Heading into the summer of 2021, we’re generally enjoying increased freedom as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. However, many parts of the country are grappling with high heat, drought and the constant threat of wildfires – all very visible signs of climate change.
The question isn’t if your organization and employees will be impacted by climate change, but when and how. While it’s easy to consider climate change as “out of scope” in a benefits strategy, it has real implications for population health. Climate change will lead to increases in infectious disease and injuries secondary to disasters. By 2030, climate change is expected to cost $2-4 billion per year in direct damage costs to health.
How do we approach climate change from a health and well-being perspective? Two types of action are called for: reactive (supporting employee well-being in the face of climate events) and preventive (helping to reduce the impact of climate change and thus the need for reactive action).
Let’s start with the role benefits play in helping support employees during climate events and fostering organizational resilience. In 2020, US employees faced wildfires and ice storms (made still more difficult by the pandemic). These events had tangible impacts: employees lost power, were displaced from their homes, and worse. Employers can prepare now to support employees during climate events like these by:
Benefits can also play a role in helping employees and organizations reduce the impact of climate change. It will take everyone working together to reverse climate change and employers can act as facilitators. According to a Vanderbilt study, 17% of employees surveyed were offered Employee Energy Benefits (EEBs). That’s a good starting point. Consider these additional strategies for your benefits programs:
This journey can feel overwhelming – you’re taking on climate change! But remember, you aren’t alone. Engage – and if need be, push – your partners. This can range from evaluating current benefits vendors’ commitment to addressing climate change to partnering with your internal sustainability departments. You may find your own workforce is more than ready to pitch in – and will appreciate having a framework in which they can make a meaningful contribution to this critical effort.