The Internet’s Environmental Footprint. Part 3.
The internet’s environmental footprint is sizeable and with 4–7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the ICT sector is instrumental to tackling the climate crisis. Apart from increasing transparency and better understanding the impact of big tech players across all scopes and categories of the GHG protocol, we must also think about how to manage change within businesses. Because one thing is for sure, business as usual is not going to cut it.
In today’s part 3 of this series, I want to therefore share a bit from my personal experience in building out Mozilla’s sustainability programme.
Organisational culture change needs tailored approaches for each company setting. At the same time, there are general principles and processes to change management that will come into play regardless of where you depart on your journey.
First and foremost, you need to realise that you may aim to change how your organisation operates, but change is really about people and leading through change often means taking a step back. You need to understand the resistance that co-workers will express and empathise with the denial, push-back, exasperation, or impatience with you either moving too slow or too fast. Keeping an eye on the bigger picture, laying out a vision, while motivating and bringing everyone along is often a personal, even emotional journey.
By sharing my observations on shaping Mozilla’s path to environmental sustainability, I hope to provide some inspiration for where and how to start if you are working to successfully embed sustainability into your organisational culture as well.
Step 1: Generate Support from Leadership
The sense of urgency for Mozilla to act on climate change had been building up for years. Many of my colleagues not only followed and partook in the Fridays for Future movement but had been active in their personal lives for a long time. Some could feel the consequences of climate change already, be it through droughts, electricity blackouts, flooding, or unusually massive storms. In recent years, some of our California-based staff also had to be evacuated when wildfires raged out of control.
Knowing that extreme weather events are becoming more likely and widespread triggers an emotional response in most — yet, you might know and feel the consequences of the climate crisis and still not have any idea what to do about it.
The first step was simply to put it into words: We, as an organisation and as colleagues, cannot look the other way. We must assume responsibility for our own part in this crisis. And we can’t do that if don’t know what our impact is.
At first glance, seeking out these conversations and asking leadership to take a stand on a new topic, like sustainability, may seem like a distraction from the core business and guiding mission. Focusing on understanding Mozilla’s own impact before deciding what to do was the key to unlocking the initial support for launching a new programme. This knowledge will inform the business either way.
Step 2: Deliberate Broadly and Inclusively to Define Your Strategic Vision
To me, it was important that any newly launched programme would uplift, enrich, and channel the passion from already engaged colleagues. They were not only obvious allies but the reason why we were on this journey.
Seeking out input requires you to be active, responsive, and inclusive. Some colleagues may want to share in one-on-one conversations, others prefer whiteboarding, and some reflect by themselves and share written feedback. Clarity on what you are iterating on, what reasoning influenced the latest changes to the draft, and when commenting closes is crucial. And sometimes you may face the unfortunate dynamic that people withdraw or move on to other things because, now you are in charge, you got it covered. However, organisational change won’t happen without them. Environmental sustainability is a multifaceted challenge that necessarily touches upon all aspects of our work and life and hence, cannot, by any means, be driven or implemented top-down or by a single team only.
In mapping out and planning for the scope of the environmental sustainability programme, the input and feedback of all these colleagues ensured that what we were shaping up was meaningful, impactful, and felt right for Mozilla. It provides you with more legitimacy to act on your mandate. In our case, we not only identified overarching strategic goals, but we also agreed on four principles that would guide our work throughout: humility, openness, optimism, and speaking up.
Step 3: Take Time to Build Processes and Engagement
Understanding your impact comes with a few technical challenges. Accounting for an organisation’s environmental footprint can be a complex, sometimes daunting task. Nonetheless, this will provide you with the data and insight necessary to substantiate passions and desires to speak out and advocate and it serves as the evidence you need to nudge for more urgency and involvement. It will also be the basis upon which you can tell not just that you improved, but how well.
It takes effort and focus to learn how to do a greenhouse gas assessment and even more so, how to best set up internal processes for gathering the required data. For a medium-sized organisation like Mozilla with roughly 1000 employees across the globe, this involved over 60 individuals who held pieces of information we needed to be able to assess our environmental impact across all 3 scopes of the GHG protocol. Moreover, some of that information we had never collected before, for example the setup of our remote employees or commute behaviour.
Developing a data management plan with clear instructions for how to handle sensitive data, access rights, and tool requirements took many, many conversations with legal and compliance teams, data scientists, and human resources. We were definitely covering new territory, learning about all the factors and activities that feed into environmental reporting. On that basis, we tailored our data request templates to the respective teams, iterating many times over to ease workloads, clarify measurement units, and explain how each data point informed the overall report.
This takes time. But it is worth it because every person you reach out to for information is also an ally. Going forward, everyone who has helped you understand where and how to find relevant information in your company will contribute to raising awareness and implementing organisational culture change.
Step 4: Enlist Champions
The minutiae of environmental reporting can feel tedious and burdensome to quite a few people who would much rather start implementing solutions. You need to keep up that momentum and find ways to highlight successes, new initiatives, and ways to get involved continuously.
To that end, I decided to create an Environmental Champions programme. I wanted to tap into people’s passion and channel the different things that people cared about. My goal was to highlight that those different ideas, motivations, and skills all held pieces to the larger puzzle of improving sustainability — no one can solve it by themselves, but different initiatives and skillsets complement and amplify each other, driving change far beyond our immediate roles. These are the people that will lead through culture change by example.
When recruiting and training the first cohorts of champions, I paid particular attention to reaching out to individuals across departments, regions, hierarchies, and tenure. If you want change to happen across an entire organisation, you need to be able to point to as wide a range of examples as possible. It was meant to inspire new colleagues to join in. In any case, the Champions were no doubt my primary source of inspiration to keep going, to keep pushing. And many had already contributed to our strategic vision, too.
One critical aspect in successfully building this programme out was manager buy-in: being an Environmental Champion had to be explicitly part of people’s professional development — which required different degrees of convincing. Change is a process, and by getting the manager to approve, we widened our base of leadership support even further.
Step 5: Communicate and Raise Awareness of Why and How You’re Changing
Convincing is all about awareness and communication. If you feel that you are communicating a lot, communicate even more. What may be repetitive to you is merely a ping in people’s busy information flows and calls for attention. Remember the curse of knowledge: What you think is obvious, may be insightful and inspiring to others. Moreover, everyone processes information differently, some read, some listen, some prefer visuals, and others want to create.
There are countless options to play with, just make sure you are both consistent and inviting. All communication about organisational change needs to help building bridges between individual employee action or initiatives and the larger leadership vision. You want to inspire new behaviours and make sure that your framing guides people towards organisational goals.
At Mozilla, we explored different things over time. This included a bi-weekly newsletter, developing a glossary of shared terminology, launching a guest speaker series, coordinating employee action around Earth Day, promoting a day off to volunteer, and experimenting with virtual art experiences.
My underlying thread in all these really was exploration — what did we learn, which perspectives have we not yet heard, what research has challenged our assumptions, which stories surprised or inspired us, and which questions do we most struggle with? By being open about what we were learning, we also got to show progress and shine spotlights on the initiatives of our champions and the questions that these helped us answer.
Step 6: Be Transparent and Accountable
Ultimately, even the very best intentions will at some point need more nudging. Personally, I think that transparency and public pledges about where you want to go, why, and by what means are critical to be able to hold organisations to account, internally as well as externally.
It can be challenging to secure the necessary buy-in for such public commitments — they are, in a way, the litmus test for how genuine the desire for change really is. They must be ambitious enough to resonate across the engaged employee base and measured enough to allow leadership to integrate them into their planning. Words suddenly carry a lot more weight and they are followed by decisions about headcount, budget, targets, and all the consequences of reducing your impact (travel, food, vendor relations etc.). Falling short of such commitments comes with reputational and often financial risk for the organisation.
It is a balancing act and the more support and awareness you built before presenting and putting commitments up for decision with leadership, the more meaningful your pledge and the subsequent implementation will be.
Step 7+ Learn, Listen, Learn
Setting an organisation up for environmental sustainability is a huge undertaking as the climate crisis presents us with challenges at each level of our jobs and lives. Yet, while we must address each of them, we do not have to tackle all of them alone. It’s a collective effort and our colleagues are often the contributors and amplifiers we need to move forward. That’s the legal team that defines data management, the marketing team that creates visual assets, the AV team that features and supports your guest speakers, the office managers that switch to renewable energy and select local vendors, or the engineers that increase product efficiency and thereby reduce their impact. Everyone you involve, creates change.
It may seem obvious, but this sort of change is only manageable if broken down into digestible chunks, one milestone at a time. In my work, I separated priorities along tracks: GHG accounting, environmental champions, internal communication, and external engagements, each having their own project phases and deadlines.
Understanding and communicating the benefits of this change, while making sure that everyone has agency in impacting and implementing new behaviours is a commitment to continue learning, not a one-off task.
To sum up, as a change manager your job is to never stop learning, to involve as many people as possible and amplify the changes that they are making. Process-wise you want to look at:
1. Generate support from leadership
2. Deliberate broadly and inclusively to define your strategic vision
3. Take time to build processes and engagement
4. Enlist champions
5. Communicate and raise awareness of why and how you’re changing
6. Be transparent and accountable
7. Learn, listen, learn
In next week’s post, I will look more closely at the power of imagination and narratives as well as some tools and initiatives that you can deploy and support to drive positive change.