Climate leave – bringing “eco” into the workplace

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. It has a major impact on every aspect of our existence, and we are yet to learn to what extent it will transform our daily lives, not to mention the environment that surrounds us. There are many negative effects of climate change: extreme heat and serious natural disasters pose new challenges for companies and employees alike.

When the damage is done

One of the first companies to respond to this challenge is the US tech company Fog Creek (now known as Glitch), which, following the increasingly violent storms of the hurricane season, decided to provide five days of paid leave to their employees in case weather conditions or emergency measures (e.g. evacuation) make it difficult or impossible for them to work. They explained their decision by emphasising that the safety of their workforce is of primary concern and these few days – which can be extended in the case of a state emergency – can help staff to ensure their own and their families’ safety.

While climate leave is a desirable step in order to lessen the negative impact of climate change on workers, it is only a sensible decision if it is part of a “green” work package that also facilitates the creation and maintenance of a sustainable and environmentally friendly office: the option of climate leave can be supplemented by providing platforms for remote working, allowing colleagues to work flexitime or encouraging the use of public transport and/or carpooling among colleagues.

A problem shared

Nicolas Vallat from Denmark has a different concept of Climate Leave: he believes climate leave should work in the same way as parental leave. You take time off work to do something that benefits everyone.

Inspired by a young Swedish woman, Bodil Palmberg, who recently quit a successful job to dedicate herself as a volunteer to promote the sharing economy and a more collaborative lifestyle which involves community gardens, swapping and sharing, gift circles, upcycling and so on, Nicolas prepared a simple one-page Climate Leave Agreement for his own boss. He initially asked for a three-month unpaid leave of absence. Unpaid because Nicolas saw this as his way of showing his commitment to the project. “I knew exactly what I would spend my time on while on leave: taking part in projects to create a more environment-friendly, collaborative economy,” he said.

The future beckons for employers who support their staff by allowing them to take time off from work on a daily, weekly or monthly basis in order to participate in social and environmental projects at a whole new level. This is something that gives both employer and employee a sense of recognition and fulfilment. And the biggest winner of all is our planet.