How We Formed a Climate Action Group for the Tech Industry

The reality of our present moment is that humankind is locking in a path to catastrophic global warming. It is imperative that businesses and organizations understand their role at this critical time, and contribute positively toward solutions on climate change.

Small, medium and large companies in the tech industry are at different stages of this journey. Some are leading the pack, but are aware they need to do more. Others have made clear headway, and are trying to work out new approaches. Many more are struggling with where to start.

In the majority of these businesses, numerous employees are highly motivated to help their employers push forward and do more, whether it is directly related to their role or not. This is significant — employees working in tech often have a much greater than average capability to guide and influence their employers. There is a powerful incentive for workers and companies to join forces and make waves on issues of sustainability.

That’s why an organic, employee-led group of technology professionals from across the industry have come together to advocate for change. We aim to support these motivated employees, to incubate these business efforts wherever possible and to offer technical support to the climate movement.

We call ourselves ClimateAction.tech.

This article is about who we are, how we came to exist, and what we are doing now to drive climate action in the tech industry.

Who we are

ClimateAction.tech is made up of technology professionals from across the industry volunteering personal time. The initiative started in the USA, but quickly spread into Europe and there is global interest in our approach. We come from many different roles, backgrounds and timezones, and membership is consistently expanding.

Members are employed by well-known companies across tech, including Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, GitHub, Salesforce, SoundCloud, Uber, Etsy, Tumblr, ThoughtWorks, and many more. We also have input from the startup world, and from tech professionals in non-tech firms, making a group that covers a wide spread of professional technology.

Our aim is for ClimateAction.tech to embody the collective vision of a diverse array of volunteers. We support inclusion of women, LGBTQ+, people of color, people in all aspects of tech, whether design, development, analysis, security, operations, management, administration or other roles. And we recognize the importance of lifting up the voices of those most impacted, who are on the frontlines of climate change.

What unites us is a belief in the crucial role technology professionals — and our industry as a whole — must play in building a more positive future.

Where we came from

Employees from multiple tech companies in the US started seeking each other out in early 2017, dismayed at the lack of progress on tackling global warming. Some were already involved in green teams or similar efforts, and others were simply alarmed at the implications for society and determined to do something to help.

The group began organizing a contingent for the upcoming People’s Climate March. Protests like these are designed to incorporate contingents of multiple and varied backgrounds, and we were committed to making sure tech sector employees were represented as a group.

East Coast members of ClimateAction.tech marching in Washington DC

Contingents under the newly-formed banner of ClimateAction.tech gathered for simultaneous marches in Washington DC and Oakland, California. Signs were designed and printed to announce who we are, with many of us meeting for the first time in person and starting to hatch new plans.

We discussed our efforts publicly in the lead-up to the march, catching attention from multiple press outlets. We realized from this gathering that our group had something special to offer.

What we are doing now

After the People’s Climate March we deepened our search for employees who were trying to create or support climate programs at tech companies. We started an online accelerator program, which allows these employees to meet each other and access our network of experts.

This helps to enable the tech industry’s many internal advocates, supporting them in setting goals for corporate change, and following through on them. Our first accelerator season, run through Winter and Spring in 2018, has already generated successful outcomes in the industry.

Wikimedia’s first ever sustainability program

Supported by the accelerator, employees at Wikimedia, the non-profit organization behind Wikipedia, initiated their first ever sustainability program. Wikimedia employee Lukas Mezger, who spearheaded the creation of the program, said:

“Through ClimateAction.tech we learned from sustainability experts about how to work on organizational change from within. Having a peer group to discuss and share experiences and ideas was very valuable to our process, especially given that we were introducing new ideas about sustainability which had not previously been perceived as core to Wikimedia’s mission.”

Our accelerator cohort, made up of motivated employees from the US West Coast through to Central Europe, met for incubation sessions every two weeks. Some were consulting sessions, in which the cohort exchanged ideas with sustainability directors such as Bill Weihl and Sunya Ojure, organizational change consultants such as Pam Berns, or political campaigners such as Dan Sherrell.

Other sessions were working meetings, in which the program organizers worked directly with the cohort in order to help make progress toward concrete goals. Working sessions were sometimes group sessions, and sometimes one-on-one consulting sessions.

As our program has developed, we have gained wider attention, and have been credited for our work by activism and industry alike. This has helped further expand our network and reaffirm our sense that relating climate change to tech makes a unique and positive impact in the world.

Our publications

As we incubate employees and help them achieve their goals, we are listening and expanding our knowledge of the key concerns they are facing. We continually broaden our awareness on issues such as implementation strategy, organizational and cultural change, carbon accounting and the energy consumption implications of technology and business choices.

We are writing up and publishing these findings, to support more tech workers and drive interest in future accelerators we plan to run.

ClimateAction.tech’s tech sustainability guide

Our first publication was our general orientation to tech sector sustainability which, based on our experience, advocates for the creation of a Sustainability Statement as a first step. The guide includes advice on how to craft a commitment, how to work with internal departments and navigate internal politics, and how to measure and reduce your company’s carbon footprint.

Coming soon are more articles — on comparing personal impact versus company impact, and on individual learnings from cohort experience.

Where we are headed

We are now preparing to create new and expanded accelerator programs, with larger cohorts and more input from our partners. To drive this forward, we are writing up our stories and our findings, helping people understand what we are doing and why, and communicating key insights to help drive our network forward.

All of this requires support and input from volunteers, and we are looking for more people to raise their hands. Many of our volunteers contribute as little as an hour a week, attending a friendly call where we exchange updates and co-work on tasks. This can expand and contract based on the commitments and needs of each volunteer over time.

We also need new connections — maybe you know an employee in tech who would like to improve their company’s sustainability? Maybe you know someone with experience and expertise, who might like to lend a hand? Or, perhaps you are interested in the subjects raised in this article, but aren’t sure yet how best you might fit in.

If any of this rings true, join our Slack and say hi. If you are not a Slack user, email us at hello@techclimate.org. We would love to chat about your ideas and hear your perspectives. We looking forward to hearing from you.