Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Working in climate feels easier said than done, but Daniel Hill, Director of Business and Innovation at the Environmental Defense Fund and host of the season 5 mini-series of Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers, was inspired to create #OpenDoorClimate, a grassroots movement dedicated to empowering the next generation of climate leaders. In this fireside chat, Daniel highlights what it means to be a climate professional and how to forge a climate career on a warming planet.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Inspired by his own experiences of finding a climate job, Daniel is leveraging #OpenDoorClimate to build a community of like-minded people who are passionate about taking climate action in their roles.
What does the work at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) look like?
The Environmental Defense Fund is a 50+ year-old global nonprofit that focuses on health, nature, and climate. We have three main goals: 1) stabilize the climate; 2) strengthen people and nature’s ability to thrive; 3) support our community’s health.
We’re huge on science. We have dedicated science teams that are working to advance scientific discoveries for the environment. We also have a big advocacy team that is working with representatives to try to pass policies that protect the environment. We also engage in climate justice work, partnerships, and corporate engagements.
Reflecting on your experience with EDF and your career, what does it mean to be a climate professional or to work on climate?
I think it’s changed over the years. I went to school with the goal of wanting to work on renewable energy and figuring out what’s the next alternative fuel. My initial definition was very technology based and I thought a climate job had to be solutions-oriented.
As I progressed in my career, I realized that climate is not only a technology issue but also a people issue. The people we need the most are people in traditional roles that are working on behalf of the climate. For example, someone working in a retail company that’s doing procurement and supply chain has a tremendous opportunity to bring climate into their job.
The business case should be more than profits—any job can fit under that kind of climate professional title. It’s about what you’re bringing into that role and how you’re finding ways to incorporate it.
How can people build a sense of purpose in their current jobs?
It’s possible! I’ve had conversations with people who said they joined an employee resource group that was dedicated to sustainability within the company and applied what they learned into their role. Other people have said they made a lateral move and joined a sustainability department internally.
But, not every job will have that opportunity and there are some limitations. Those are the areas where it makes sense to look elsewhere or find an opportunity on the side. I do environmental work at my day job. I work 9 to 5 and I still have a tremendous amount of climate anxiety.
I had so much anxiety that I started a grassroots movement called #OpenDoorClimate while working full time. I needed outlets to take more action. In general, everyone’s opportunities might be different. If you can do it within your existing job, that’s amazing. If not, you can start finding communities and new outlets that can help you.
What is #OpenDoorClimate?
#OpenDoorClimate is a grassroots movement that asks climate professionals to have an open door policy to speak with anyone interested in working on climate. It’s similar to the concept of coffee chat or cold reaching out to someone to learn more about their job.
While working a full-time role at EDF, what inspired you to start #OpenDoorClimate?
I’ve always valued community. I once was an entrepreneur of a non-profit and I handled it by myself. Even though I had a co-founder, it was super challenging and I bootstrapped everything. It took me a long time to realize how isolated I was and how much I was floundering in the process.
I started looking around at incubators and accelerators that were focused specifically on social entrepreneurs. I was lucky enough to get accepted to a couple and I noticed a huge shift. There was a huge community of people who were experiencing the same problem and many of us were learning from each other.
I understand the power of like-minded people that are in a similar place. I’m a huge introvert, so I know how intimidating cold-reaching out to people can be. So, I put up a post on LinkedIn saying that I have an open door policy and I had 50 calls in 2 weeks. It was not good for my mental health, but it was extremely informational. It tested my hypothesis that there’s amazing resources out there right now for people interested in climate and there’s a lot to learn about different climate change solutions.
It wasn’t sustainable for me to do 50 calls every 2 weeks, so I put out an ask to other client professionals in my network asking if they would be open to doing something similar. It was amazing to see how many people started posting on LinkedIn about their open door policy. Around 6,000 have had chats through #OpenDoorClimate, which is really cool to see, especially since it has zero funding.
What advice do you have for job seekers that are balancing trying to follow a passion, getting a job that excites you, and fighting climate anxiety vs. finding a job that pays the bills?
I was in a similar boat when I was doing sustainability consulting. It took a year for me to realize that the CEO was not interested in the climate side and only cared about the consulting side. I realized that I wasn’t doing anything for the environment.
That experience led me to the non-profit side. If you’re going to join a smaller organization, do your research and talk with someone from the inside. Ask the right questions during interviews and remember that you’re also evaluating the organization during the interview.
Another aspect is doing a traditional job function at a specialized company. For example, these jobs can be in product management or operations at a solar company. Even though it may not be a climate job, you’re still making a positive impact.
Overall, I would look at your skill set and values to help you narrow down your job list because it’s a very personal decision in the end.
How can we get started on #OpenDoorClimate?
If you are in a position where you consider yourself a client professional or you’re working on climate actively, there’s no blueprint. Post on LinkedIn that you have an #OpenDoorPolicy because that’s where people are going to be looking for jobs. If you go to our website, there’s a template post you can use to start conversations.
If you’re on the flip side of being a job seeker, search the hashtag #OpenDoorClimate. You can also follow me—I try to post other people you can connect with.
What are your favorite questions to ask in #OpenDoorClimate chats?
I would try to understand the company’s theory of change—are they real or fake. Founders are so used to selling and telling the story that I almost prefer to talk to someone that is a direct report or an employee of that person. I think they have a different perspective on what the work looks like to them. It would be great if you can talk to more than one person because there’s value in talking to multiple people that’s working for one leader.
I would also ask who their stakeholders and shareholders are. For example, if a company has a VC fund that invested in them, I would try to understand who the investor is, what else they have invested in, etc.
If you’re working within a larger organization, how do you amplify the value of sustainability?
Organizational culture is a central piece. I’ve talked to internal innovation coaches within larger companies to understand how they advance climate action within a larger company even if it’s not in someone’s role. This concept of “culture of action” came up. There has to be a base culture to show that teams and staff can get tasks done quickly or enact they’re ready.
If you are starting an ERG, I would focus on building the community more than pitching to senior leadership. Come together and build momentum through smaller actions. Also, establish norms—the more strongly organized you are as a group, the more culture of action you’ll have.
What’s occupying your space right now?
Some people think I have all these different skill sets from running my own organization, but I associate myself as being a generalist. I’m not a specialist in anything. I realize that the climate landscape is constantly changing. It feels like something new always pops up once I start doing something specific.
I used to think that I’m not doing enough even. As I’ve gotten older in my career, I realized the feeling of not doing enough is never going to go away. I’ve realized that this is where I exactly need to be and I’m doing the best of my ability to make maximum impact. I feel it makes my work stronger in the end because I’m not frantically looking over the fence. I need to do whatever I’m doing really well to have the biggest impact.
For anyone that feels they’re not doing enough, know that none of us are going to be doing the maximum impact all the time. Keep doing what you’re doing because you’re still making a difference.
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