Business groups see climate change as major focus for employees

Boston Statehouse

Ali Armstrong Sherwood (bottom) from the Trustees and Kalila Barnett (top right) from the Barr Foundation, speak as part of Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s “City Awake” series focused on issues of importance to young professionals, moderated by Blair Sportswood Hollis (top left) of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. (Screenshot)

BOSTON (SHNS) – As workers are given more leeway to bring their personal causes and beliefs into the workplace, companies can use their own engagement around issues like climate change to help recruit and retain employees and particularly younger employees.

That was the message Thursday from Ali Armstrong Sherwood, associate director of partnerships at the Trustees, and Kalila Barnett, climate resilience program officer at the Barr Foundation, who spoke as part of Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s “City Awake” series focused on issues of importance to young professionals.

“Folks are paying attention and especially the younger generation in the workforce is really paying attention,” Sherwood said. “At this point, we have a little bit more space to show up authentically at work and not separate out our personal values and priorities from the work that we do. So the more that an employer can allow that space for discussion, learning and unlearning, and progress together, I think that is a huge strategy for business to attract and retain talent.”

Climate change was the focus of Thursday’s discussion, which coincided with Earth Day. Politicians, business organizations, nonprofits and others from around Massachusetts marked Earth Day by urging others to prepare for the further changes to the state’s air, water and landscape on the horizon.

The Greater Boston Chamber said members of the Gen Z and Millennial generations — broadly people born between the early 1980s and roughly 2010 — “have been hearing about climate change for most of their lives” and will soon be “the largest working generation and the decision-makers of our business community.”

When it comes to climate readiness, Barnett said that businesses “can and should see themselves as leaders within this work” and that it is critical for executives and leaders to be on board. She said companies can start by gaining a better appreciation for the values and priorities of “different constituencies” that interact with the business.

“Employees are going to have a particular understanding, a particular set of interests. Shareholders are going to have a particular understanding or a particular interest and so, as any entity is kind of creating plans, embrace that complexity,” she said. “Find the areas of overlap. And there may be some areas of disconnect, but I think the idea that every business is going to have a fixed plan and ‘if we just follow this plan, everything is going to work out fine.’ No. Conditions are going to change over time. What we know is going to change over time. And so it’s important that you create mechanisms within your business to be able to talk about those changes and adapt to them over time.”

Earth Day in Massachusetts

Unsurprisingly, the climate policy law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed about a month ago was a popular topic of conversation on Earth Day.

“I have an Earth Day resolution: to join with grassroots activists to make sure the ambitious new climate law is implemented in full. It commits to the right Big Number — 50% fewer emissions by 2030,” Sen. Michael Barrett, a lead climate law architect, said. “Let’s hope other states follow Massachusetts’ lead.”

Barrett has been keen to keep attention on the Baker administration as it begins to implement the law, which came about after months of disagreements between lawmakers and the administration.

The law commits Massachusetts to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, establishes interim emissions goals between now and the middle of the century, adopts energy efficiency standards for appliances, authorizes another 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power and addresses needs in environmental justice communities.

Baker’s day began at MGM Springfield where he, local leaders, casino officials and Gaming Commission Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein celebrated the casino’s green building certification. After a stop in Pittsfield to tour a vaccination site, the governor plans to end his day by signing an executive order related to reducing gas emissions at state facilities while visiting the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker in Framingham.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides and other department heads under her umbrella have been busy making stops around the state to highlight environmental programs and investments this week.

Attorney General Maura Healey got in on the Earth Day action Thursday, too. She joined Rep. Bud Williams and Springfield City Council President Marcus Williams to announce a project in which 80 air quality monitors will be installed around Springfield — which ranks as the worst place in the U.S. to live with asthma — to provide data for public health responses.

“For far too long, injustices embedded in environmental and other policies have forced our most vulnerable residents in communities like Springfield to breath [sic] polluted air and suffer serious public health consequences,” Healey said. “This project will help us address inequities by giving residents the tools they need to monitor pollution in their neighborhoods and protect their health.”

The attorney general and staffers from her Environmental Protection Division also planted five trees — two Musashino Zelkova and three Heritage River Birch — in Springfield’s Adams Park.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Downing held a Twitter Q&A on climate issues Thursday afternoon, weighing in on everything from the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to green job creation.

More than 100 local elected and appointed leaders from 43 cities and towns across Massachusetts marked Earth Day by sending a letter to Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and the Massachusetts School Building Authority to urge that all school building projects funded by the MSBA be fully electrified and ready to withstand a changing climate.

“Many of our existing municipal and school buildings were built in areas that were previously streams or wetlands,” Emily Norton, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association and a Newton city councilor, said. “Climate change is bringing more intense rainstorms, so must take this into account as we construct the next generation of school buildings. And we need the MSBA to be a partner for cities and towns as we seek to construct net zero energy, climate resilient schools.”

Norton was one of 112 local officials who signed the letter coordinated by the Massachusetts Sierra Club. The officials said they want all heating and cooling to be supplied by “clean all-electric” systems, parking lots that offer electric vehicle charging, and consideration of precipitation modeling for 2070 before any school building project qualifies for MSBA money.

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