Climate change initiatives in the workplace

International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management

ISSN: 1756-8692

Article publication date: 2 August 2011



Zeppel, H. (2011), "Climate change initiatives in the workplace", International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Vol. 3 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Climate change initiatives in the workplace

Article Type: Feature From: International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Volume 3, Issue 3

Climate change mitigation and adaptation is now a focus within government, industry, education, and research. This includes developing green industries and technologies addressing climate change along with new sustainability skills and knowledge in the workplace. These areas were a key focus of the Second Climate Change at Work Conference held in Australia in Sydney and Brisbane, hosted by the Workplace Research Centre at The University of Sydney. This Climate Change at Work Conference aimed to “provide an insight into the latest green business solutions and carbon emissions mitigation practices in the workplace along with information and updates on ‘green’ policy, green jobs and green workforce development in Australia.” The Brisbane Climate Change at Work Conference was held on 4 August 2010. It was supported by ABC Carbon, Griffith University, Queensland Conservation, and HP (Hewlett Packard). Some 50 people attended this conference, including eco-consultants, sustainability businesses (i.e. training, employment, certification, renewable energy, carbon offsetting), conservation groups, business academics, students in a sustainable enterprise degree, business organisations (i.e. manufacturing, energy), vocational education and high schools, and the Queensland government Office of Climate Change. Key sessions at the Brisbane conference were: empowering sustainability in the workplace (Ian Lowe, Australian Conservation Foundation); environmental policy in Queensland (Office of Climate Change); environmental leadership in the workplace (Sally Russell, Griffith University); a business case study of implementing sustainability (HP); a global survey of corporate responses to sustainability (Accenture); investing in a low carbon economy to create green jobs (Ken Hickson, ABC Carbon); sustainability initiatives in the tourism industry (David Weaver, Griffith University & Stewart Moore, EC3 Global); and workplace skills for sustainability in Australia (John Buchanan, Workplace Research Centre & Georgina Davis, Energy Skills Queensland). These speakers reviewed government and industry initiatives for addressing climate change in the workplace, along with sustainability skills required for green jobs in a low carbon economy. Extending beyond Australia, a related Climate Change at Work Conference was also held in Singapore during 2010.

Recent reports by the Worldwatch Institute (Renner et al., 2008) and UNEP (2008) highlight global trends and demand for green jobs and skills in current or new industries. “Green jobs reduce the environmental impact of enterprises and economic sectors” […] and involve work “that contributes to preserving or restoring the quality of the environment” (UNEP, 2008, p. 5). Green jobs are about “employment that contributes to protecting the environment and reducing humanity’s carbon footprint” through new technologies (Renner et al., 2008). Green collar workers are defined as all levels of staff who work in green organisations or who have green skills and responsibilities within other organisations. A CSIRO report on growing the green collar economy in Australia listed five key areas for achieving a low carbon economy as: improved incentives and policies for environmental performance; green skills and training; performance assessment and accreditation; improved business inputs and supply chains; and a stronger innovation culture for sustainability (Hatfield-Dodds et al., 2008). Workplace changes relate to knowledge about green regulations and new technologies, with green changes to existing occupations in Australia outnumbering “new” green jobs (Rafferty and Yu, 2010).

A 2007 survey of 504 global CEOs found 59 per cent considered climate change a major business issue in the next 5 years, but it ranked as eighth in strategic business priority, with 67 per cent regarding it as a cost and 39 per cent as a new business opportunity. Adopting new technologies (25 per cent), changing company behaviour (24 per cent) and adjusting to new regulations (20 per cent) were internal barriers to business responses. Global company responses to reduce carbon emissions were adopting energy efficiency technology (53 per cent), measuring carbon footprints (39 per cent), and using renewable energy (32 per cent), while supply chain reconfiguration (17 per cent) was less practised (Accenture, 2008).

A 2010 survey of 70 delegates at the 6th Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference in Sydney found the main climate change actions implemented by companies were energy efficiency (31 per cent), renewable energy (16 per cent), alternative fuels/energy (10 per cent), cogeneration/trigeneration (7 per cent) and low carbon technologies (7 per cent). The government actions on climate change sought by companies were a carbon price or tax (26 per cent), incentives (20 per cent), regulation (19 per cent), funding (16 per cent), education (11 per cent) and green skills development (8 per cent) (ClimateWorks Australia, 2010). A global survey by Ernst & Young (2010) also found 70 per cent of corporate executives would increase climate change spending (by 0.5 per cent to more than 5 per cent of revenue) during 2010-1012; on energy efficiency (82 per cent), in developing new products or services (65 per cent), and through transparency in reporting carbon emissions (64 per cent) (Ernst & Young, 2010).

The 2010 Climate Change at Work Conference in Brisbane, Australia highlighted business initiatives to reduce emissions, new green business products and services, green skills training, climate change policy in Queensland and research on implementing sustainability in the workplace. Key drivers of green jobs and the nascent green economy in Australia are Federal and State Government climate change policies, and industry leadership on environmental sustainability. The transition to a low carbon economy is being hampered, however, by Australian Government policy changes on climate change initiatives, especially renewable energy and an emissions trading scheme. A carbon price is being negotiated with industry for implementation in Australia by July 2012. Globally, the market for low carbon products, green jobs and climate change services will continue to grow; based on the industry need to report and reduce emissions, carbon taxes, and eco-efficiency measures. Government climate change programs, carbon abatement schemes and green skills training will be crucial to growing the sustainable workplace and transitioning to a low carbon economy. Further research is required on the effectiveness of government climate change policies and green business initiatives in supporting the move to a low carbon economy. The global, national and regional demand for low carbon products and services required for climate change mitigation and adaptation also requires assessment, along with the role of emotions, analysis and regulations in driving business climate change actions. Strategic government responses to climate change and business sustainability require integrated policy, training and industry programs for achieving a lower carbon future.

Heather ZeppelAustralian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia


Accenture (2008), Achieving High Performance in an Era of Climate Change, available at: (accessed 23 August 2010)

ClimateWorks Australia (2010), Businesses Target Greenhouse Gas Cuts in Australia and New Zealand. Conference Communiqué, Sydney, 12 August, available at: (accessed 23 August 2010)

Ernst & Young (2010), Action Amid Uncertainty: The Business Response to Climate Change, available at:–the-business-response-to-climate-change

Hatfield-Dodds, S., Turner, G., Schandl, H. and Doss, T. (2008), “Growing the green collar economy”, Report to the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, CSIRO, Canberra, available at: (accessed 23 August 2010)

Rafferty, M. and Yu, S. (2010), Skills for Green Jobs in Australia: Unedited Background Country Study, International Labour Office, Skills and Employability Department, Geneva

Renner, M., Sweeney, S. and Kubit, J. (2008), “Green Jobs: Working for People and the Environment”, World Watch Report 177, Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC

UNEP (2008), Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World, UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC, Nairobi

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