Office Depot. “I have experienced feelings of disappointment, frustration, sadness and hopelessness. It is not the first time that I have mourned the climate crisis, but it was the first time that I have sat in this sorrow and that I was allowing myself to stay there for an extended period. “
Consider treating climate anxiety like any other form of anxiety. Some tactics for dealing with anxiety include taking a step back from the problem and practicing yoga or meditation, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, making time to exercise, and getting enough sleep.
“It’s inherently long-term work, and for so many impact professionals – myself included – it’s deeply personal,” said Lis Best, executive coach with focus on impact. “You’re not helping anyone when you’re pouring into a completely empty mug, so know that you can take a moment to mourn the news and do something to pamper yourself, like shutting down your laptop to go for a walk outside in nature. “
In search of “helpers”
Achieving personal sustainability means finding the right balance between idealism and realism. Some corporate sustainability professionals are cautious optimists, while others are Reform cynics – some like me falling somewhere in the middle. What unites us is a stubborn predilection for action.
“Negative news can seem overwhelming at times, but desperation leads to inaction and it is only in action that we can have hope,” said Peter Jones, chief analyst and analyst. impact of sustainability at IKEA.
“I know I can’t give in to my desperation or anger anymore for anything,” said Andi Trindle Mersch, vice president of coffee and sustainability at Philz Coffee. “I have to get up, stay healthy and be a soldier every day. My children, all children deserve a safe and peaceful place to live.”
“The latest IPCC report was not a directive to throw in the towel, but rather a sobering call to action,” said Davida Heller, senior vice president, sustainability and ESG at Citi. “Thinking about what lies ahead is sometimes intimidating, but I consider dealing with the climate crisis and sustainability to be our collective responsibility and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. “
“Inaction and despair will lead us to a bleak future,” said Alon Rotem, legal director of thredUp. “At thredUP, we pride ourselves on doing tough things – so instead of being discouraged by negative news around the climate crisis, like the new IPCC report, I am inspired by it to show up for work every day and give 120% to the changes I want to see. “
When faced with a personal, professional or global tragedy, it is heartwarming to think of the famous advice from Fred Rogers: “When I was little and saw scary things in the news, my mother would tell me, ‘Look for help. you will always find people who help you. ‘”
As a professional in corporate sustainability, I find it both comforting and inspiring to be surrounded by help.
Remember your “personal ESG legend”
As for me, after reading the new IPCC report two days after being smoked off Lake Tahoe from the biggest wildfire in California history, I paused to reflect on my “personal ESG legend” . In Paulo Coehlo’s novel “The Alchemist” he describes a “personal legend” as being the vocation of an individual – which awakens a deep desire and a passion to live with a purpose for something bigger than you – same.
About ten years ago, Coehlo’s book forced me to quit my first corporate job outside of college to spend a year teaching volunteer in Latin America. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life beyond “being a writer”. It was until one fateful day while visiting a Guna village in the San Blas archipelago off the coast of Panama, I learned that the inhabitants of the islands would soon become climate refugees due to the sea level rise. For the first time in my life, I saw the connection between social and environmental justice – and it made me come alive.
While I had always wanted to be a writer, I had finally found a reason to write. My personal ESG legend: Using the power of the pen – as well as speaking, advocating, partnering, strategizing and all the other skills I can cultivate – to help people like the Guna in dealing with the climate crisis. Soon after, I returned home to the United States and discovered corporate sustainability as a career path. Over the past 10 years, my personal ESG legend has kept me focused and motivated despite all the successes and setbacks.
Take a moment and think about your own personal ESG legend. What makes you live? Write it down, put it in your desk drawer, and during your darkest moments, take it out to read it and remember why you do what you do.
Today more than ever, we face a difficult road to a prosperous future – and every day that we do not take action on the climate escalates our slope. Success in reaching our destination is far from certain, but failure is not an option either. The stakes are just too high.
None of us will do it alone. Collectively, we must cultivate personal sustainability so that we can be there for each other when it matters. You can’t save the world – neither can I – but together we could be successful.
thinkPARALLAX will host a virtual Perspectives on Achieving Personal Sustainability in ESG panel at 11 a.m. PST / 2 p.m. EST on September 29. Register for free here.