Christian Arno

What is eco-anxiety and how can you support your employees through it?

7 min Read
Two friends walking up a hill

Though working in the climate space isn’t always easy going, we do our best to keep things paw-sitive here at Pawprint, as we believe there’s a lot to be hopeful about. (Puns also help.) But just as the climate crisis is already affecting the way we live, there’s also a growing awareness around how climate change is affecting our mental health. Eco-anxiety is commonly described as feelings of fear, panic or sadness around the impacts of climate change.

It’s likely that these feelings will resonate amongst your employees—a global survey conducted by Bath University found that 72% of people aged 16-25 felt the future to be ‘frightening’ because of the climate emergency. 

‘Chronic stress over climate change, they maintain, is increasing the risk of mental and physical problems. And if severe weather events worsen, mental health impacts will follow.’ — Roger Harrabin, ‘Climate change: Young people very worried - survey

As difficult as feelings of anxiety can be, there is a silver lining! In a Lancet article about eco-anxiety, its authors suggest:  

If, however, a person is functioning relatively well, anxiety and grief due to changes in the natural world—although unpleasant and at times painful—can also be understood as emotions that might assist people in making productive and positive change, including dedicating energy towards the implementation of climate solutions, if appropriately supported’ — Dr Ashlee Cunsolo, et al. ‘Ecological grief and anxiety: the start of a healthy response to climate change?

With eco-anxiety increasingly on the rise, it's more important than ever for business leaders to bring that support to the table. We can do so by giving our employees opportunities to make meaningful change, and demonstrating our commitment to fighting climate change alongside them. Here are four tried-and-tested ways you can support your whole business by transforming anxiety into action. 

Recognise what they’re feeling is rational.

When we see someone going through a hard time, our natural instinct is to downplay the source of their anxiety. Except the climate crisis is very real, and trying to minimise their feelings around this fact isn’t going to help. Indeed, Sarah Niblock, the CEO of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, says ‘[eco-anxiety] is not an illness or disorder’ but rather ‘a perfectly normal and healthy reaction’ (New Scientist). Basically, if climate change didn’t freak us out even a little bit, then we’d actually be in trouble. 

By telling your employees that their anxiety is normal and founded on very real grounds for concern, you’re showing them that they’re not alone in this fight. And that’s just the beginning.

Support them in making sustainable decisions 

Making lifestyle changes can help us feel part of the solution, rather than the problem. There’s plenty of ways you can help your staff in making these changes: why not support active commuting by implementing the UK government-backed cycle to work programme? Or manage their pension through a green pension scheme? Even the easiest of gestures, like swapping out non-recyclable plastics in the communal kitchen, or creating proper rubbish and recycling signage, will make it easier for your employees to live a lower-carbon life that better aligns with their values and priorities. 

One case study that particularly inspired me was when London design agency Wholegrain Digital swapped to using renewable energy in their offices. But they didn’t stop there—they managed to incentivise their entire workforce to switch to renewables at home as well. Not only did they encourage and make it easier for their employees to make a greener call, but it’ll do wonders for reducing their business’ scope 3 emissions as well, since many of them were working from home. We’re looking into doing something similar here at Pawprint, so watch this space. 

Integrate climate action into teambuilding and away days 

One of the recommendations in the Lancet article for alleviating eco-anxiety is ‘social prescribing’, or linking people to activities out in the community that enhance health and social connectivity. Encouraging your employees to take part in climate-friendly initiatives is one way to help them with their eco-anxiety, but why not make it a group effort? Team building exercises and company away days are great opportunities to embed a bit of fun climate action into your workplace culture. 

So instead of playing the same tired icebreaker games, hitting the indoor mini-golf course or heading straight to the pub (though definitely make time for the pub later), why not look for green opportunities you can take part in together, like a beach / forest / river clean-up, a guided tour through a nature reserve, or a zero-waste potluck? Even just spending some time together in the great outdoors will have massive mental health benefits, and is a great way to bond your team around this important issue. 

Team Pawprint on a recent walk to the Pentlands

Show them you care

There are so many ways you can demonstrate to your employees that your business is right there with them in stepping up to the challenges of climate change. Working towards a sustainability certification and bringing some of your eco-champions on board is a great step. So is setting purposeful science-based targets in line with 1.5 degrees, and measuring and reducing those tricky scope 3 emissions.

Supporting your employees through their eco-anxiety isn’t just the right thing to do morally; it’s also the smart thing to do. A purpose-led business is much more successful at attracting and retaining top talent than one which doesn’t align with their staff’s values—we commissioned a whole survey that told us as much. 

Becoming a Pawprint for Business client is another way to show how much you care. It puts the power to contribute to climate solutions in the palm of your employees’ hands, and rewards them for making sustainable choices in both life and work. It’s also an excellent tool for galvanising your whole team around your sustainability strategy and learning more about the carbon footprint of your business, as well as the sentiment of your employees towards climate activity. 

Whatever way you choose to do it, attending to your employees’ eco-anxiety is an excellent opportunity to harness collective action for the environment. Owen Gaffney, co-author of the Exponential Roadmap Initiative, said to BBC Three:

‘Eco-anxiety is the right response to the scale of the challenge. But I am an optimist. We live in an age where individuals have more power than at any time in history. Look at your sphere of influence - employer, networks, family - and influence them. We don’t need to convince 100% of people, only 25%, then an idea can go from marginal to mainstream.’ — Owen Gaffney, 'Eco-anxiety': how to spot it and what to do about it

One person’s lifestyle changes alone may not be able to stop climate change. But by working together, we can see the positive effects of our eco-actions ripple out way beyond our spheres of influence. How’s that as an antidote for anxiety?

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We need everyone to step up to the challenges of the climate emergency. Your employees already have the energy to help your business become more sustainable; let Pawprint help you harness that energy. Book a demo today.


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