Why Corporate Climate Commitments Must Include Mental Health

As record-breaking heat underscores the dire nature of the climate crisis, a central element is still largely missing from the private sector’s climate response: supporting the mental health of employees, their families, and communities. While most leading businesses have one strategy on climate and another on mental health, there is an important opportunity for action where the two areas intersect.

By weaving these threads together, companies can demonstrate their commitment to two urgent issues, meet the expectations of their employees, customers, and investors, and help the workforce to sustain their mental and emotional well-being amid climate impacts.

To begin, business leaders should understand the many ways climate change is already affecting physical and mental health. Most directly, extreme weather can threaten lives, displace employees, and devastate local communities. But the impacts don’t have to be dramatic to be severe. For example, higher temperatures have been found to increase suicide rates. Over the longer term, climate change worsens chronic diseases, such as respiratory, heart, and pest-and food-related diseases. And there’s widespread climate anxiety, particularly among young people, people of color, women, and those in low- and middle-income countries.

These impacts directly affect employees and the workplace. Research suggests that the psychological impact of extreme weather events could lead to increased job tension, higher turnover, and workplace hostility. And poor mental health is already proven to negatively affect workplace behaviors, including productivity, absenteeism, and presenteeism.

There is a clear imperative, then, for employers to join with other leading organizations and integrate mental health support within climate strategies. For example, the WHO has released a policy brief establishing mental health as a priority for action on climate change. And the American Psychological Association established an action plan model to address the climate crisis for psychologists with application to a wide range of professions.

To help guide employer’s climate commitments, One Mind at Work sees three actions that all organizations should take to ensure well-being and sustainability:

  • Continue to invest in and promote environmental and conservation efforts. Most top companies are taking steps to address climate change by making pledges to cut emissions, using green energy, and launching sustainability initiatives. Communicating these efforts can assure employees the organization shares their values and is stepping up — itself a positive influence for mental health. In addition, organizations like the Doris Duke Foundation — a One Mind at Work partner — support wellbeing through climate stewardship via funding, grants, and museum and centers and recently provided $32 million for a tribal-led conservation effort. According to a recent study, actions on conservation have a direct mental health benefit.
  • Build awareness of the mental health risks of climate change — and how to find help. Social science research provides an evidence-based foundation for messaging strategies that can convey the health harms of climate change and highlight the benefits of climate solutions. The OECD also encourages the private sector to communicate the business benefits of engaging with and addressing climate change. These efforts can also direct affected employees to mental health resources, including the Mental Health and Climate Change Alliance Resource List and other forums.
  • Incentivize employees to engage with nature. Organizations can actively encourage workers to have more frequent contact with nature. A recent study on nature-based interventions for workers at Amazon found that contact with corporate greenspaces was associated with decreased levels of anxiety. Company spaces, activities, or programs that help employees get outside can have meaningful benefits for well-being.

Looking ahead, the environmental and public health impacts of climate change are only going to intensify. This not only creates an imperative for action to directly address and mitigate climate change, but also reinforces the importance of a strong, well-designed strategy for workplace mental health.