Struggling to find a “climate job?” Hit pause on that Google search and ponder a radically different solution to your green job-hunting problem. Jamie Beck Alexander has a mantra that could change your entire mindset: “Every job is a climate job.” As director of Drawdown Labs, Alexander is pushing for every company on the planet to fight climate change. How? By harnessing the power of employee voices to change systems for the better from the inside. In the final installment of The Year of the Climate Job, Alexander shares actionable, practical ways you can put a climate lens on the job you currently have. Drawdown Labs has created seven different guides with concrete ways to green your job, no matter your specialty. The guides, based on extensive, hands-on research, offer transformative methods for people working in finance, government relations, marketing, legal, sales, human resources and procurement. And this episode isn’t just for folks who work for big companies — there’s advice here for you no matter the size or stripe of your organization.
Jamie Beck Alexander is the director of Drawdown Labs, a division of the climate nonprofit Project Drawdown. In 202, Alexander developed and launched Drawdown Labs, which works with the private sector to accelerate their adoption of climate solutions. She’s been heralded for her TEDx Talk about empowering workers to be the driving change for the climate crisis within companies. Prior to Project Drawdown, Alexander worked for Ceres, which also encourages companies to establish ambitious climate goals and reduce emissions.
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Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers is presented by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Daniel Hill hosts The Year of the Climate Job. Yesh Pavlik Slenk hosts Degrees. Amy Morse is EDF’s producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Stephanie Wolf is senior producer; Kevin Kline is our audio editor; Andrew Parrella is our production manager; Elaine Appleton Grant is CEO of Podcast Allies and Tina Bassir is podcast manager. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from Yesh’s favorite band, Lake Street Dive.
Hey you, the one looking for a climate job. I see what you’re doing. You're about to search for another climate job.
Just hang on for one second. Because I have some great news! And it could change your entire search for a new, green job.
Every job can be a climate job.
We need the best accountants working on how we put in place like transparent carbon accounting, and we need the best marketers working on this. We need the best lawyers working on this, figuring out how to incentivize and tie ESG outcomes to financial compensation, like name the job function or expertise and there is a climate angle to it.
That’s Jamie Beck Alexander. She directs an ambitious project called Drawdown Labs, which is part of the climate nonprofit Project Drawdown. She’s dedicated to getting every company on the planet to fight climate change — and that begins with you, in whatever job you may have right this minute.
So pause that search for a little bit longer. Because right now, we’re going to do this thing. We’re going to talk about how you can green any job!
Change is coming, oh yeah
Ain’t no holding it back
Ain't no running
Change is coming, oh yeah!
Welcome back to The Year of the Climate Job: a five-part Degrees mini-series designed to help you get a green job. I’m Daniel Hill.
Throughout this series, we’ve found ways to overcome your biggest job-hunting headaches. Like:
So, by now you know I started a movement called Open Door Climate, where climate professionals make time to chat with green jobseekers. And I heard from thousands of you! Over and over again, you shared how frustrated you are about these four obstacles and we’ve shared tips for each one.
But what if you’ve tried everything and you’re still stuck at your current job?
What if I told you there’s another way? Rather than trying to find a new role at a new company, what if you bring climate work into your current one?
That’s what Jamie thinks you ought to do.
We need to like leapfrog and push faster from the outside, but we need people who are committed and passionate about climate change, pushing things faster to change the existing system too.
As I mentioned earlier, Drawdown Labs is a part of Project Drawdown, which advocates for incorporating science-based climate solutions into every aspect of our lives.
Jamie says we already have the knowledge and tech to implement a bunch of climate solutions.
like regenerative agriculture and indigenous land tenure and food waste and solar panels.
These solutions need to scale. Fast. Which is why Jamie’s team thought about who is best suited to make that happen. The answer turned out to be right in front of us.
In our current economic system, that is businesses, investors, you know, people with lots of resources, financial capital, human resources in political influence, and who have an obligation who've been a large part of the problem that got us here.
HILL: And that led to the next big piece of the puzzle, the missing one: You.
Jamie wants committed folks working within traditional organizations to do two things:
1. Use your collective power, as employees, to influence employers to take climate action, and
2. Do the actual work to scale those proven climate solutions.
As Jamie says, there’s no end to the jobs that you can green. Everything from accounting to engineering to procuring to farming to storytelling.
I find all of this really inspiring. You too? I’ll take that silence as an overwhelming yes.
But where do you start? How do you actually do it?
Just think at the highest level like, the top line of what your discipline does in the world. Like what is the purpose of marketing? What is the purpose of sales? And how is that at the very highest, like the most loosest definition of that job or that discipline, how could you imagine that being applied to the climate? Be kind of big and creative and think about how could my core skill set be applied without all the constraints of a specific job description or responsibility list, but just did the highest level. And I think that's sort of the a good place to start and then who knows where that could lead.
Well, actually, we’ve got some great real-life examples of exactly where that kind of thinking can lead. Think of them as models for what you can do. For instance, Jamie told me about this fleet manager. He worked in the garage of a big tech company:
Where the fleet of cars of that company was parked. And every day, he was like, maintaining that fleet of cars. And he was, you know, concerned about his health being around internal combustion engine cars in a garage all day. But decided to run a back-of-the-envelope calculation about how much money the company was spending on the upkeep of this fleet of cars.
Jamie says this fleet manager brought his calculations to his boss and the finance team, and made the case for transitioning to electric vehicles. He convinced them that a fleet of electric cars would save the company money in the long run. The change would also save his health.
I think someone who works on climate change couldn't have come into that company and said, You should really try to switch over your entire fleet of vehicles, because it will see X amount of reduction in the atmosphere, but when it comes from an employee who's managing that fleet every day, all day that's a much more powerful messenger.
And a much more pragmatic message, too. This fleet manager understands his company’s biggest driver: money.
Jamie has said there’s no greater threat to economic growth than the climate crisis. It threatens supply chains, facilities, employee health and lots more. So, examine your daily work. Ask yourself whether switching to renewable energy, or electrifying your fleet, or cutting down on employee flights saves your employer big bucks? Create a plan, and present it for what it is: a win-win: saving money and the planet.
And by the way, if you want more examples, listen to two fantastic Degrees episodes: profiles of Gilbert Blue Feather Rosas and Kameale Terry. Gilbert is a facilities manager who hated how bus diesel fumes were hurting the children at his school district. So he raised millions of dollars to electrify the bus fleet.
And Kameale Terry? She had a customer service job answering calls about broken electric vehicle charging stations. So she started a company to fix them, and it’s now working nationwide. Not to mention employing hundreds of workers brand new to the climate space. Links to both of these episodes are in the show notes.
Now, what if you’re not an engineer or a tech specialist? What if you work in HR or marketing or operations?
Think about what upsets you. Use your critical thinking skills to fix it. For instance, employees everywhere are upset when they learn that their 401K plans are invested in fossil fuels. So they’re researching alternatives.
I think there's some employees who kind of get excited about exploring, like, what other options are out there. And that is a tangible thing that you could take to like an HR person and say, ‘This could also be a possible plan that you could offer to employees, and this would align with our sustainability targets.’
Examples are great. But me? I like tangible actions. Almost like a guide if you will. Fortunately, Jamie does too. Her team created seven action guides, that’s the word I was looking for, to help workers in areas from sales to legal figure out how to green their traditional jobs.
We’ll dive into these guides, after a short break.
Almost by definition, greening your job means you’ll have to reframe it. Maybe even incorporating things that aren’t in your current job description. And that can be really hard to figure out. That’s why Jamie and her team have created playbooks to get you started. They call them “Job Function Action Guides.” Each one outlines many tangible actions you can take now.
It took some serious research to put these together.
We spent a good amount of the last year, really diving deeply with the seven most common corporate job functions, like marketing, sales, legal, government affairs, finance, and a couple others and really working deeply with employees who hadn't yet applied a climate lens to their job, but who worked with us to kind of walk us through their daily responsibilities, and then we thought together about what possibilities there were to bring climate into that.
How cool is that? For instance, say you work in the legal department. You can help hold your employer accountable to their carbon reduction commitments. We really need that.
There's very little to hold anybody accountable when it comes to climate change right now. There's not legal language around companies have to decarbonize by a certain date. That's not like something set in stone. In a world where there's very little to hold on to, and having a lawyer be able to look at a contract and say, ‘Oh, well, here's a way that we could tie executive compensation to the achievement of a company's climate targets. I could come up with language for that, and I can take that to my boss. Having a lawyer inside big corporations who has a passion for climate change, and can create something binding, that's a huge win.
Or maybe you work in procurement. There’s a guide to help you green your supply chain. Here’s just one tip: see how much you can localize your suppliers to reduce the carbon footprint of your products. Oh, and if you want even more help putting your actions into a larger context? Project Drawdown just announced its Drawdown Roadmap, showing companies which solutions to implement where, when and how. See our show notes for that link.
OK. We’ve given you some great ideas for greening your current job. But the other thing you can do – what Jamie really wants you to do – is to embrace collective action. Jamie herself was inspired by witnessing the power of workers coming together to fight climate change.
Back in 2018, in my last job, I had worked closely with the Amazon employees. It's a group called the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, who said, it's wild that Amazon doesn't have any climate targets at that time. They built their numbers, they organized internally, they built a group of everyone from the warehouse, to marketers, to coders, everywhere in the company, and wrote a letter that I think had something like 7,000 Amazon employees who signed it. That basically went to their board and said, ‘We're shareholders in the company, and we want to see, Amazon live up to the power that it has in terms of climate change.’
Actually, it was even bigger numbers; some 8,700 employees signed that letter. Jamie believes it made a difference in advancing Amazon toward its climate pledge, which, according to its website, is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. And the group continues to put pressure on Amazon to hold up its end of the bargain. In 2019, Amazon workers were actually part of a much larger movement. Employees walked out in many tech companies. But it came with a cost: some Amazon workers were given notice that they could lose their jobs.
Jamie’s not blind to the risks. Even so, her belief in the power of employees working together has only grown. And she’s not alone. A couple of years ago, my co-host Yesh Pavlik Slenk interviewed Bill Weihl. He left top jobs at Apple and Google to launch Climate Voice, designed to empower employees to influence public policy.
If you're currently inside of a company, there's no reason that you also can't apply a climate lens and try to move things faster from wherever you are.”
Just to be clear, she’s not advocating taking risks that threaten your livelihood.
I don't know if you feel this way, but I sort of feel like it's so easy to like to say things and put things out in the world and it's way, way, way harder to actually do the thing. I have so much respect for people who are trying to push to make change happen from the inside of some of these big systems. And it is hard. It does come with risk. And it does take a lot of extra energy on top of your day job. We've heard, like people kind of building their numbers and finding their people across the business is a good first start, whether that's through, like starting with the green team or an employee resource group, or whatever it is. There's strength in numbers. So definitely building those really tight relationships first has seemed to work well. But it's easy to call for something and much, much harder to do it. I think we're on a journey. One of our priorities for this year at drawdown Labs is to collect, what is working, what hasn't worked, what's been tried, and then to try to share that across employee groups. So that's something we're actively working on right now.
Jamie is excited about what the future could look like at companies around the globe with empowered, energized employees pushing from the inside to fight climate change.
Zooming out, as our mini-series comes to a close, I was curious about the broader work at Project Drawdown. I asked Jamie to look ahead, and share a bit about the nonprofit’s aspirations for the next decade.
We need to, like, dramatically bend the emissions curve. And so we're looking at what are like the highest impact climate solutions that have immediate implications for the atmosphere... So those are things like plugging methane leaks, like, stop more methane from going into the atmosphere. Those are things like making massive gains in energy efficiency, halting deforestation, stopping ecosystem loss. And so we're now working looking at like, ‘OK, what needs to be true for those three solutions alone?’ So we're really looking at what are the policies needed to accelerate that? And what are the investments needed? And what are the jobs needed to identify and plug methane leaks? You know, electrical work! We need people doing energy efficiency stuff. That's some work that I'm excited about in the future, getting hyper-strategic and laser-focused around like where we need to put our efforts this decade.
That was Jamie Beck Alexander, director of Drawdown Labs. One thing I love about their work: Their Instagram. They highlight everyday heroes fighting climate change in every conceivable way. Go ahead and follow them at Project Drawdown.
Before we wrap up: here are a few things you can do right now!
As we close out the mini-series, I wanted to take a moment to say, thank you. It has been an absolute honor to bring you this series. Thank you for joining me, thank you for your kindness, and thank you for your desire to work on climate. I’ve spent my whole career in this field. And some days, it’s really hard to keep going. But having the chance to connect with so many of you has been incredibly inspiring and motivating. So thank you and let’s keep going.
That's it for this episode, and for our mini-series, The Year of the Climate Job! But I have great news: There’s a lot more help on the way. Our next full season of Degrees launches in September. We’re hard at work making more episodes to help you change careers, or to help you green your current job. In the meantime, check out our back catalog of inspiring profiles of people who use their careers to save the planet.
Follow Degrees on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening now. Sign up for our free newsletter to get the latest news on EDF’s Green Jobs Hub and new Degrees episodes. And share this podcast with a friend.
Degrees is presented by Environmental Defense Fund. Amy Morse is our producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Stephanie Wolf, Elaine Grant, Andrew Parrella and Kevin Kline worked on this episode. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from eco-conscious band Lake Street Dive. And I’m your host, Daniel Hill. Find me on LinkedIn and let’s chat green jobs! Thanks for listening!
[THEME MUSIC IN]
Change is coming, oh yeah
Ain’t no holding it back
Ain't no running
Change is coming, oh yeah!
[THEME MUSIC OUT]