Climate anxiety, wellbeing and business risk

Vertical stripes going blue (L) to red (R) show global warming over time.
Warming Stripes, created by Professor Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading to depict global temperature change 1850-2021.

With positive mental health regarded as a key performance metric for companies today, climate anxiety is becoming a quantifiable business risk. It is rising up both the Net Zero and wellbeing agendas.

Extreme weather is bad news for mental health

As extreme weather events continue to make headlines worldwide, alarm bells are ringing for the general public, louder and longer.

The fallout from this is being felt emotionally, with mental health organisations beginning to recognise climate anxiety as an emerging phenomenon amongst people of all ages.

In a recent poll of UK adults conducted for a leading private healthcare provider, for example, more than two out of every three Gen Zs (68%) said they were feeling anxious about environmental issues.

Eco anxiety affects the younger generation, too. In a survey of child and adolescent psychiatrists in England, over half (57%) reported seeing children and young people distressed about the climate crisis and the state of the environment.

As a result, many counselling and support services engaged in health and wellbeing provision are increasingly looking to help sufferers identify and address not just their concerns, but the issues themselves, too.

For business, therefore, the topic is headed higher up the agenda for both Net Zero and workplace wellbeing. It is a material risk.

So, in response, where should companies and organisations start?

Questions to ask and answer

Well, taking a pragmatic approach, there are some key prompter questions for business to ask and answer:

  • Is this aspect of climate risk on the radar of investment and finance communities?
  • What should employers be doing to support members of staff (and local communities) who are either already experiencing, or at risk of developing, climate anxiety?
  • Do brands have responsibilities towards their customers on this issue (and, if so, what should they do to help)?
  • How can marketing and communications professionals better enable business to articulate its position around climate anxiety — and do so with compassion and credibility, avoiding greenwash?

Actions to take; changes to make

Much of the action to be taken in practice will effectively be founded on changes made in principle. For many, this means embracing climate anxiety has more to do with developing new mindsets, than toolsets.

In a bid to build business confidence and boost employee wellbeing, therefore, the following four fundamentals should top the company to-do list on climate anxiety:

  • Align the corporate EQ with customers, suppliers and staff;
  • Humanise the climate message with diverse and inclusive faces and voices;
  • Reassure stakeholders with transparency and evidence credibility with third-party data; plus
  • Protest with passion on issues of importance — as the late American Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis once said: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Tackling climate anxiety is not just the job of any one department or individual — it is not merely a matter for investor or customer relations, for instance, or a task to be dumped on HR, or PR.

Climate anxiety is a concern for everyone. The fact we are in it together is the whole point.

If your company cannot relate or empathise, then it is doing it wrong.

Further Reading:

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