Okta’s Learnings About Climate Equity - Smart Energy Decisions

Energy Efficiency, Sourcing Renewables  -  June 13, 2022 - By Alison Colwell and Lindsay Ward, Okta

Okta’s Learnings About Climate Equity

During Earth Week this year, Okta employees heard from 2 distinguished, climate-focused organizations: CLIMA Fund and Solar Stewards. They addressed the root causes of climate change and how we can assist in developing local resilience to climate impacts. Learning from these organizations is a key piece of Okta’s current climate strategy. Why? Because we acknowledge that climate change disproportionately impacts systemically marginalized communities (specifically lower-income communities and communities of color) “first and worst.” These same communities typically contribute the least to climate change, yet are rarely invited to consider solutions to the climate crisis. For example, 74 of the world’s poorest countries account for less than one-tenth of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, it’s estimated that at the current rate, climate change will push up to 130 million people into poverty over the next 10 years, and by 2050, could cause over 200 million to migrate within their own countries. 

Marginalized communities are also heavily impacted by environmental racism. In the US, race is the biggest indicator of whether you live near toxic waste. As a result, people of color are hardest hit by air pollution. 

Recognizing the importance of weaving equity and impact into our business and climate strategy, we met with several additional climate justice, social enterprise, environmental organizations, and funders as part of a “listening and learning” tour. We’re hopeful the learnings shared below can help other companies on their sustainability and climate equity journeys.

Key learnings and takeaways
There are many interconnected climate issues that require local government engagement, such as: 

  • health, wellbeing, and quality of life; air pollution and air quality; toxic chemicals; water quality and food justice; public housing
  • indigenous rights and sovereignty
  • community-controlled renewable energy 
  • resistance to extractive industries, helping to establish a just transition away from oil and gas in affected communities
  • access to (renewable) energy and electric vehicles, clean and good-paying jobs that are family-sustaining jobs and careers, clean mobility and transportation
  • extreme heat, wildfires, climate disasters, and resiliency 

Climate and equity should be incorporated into the business by:

  • Identifying existing systems and addressing potential barriers/challenges, such as:
    •  power differentials
    • existing mistrust given the difficult history of working with corporations
    • different resources, timelines, and priorities (for example, community justice organizations work on the front lines and need time to respond) 
    • the need to disrupt “business as usual” to prioritize absolute emissions reduction first, not just relying on “buying your way” out of emissions
  • Avoiding unintended consequences. Recognize that in making a massive investment in a single technology, the change may replicate the same inequities.
  • Understanding intersectionality. For example, underserved communities, such as rural areas, are vying for access to technology. An option like solar power can also enable access to the internet, unlocking other opportunities like new jobs.
  • Recognizing that “those closest to the problem often have the best solutions”. Communities with autonomy, sovereignty, and power are best able to adapt to climate change. That’s why we are proud to support the CLIMA Fund and their work investing in on-the-ground leaders behind the most sustainable and effective solutions to our global climate crisis. 
  • Supporting community-driven and/or controlled solar projects which are designed by and for communities that have been historically burdened by our energy systems.
  • Recognizing that small-scale local solutions may or may not be the quickest or most cost-effective, but they support the people who can benefit the most. Some solutions, including electrification of homes via solar, storage, and microgrids, are possible, but take time to build trust and relationships, whereas other solutions such as transitioning from industrially produced seeds and agricultural products toward agroecology are fairly quick and cost-effective.

There’s no universal definition for “climate justice;” however, many of the organizations we spoke with defined climate justice using similar themes: 

  • Identifying and addressing root causes and systems that cause climate change
  • Recognizing the impacts on marginalized communities, and supporting civil and human rights
  • Working to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generally and particularly within these communities 

We were also advised that only community-based organizations, working directly with/for impacted communities, should lay claim to doing climate justice work. Conversely, corporations should not.

With this understanding, Okta is transitioning from using “climate justice” in reference to our work in this area to using “climate equity” or just “climate”. 

At Okta, we are grateful for the perspectives and the grassroots efforts of community-based climate justice, social enterprise, environmental organizations, and funders. We want to give a huge thank you to CLIMA Fund, Climate Justice Alliance, Environmental Defence Canada, GRID Alternatives, Philanthropy CA, Open AQ, Solar Stewards, The Greenlining Institute, and The Solutions Project for participating in our listening and learning tour. 

Building our strategy in action
As we build our climate strategy, we will continue to incorporate these insightful perspectives. As a starting place, we are

  • purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) that also have social benefits, like supporting public education and fueling energy justice
  • expanding our grant-making portfolio to include climate impact grants, making our first grants to GRID Alternatives and the CLIMA Fund in 2021
  • seeking opportunities to educate ourselves and our colleagues at Okta, such as hosting webinars with GRID Alternatives, CLIMA Fund, Solar Stewards, and Environmental Defence Canada; and taking courses in We Act’s Environmental Health and Justice Leadership training program.

This column originally appeared as a blog on the Okta website.  For more information, check out Okta's Social and Environmental Responsibility page, which includes information on their energy and climate strategy, as well as our policies around diversity, inclusion, and belonging. For more information about how climate and equity are intertwined and a list of key terms, please reference The Solutions Project’s Guide to Covering Climate Equitably.

 

As part of the Okta for Good team, Alison Colwell is the Director of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and Sustainability for Okta. With her cross-functional partners, Alison is leading the effort to build the ESG function at Okta and developing the company's climate strategy. She is very passionate about the interconnections of ESG issues, which include human rights, racial justice, and climate change/justice. Alison has worked for over 15 years on ESG, human rights, and sustainability, including building the program at LVMH brand, Sephora, and as a consultant with BSR (Business for Social Responsibility). She holds an MA in Public Policy and Administration from Carleton University, with a Bachelor of Commerce, and a Bachelor of Arts in Global Development Studies from Queen's University, Canada. Alison volunteers as a Fellow at Stanford's Center for Human Rights and International Justice, guest lecturing, mentoring students, as well as learning from them. 

 

Lindsay Ward is a Program Manager on the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) team at Okta, and is passionate about integrating DIB consideration into all aspects of the workplace. Lindsay holds an M.S. in Organizational Leadership, and a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Colorado Boulder, as well as a PMP® certification. In her free time, Lindsay volunteers with Junior Achievement, teaches Business classes in local high schools, and serves on the Board of the Forever Buffs Young Alumni Association. 

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