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Marie-Josée Dumouchel, an employee at Desjardins Group, planting trees.Provided

Desjardins Group has ambitious goals to become carbon neutral as a business by 2040, so the organization is empowering its employees to help meet the challenge head-on.

The Levis, Que.-based financial co-operative’s Cooperating for the Climate Challenge aims at getting employee buy-in in key priorities for the organization, such as reducing paper consumption, business travel, energy usage in the buildings it owns, and improving the environmental footprint of its supply chain.

“Employee buy-in is the difference,” says Maricarmen Ubeda, who is senior advisor in Desjardins’ sustainable development and responsible finance branch and led the development of the challenge. “This specific project is not only an initiative that will help us get to our goal, but it will also be employees’ work – if an employee chooses not to travel this month and have a virtual meeting instead, it helps. With so many employees in the organization, small changes can have a big impact.”

Desjardins was the first Canadian financial institution to sign onto the Business Ambition for 1.5 C coalition and has committed to reducing its carbon emissions to 41 per cent below 2019 levels by 2025. It’s also turned down many financing requests it’s received since 2018, mostly from mining and oil and gas companies, for not meeting its environmental, social or governance criteria, and is developing responsible investing and saving options for clients.

Cooperating for the Climate Challenge was developed to help employees see how they could play a role in those big-picture goals, says Gildas Poissonnier, senior director of the sustainable development and responsible finance branch.

“Obviously to get there we need targets and concrete programs for employees to understand what they need to adjust or change,” he says.

Poissonnier notes that Desjardins also has incentives to help employees make greener choices, like encouraging staff who travel for work to use a hybrid or electric model car, and offering discount public transit passes, on-site showers and lockers and reserved carpool parking spaces to encourage sustainable mobility.

Ubeda says employees are excited to participate, and the team managing the challenge, which has grown to 60 employees, is regularly fielding questions from staff members across the organization about how they can help.

That was part of the reason the team developed a training on the principles of sustainable development and responsible finance, which was completed by over 90 per cent of employees and managers in 2022.

Since rolling out the training programs, “we’ve had people really motivated to start doing things in their own jobs. They’re really happy to do it,” Ubeda says.

Ubeda, who joined Desjardins in 2018, says she was initially interested in working for the company because of its reputation in Quebec as forward-thinking on climate change. Nearly five years later, she says the organization is all that and more.

“You can feel that it has green blood, and not just because of the colour of the logo,” she jokes. “You can see it in the tangible actions and the things they do for the community and society.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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