'Deeply concerned' | Shell employees pen open letter to CEO amid green funding concerns

Shell employees pen open letter to CEO amid green funding concerns

Shell employees have written to the firm’s CEO, urging him not to scale back investments in renewable energy, sparking an internal debate.

Reuters reports that the open letter, posted earlier this month on Shell's internal web and seen by Reuters this week, comes after chief executive Wael Sawan outlined at an investor day in June plans to slow investment in renewables and low-carbon business as part of a strategy to boost returns.

"The recent announcements at and after the capital markets day deeply concern us”, the letter read, adding: “We can only hope the optics of the CMD announcements are deceiving us and that Shell continues its path as a leader in the energy transition."

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The letter was signed by Lisette de Heiden and Wouter Drinkwaard, who both work in Shell's low-carbon division. 

The letter received more than 80,000 views and 1,000 likes, and sparked a long exchange of comments on the open platform, including from Sawan, according to company sources.

‘No easy answers’

"For an organisation at the crux of the energy transition, there are no easy answers and no shortage of dilemmas or challenges," Sawan wrote in his response.

"We might not always agree on the way forward, but I feel good about the role Shell is, and will continue, to play. I am proud of how we provide affordable and secure energy to people every day, while we work hard to provide lower-carbon solutions to our customers, as we transition over time to a net-zero emissions business."

Sawan, who took office in January, has focused on improving Shell's operational performance and profitability by leaning more heavily on oil and gas operations, biofuels and electric vehicle charging.

Shell has in recent months exited offshore wind projects in Ireland and France, sold its UK power retail business and said it was seeking to sell stakes in renewable projects in India. It is also weighing selling all or part of the Sonnen battery storage company it acquired in 2019, industry sources said.

A Shell spokesperson said: "We appreciate that our staff are engaged in and have passion for both the energy transition and Shell... Shell is playing a meaningful role in addressing the energy transition, and at our recent Capital Markets Day we set out those areas of the energy system of today and tomorrow where we are best placed to invest, compete and win."

Several senior Shell executives have left the low-carbon and renewables division since the strategy change.

Those include Oliver Bishop, who headed Shell's global hydrogen mobility business and who joined BP in September in the same role, Roberto Jimenez, who headed Shell's European onshore power, and Colin Crooks, senior vice president of renewables and energy solutions Europe, will leave at the end of the month, according to a company spokesperson.

Shell aims to be a net zero emissions company by 2050.

Is there a risk of a staff exodus over eco concerns?

It seems there’s a new buzzword entering the HR dictionary every week at the moment.

The great resignation, quiet quitting, quiet firing, even desk bombing – have all crept up on the people function as fresh, convenient catch-all terms for issues that have been ever-present in every workplace.

Quelle surprise then, that another term is slowly becoming more popular. Well, two really, though they both largely mean the same thing.

'Climate quitting' and 'conscious quitting'. The terms - which by the looks of it are being used interchangeably by those who have adopted them (though ‘climate quitting’ appears to be more popular) - refer to the trend of employees looking to quit their jobs if their company doesn't align with their values, particularly in regard to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).

‘Climate quitting’ and ‘conscious quitting’ began to surface earlier this year, when research by KPMG revealed the extent to which ESG factors were influencing the employment decisions of almost half of UK office workers, with millennials and younger workers driving the growing trend of ‘climate quitting’ – seeking out a more environmentally friendly job.

KPMG UK surveyed around 6,000 UK adult office workers, students, apprentices and those who have left higher education in the past six months on their attitudes to work. The findings highlight that almost one in two (46%) want the company they work for to demonstrate a commitment to ESG, while one in five (20%) have turned down a job offer when the company’s ESG commitments were not in line with their values.

Those aged 25-34 are the most likely (55%) to value ESG commitments from their employer, but 18-24 years olds (51%) and 35-44 years old (48%) are not far behind. And when it comes to looking for a new role, one in five respondents (20%) said they had turned down a job because the company’s ESG commitments were not in line with their values, rising to one in three for 18–24-year-olds.

Shared values are also a key consideration with 82% placing some importance on being able to link values and purpose with the organisation they work with. Again, it is those in the age brackets between 18-44 that were most likely to agree: 18-24 are most likely with 92%, 25-34 years followed on 86% and 35-44 on 84%.

Commenting on the findings, John McCalla-Leacy, Head of ESG at KPMG in the UK said: “It is clear from recent COP27 discussions that, while some progress is being made, there is still a long way to go if we are going to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C. It is the younger generations that will see the greater impacts if we fail to reach this target, so it is unsurprising that this, and other interrelated ESG considerations, are front of mind for many when choosing who they will work for.

“For businesses the direction of travel is clear. By 2025, 75% of the working population will be millennials, meaning they will need to have credible plans to address ESG if they want to continue to attract and retain this growing pool of talent.”

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One in three have researched a company’s ESG credentials when looking for a job, rising to almost half (45%) for those starting out in the career (18–24-year-olds). The environmental impact (46%) and living wage policies (45%) were the key areas that were sought out as part of the recruitment process. Younger workers are most interested in fair pay commitments (18-34 at 45%) while those aged between 35-44 are more likely (45%) to be interested in the environmental impact of the work the company does.

Workers ‘aren’t going to settle’ for companies with outdated approaches
So, what does this all mean for HR? How can firms evaluate and refine their ESG? CEO at business growth agency Heur, Chris Raven, explains: “As Gen-Z grows older and transitions into the working world, it comes as no surprise that employee expectations are changing. We know that Gen-Z values a conscious outlook to life, and that doesn’t stop at boycotting fast fashion or avoiding single-use plastic.”

“However, this isn’t a shift exclusive to Gen-Z; we’re now experiencing a widespread increase in employees of all ages who are actively seeking businesses that align with their environmental and social values. They’re not going to settle for companies that would be considered outdated in their business models and approaches.”

Looking for more

“Whilst the public perception of what the younger generations want in a workplace might include pool tables in the office and pizza Fridays, this is far from the truth.”

“Instead, Millennials and Gen-Z want to work with businesses that reflect their values and help them feel like they're making a positive change, no matter how early in their career they may be.”

Raven also outlined ways businesses can reconsider their strategy in order to retain staff, and reduce the risk of ‘conscious quitting’ as well as avoiding recruitment struggles:

1. Speak to your team firstly

“When it comes to evaluating your business’ ESG, your employees’ opinion is going to be the most important place to start. Speak to your staff to understand their views on the current business approach and ask them for their thoughts on how it can be improved.”

“Not all employees will be comfortable having this conversation directly, so if you want the most honest answers I would recommend creating an anonymous questionnaire they can easily fill in using Google Forms.”

2. Introduce a values team

“Employees want to feel they are actively contributing to positive change in the workplace, so a good idea to give them more ownership could be by creating a team dedicated to improving the organisation’s efforts when it comes to environmental and social issues, and allowing your employees to join this team.”

3. Ensure your comms are watertight across all channels

“After you have adjusted your business approach, it’s crucial that you ensure your comms are coherent across all channels and across your employee’s channels as well. Think about how you want to launch any updates from a B2B and B2C perspective (if both apply).”

“It would be beneficial to have an immersion session for the new approach and any changes in comms strategy with your senior leadership team, which can then trickle down to all employees.”

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