I am a Sustainability activist at work. And that’s OK.
Hello there, Jessica here, I am a marketing leader at Microsoft. This article is to share with you how I am working on making sustainability everybody's job at Microsoft, as I reflect on my own journey working with a group of smart and agile leaders of the Worldwide Sustainability Community at Microsoft. I believe it is everyone's responsibility to help their corporations become more responsible and sustainable. If you are interested in helping your organization step up its environmental game, this article will help you get started. As our Chief Environmental Officer at Microsoft, Lucas Joppa says: it is bigger than all of us. It will take all of us to partner and build a more just and sustainable future for all.
TL-DR version of this article: my “Make sustainability everybody's job at Microsoft” checklist.
- Find your allies
- Create a structure
- Speak up
- Measure impact early
- Create learning opportunities
- Make participation easy
- Promote curiosity
- Drive engagement
- Empower leaders
- Inspire people (or try to)
Step 0 - Dare to make a difference at work.
In the past eight years, my husband and I have been intentional at reducing our family's carbon footprint and living a more sustainable lifestyle. But when I had my second baby in Jan 2019, I didn’t feel it was enough. While I was in complete awe of this new beautiful (of course) human being, I also felt this urgent need to better align my personal commitment with my professional life. It was as if bringing a new human being on earth, I had an additional responsibility towards the planet.
I was still on maternity leave when I connected to Microsoft's internal network in the desperate seek of likeminded people who could become my sustainability allies. And that's how I found the nascent WW sustainability community (WWSC) of Microsoft employees. Just a few months earlier, in their own efforts of finding people who care about sustainability, Drew and Holly had just founded the community. Before my maternity leave ended, I had decided to become an active member of this new community. I had decided I would drive sustainability forward at work.
Step 1 - Get (it) together.
If you are looking to drive change at your company and collaborate with your fellow employees, I'd encourage you to create a structure early, like Drew and Holly did with the Worldwide Sustainability Community at Microsoft. Once we had the right structure in place, a few things followed almost organically: we defined leadership roles to manage the community (I started as Comms Lead), we got ourselves an executive sponsor (our very own Lucas Joppa), and we defined a rhythm of business (monthly community calls, bi-weekly leads calls). As we got more structured and organized, grassroots word of mouth started, and more employees joined us.
While we didn’t have a roadmap, most WWSC leads shared my urgent need to get the sustainability conversations started. Finding sustainability allies had an energizing effect: I felt stronger, I wanted to speak up. Next thing I knew, I was at one of our Monthly Employee Q&A sessions asking a question to Satya Nadella himself about sustainability. After that, all Q&A sessions with our Senior Leadership Team had an employee ask a sustainability question. The community didn’t organize the sustainability line of questions, people just got naturally energized and it became okay to ask. Let's not forget this was mid-2019, right in the middle of Fridays for Future, Greta Thunberg, etc. and it was about time we discuss it at work.
My tip here: Don’t wait to have everything figured out to get the discussions going. It's okay to speak up and ask questions, even more when you are ready to roll up your sleeves and be part of the answer.
Speaking up also helped us articulate our mission and vision as a Worldwide Community. We define our mission as "identifying and acting on areas where grassroots, employee-driven engagement can be an effective mechanism for change in the sustainability space inside Microsoft and beyond." We defined our objectives for the community, with simple metrics around growth, geographic footprint, and engagement to measure our impact. That led us to step 2.
Microsoft Sustainability Mission Statement
Step 2 - Initiate a learning journey for all.
We were a group of people with a mission and a goal: to grow a community of informed, inspired and engaged employees that collaboratively drive positive environmental change at every level of the company.
We quickly doubled down on creating learning opportunities and providing resources for everyone to skill up on sustainability. We made sure that participation was easy for each learning opportunity.
We encouraged more people to speak up and share their stories. Our global community provided sharing opportunities such as monthly community calls where local initiatives could get global visibility. Connections were built. People who never met each other would connect and start working on common projects. I led a virtual team that organized our first Earth Day campaign 2020, right at the start of the Covid pandemic, encouraging employees to share their actions for Earth, from home. The point was to learn from each other and promote curiosity. We ended up reaching 350,000 people, with many employees sharing their actions for Earth on LinkedIn.
Step 3: Activate
After a 2.5-year journey, the community is now 3,600 members, 26 local chapters strong, and growing every day. This is not just our grassroots work that made us grow so big and so fast. In 2020, Microsoft made bold sustainability commitments around carbon, water, waste and biodiversity. A sustainability journey that started more than 10 years ago (with our internal carbon tax, our 100% renewable energy datacenters, and more) finally got the main stage it deserved. Every public announcement Microsoft made, more employees would join us, looking for ways to make sustainability part of their work.
The WWSC is now a legitimate internal partner, and we actively work with several teams to make sure Sustainability is infused in every important Microsoft beats. A good example is our internal Hackathon, where tens of thousands of Microsoft employees come together to bring world-changing ideas to life. Employees have the opportunity to join a Hack for Sustainability challenge, tackling important challenges and helping us identify emerging sustainability leaders. We empower these leaders to hack throughout the year on our community Actionbox, where teams can continue to work on their employee-led sustainability projects across the company, in all stages of development.
As Brad Smith, President of Microsoft says: "We’ll continue to keep our house in order and improve it, while increasingly addressing sustainability challenges around the globe by engaging our strongest assets as a company – our employees and our technologies. Meeting this raised ambition will take the work of everyone across Microsoft, as well as partnerships with our customers, policymakers, and organizations around the world."
My personal wish for 2021 is to encourage employee activism and to give employees ways to take action for Earth. Two years ago, I used to hide this part of me at work. But not anymore. I am a climate activist. I am a social justice activist. I am fighting - as much as I can - for a sustainable and equal world for all. It makes me feel hopeful that big companies like Microsoft take a strong stand on these important issues and I am hoping this article inspires you to do it too.
Become familiar with Microsoft’s Environmental Sustainability Report through Drew’s article summarizing the 96-page document.