Creating a Just and Inclusive Transition to a Sustainable Future

To mitigate the threat of climate change globally, we must support science-based climate policies, access to clean energy, and an equitable transition to a net-zero economy. In this article, I discuss solutions for a sustainable future that are priorities for climate-focused business leaders across the globe.

In my role at Workday, one of my responsibilities is looking at how our company can align with others to drive positive change in the world. A critical focus area—and one where we can all make a difference—is addressing climate change.

It’s become clear, especially in recent years, that the threat of climate change will have long-lasting consequences for our planet and communities across the globe. At Workday, we have long worked with other climate-focused leaders worldwide who believe it’s our collective responsibility to support a more sustainable future.

Given my personal and professional passion for this topic, I was honored to speak on a panel with civil society and business leaders at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26). The panel discussed the climate emergency, climate policy, workforce development, philanthropy, and how to support a just transition for workers who will be displaced from high-emitting industries.  

And, in conjunction with COP26, we announced Workday’s position on climate policy. Playing an active and collaborative role in mitigating climate change is a top business priority. We’re supporting science-based climate policies, promoting clean energy availability, and supporting an equitable transition to a net-zero economy. 

Here are some key takeaways related to climate change that are top of mind not only for us at Workday but also for sustainability advocates worldwide.

Business and Civil Society Leaders Must Band Together

Science shows if we take actions to slow global warming, there’s hope. But we need partnerships and collective participation. The intersection between a just transition, philanthropy, and getting the investment community more involved is essential.

At Workday, we support science-based policies that recognize the central role humans play in increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and we’ve committed to a 1.5°C science-based emissions reduction target. Following scientific consensus and the Paris Agreement, achieving net-zero global emissions by 2050 to prevent a rise in global warming above 1.5°C needs to be the top policy effort and the goal everyone must work toward.

It’s encouraging to know that according to the latest estimates, if nations meet their climate targets, we’ll go from a projected 2.7°C of warming to 1.8°C based on current commitments. At COP26, world leaders made two new major commitments: the methane pledge and the deforestation pledge. To reach success as a planet, every country’s outcome from annual pledges needs to track toward these goals and get more ambitious every year.

Within energy purchasing, we must find the areas of the highest impact. For example, in a collaborative effort with Bloomberg, Cox Enterprises, Gap, and Salesforce, we acted as small buyers of renewable energy. We made this effort to create a blueprint for smaller buyers to engage in similar aggregation projects to achieve the impact that traditionally only the largest corporate buyers can achieve.

Science shows if we take actions to slow global warming, there’s hope. But we need partnerships and collective participation.

By working together, as large organizations, we can bring our purchasing power and demand for renewable energy where it’s needed most to maximize carbon avoidance and focus on displacement of fossil fuel resources. It’s important to focus on impact “beyond the megawatt” that emphasizes social and environmental benefits, environmental justice, and community benefits. 

We Must Prepare and Reskill the Workforce for a Sustainable Future

Nearly every industry will face major changes as we move toward a net-zero future—so we shouldn’t wait until people are out of work to support and reskill them. In the U.S., nearly 1 million workers are employed in gas stations. Yet with the rise of electric vehicles, traditional gas stations will become increasingly rare. How can we prepare now for that anticipated shift in jobs resulting from this industry transition?

In the energy sector, the fastest-growing jobs are in wind and solar. As a society, we should provide training for those jobs to people employed in coal because we owe it to those workers to be proactive. At Workday, we support efforts that take a skills-based employment approach, increasing incentives for employer-led training, and pushing for real-time labor force data to ensure training can be focused on in-demand roles. Everyone deserves the dignity of work and the economic stability a job provides.

In addition, the Workday Foundation recently agreed to invest $1 million in upskilling people for green jobs. In tandem with that investment, we’re working on our next virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA): a reclaimed coal mine that will become a solar farm. Our vision is to enable a one-to-one transition: Workers who have lost their jobs in coal can take advantage of retraining programs for solar jobs in the same community. 

We Must Recognize the Indirect Impacts of Job Losses in Coal

Many coal-fired power plants have closed in the last decade, resulting in more than lost jobs. There’s been a ripple effect, as those communities also rely on the tax income from the coal-fired plants. Without that income, local governments have had to lay off public employees, causing forced migrations to regions offering better economic opportunities.

At Workday, we support policies that recognize the role humans play in increasing GHG emissions, and we’ve committed to a 1.5°C science-based emissions reduction target.

But research finds decarbonizing has the potential to result in millions of new jobs, in addition to positive economic and health outcomes from a reduction in pollution and climate disasters that disproportionately impact underrepresented communities. To ensure this reality, corporate energy buyers need to work with project developers and government officials on transition plans from coal jobs to green jobs. Questions to ask the project developers include: 

  • Are you engaging with the local community? 
  • Are you committed to and planning to hire locally? 
  • Are you investing money in upskilling workers in the community?
  • Is a fair wage guaranteed for all workers?

The overlap across corporate responsibility, public policy, sustainability, and the economic impacts on our communities is irrefutable.

Climate Action Needs to Remain at the Forefront of Decision-Making

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have given all of us a window into what the climate crisis could look like if we don’t collectively take action. The pandemic has magnified existing inequalities, with millions of people experiencing job loss, lack of access to adequate healthcare, and living conditions that have made it difficult to protect themselves against the virus. Compounded with COVID-19, the looming climate crisis is positioned to have an even greater impact on vulnerable communities—with a limited amount of time left until irreversible damage is done.

Nearly every industry will face major changes as we move toward a net-zero future—so we shouldn’t wait until people are out of work to support and reskill them.

The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect the vulnerable communities living on the front lines of its effects. It’s important that we continue to plan for the future and ensure we’re considering the immediate needs of people today. Those with the least, who typically contribute the least to climate change, face the biggest challenges and risk suffering the most. We must ensure they don’t pay the cost of our collective transition to a net-zero economy. That means ensuring the most vulnerable groups, and those in the most vulnerable geographies, have a voice in determining how to best transition workers in their respective geographies and local industries.

Workday remains committed to helping create a more just and equitable world. We recognize that funding from businesses can be catalytic in scaling the solutions necessary for a sustainable 1.5°C future. We look forward to working alongside community-based organizations and impacted communities to further improve the future of our planet.

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