No Green, I'm Gone — Meet The Climate Quitters
Climate quitting is a lasting residue of the larger mass resignation since the pandemic. The phenomenon mostly involves young people who change or quit their jobs if they consider it harmful to the planet.
ROME — When Andrea Grieco returned to his native Italy, he found a job for a consulting firm on what he'd been told were "sustainability budgets." The work was interesting, with a permanent contract and a good salary.
"One day I was asked to work on the green strategy of one of Italy’s largest oil companies," the 31-year-old recalled. "I said I disagreed, but they told me that this was a client they couldn’t do without. So I decided to quit.”
Grieco is what we call a "climate quitter," a young person who has chosen to quit his job for reasons related to protecting the planet.
Climate quitters are part of the phenomenon of the Great Resignation, in which thousands of people quit their jobs beginning in early 2021 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic for various reasons. In this case, the specific motivation is to reduce one's environmental impact and devote oneself to areas such as the circular economy, sustainability and renewable energy.
“Most of our days are taken up by work: it is important to put these energies on the right side,” Grieco explains. “After a few months I was hired by a publishing company where I was writing about sustainability: I was earning much less, but I felt good about myself. Now I work for the United Nations, doing communications in support of the global campaign against climate change. Today everyone calls themselves as activist, but deciding what profession you want to do is also an important form of activism.”
A greener job is a better job
Research on voluntary resignation carried out in 2023 by the HR innovation practice observatory of the Politecnico di Milano shows that, in Italy, 65% of those under 30 consider it important that their jobs have a positive impact on society.
Among those who have changed jobs, or plan to change it in the next six months, 6% of them make this choice because of issues related to the social and environmental impact of the company or organization in which they work: considering only the under-30 age group, the percentage rises to 11%, four points higher than in 2022.
“The sustainability of the company is not the main reason that drives people to change jobs: at the top are still pay, career opportunities, flexibility and psychological well-being,” explains Martina Mauri, director of the observatory. “However, it is interesting to note that this factor becomes more relevant as age decreases: climate quitting is a phenomenon that mainly affects young people, and presumably it will become more and more widespread in the coming years.”
A Yale school of management survey of 2,000 U.S. students showed that more than half would accept lower salaries in order to work for an environmentally conscious company. The trend is also confirmed by a recent KPMG survey in the United Kingdom, which shows that environmental, social and governance factors are increasingly influencing the employment decisions of nearly half of British employees, especially younger ones.
Worldwide, one in five people employed in the renewables sector comes from another field also related to energy, and nearly a third have left the oil and gas industry. 82% of those still working in the oil and gas industry are considering a change, and half welcome possible employment in green energy.
Climate clock is ticking
“Through my work I was pushing people toward a lifestyle that was not sustainable for the planet, and meanwhile I could hear the climate clock ticking,” says Alice Pomiato, 32, who was employed as a digital strategist at a communications agency.
“All the campaigns I was overseeing helped clients sell more and more, and that went against my values. At 27, I dropped everything, bought a ticket to Australia, and opened an Instagram account to share with people my journey to a more sustainable life.” Today, Alice has nearly 50,000 followers and works as a content creator on the topic of sustainability.
While people are looking for "greener" jobs, at the same time the demand for professionals with these kinds of skills is also growing in companies: The General Confederation of Italian Industry, together with the 4Manager Observatory, said that in 2026 job openings for those with environmental skills will reach about four million in Italy.
The same is happening abroad: data from the International Labor Organization show that worldwide 12.7 million people are employed in the renewable energy sector, and by 2030 more than 38 million new jobs will be created. Today more people are employed in the clean energy segment than are employed in oil companies.
Energy is just one of the areas affected by climate quitting. “I used to work in the clothing industry for big fashion brands,” says Marcella Pozza, 29. “We were making garments Made in Italy, with natural yarns, but then I discovered a series of behind-the-scenes issues: how the dyeing of the fabrics takes place, how much waste there is, how underpaid the labor is.
"Plus, I felt exploited: I had a temporary contract, I worked at a very stressful pace, and I had to clock out even to go to the bathroom. At some point I couldn’t take it anymore: I quit my job and went to work in a small knitting mill. They paid me less, but I was happier. One does not go to work just to earn money: if what you do goes against your values, how do you go on?”
A person hugging a tree.
Economic convenience, not social responsibility
Marcella now teaches at a professional fashion institute. “The garment industry is one of the most polluting in the world: with students we address climate change issues, reflect on workers’ rights, and study circular clothing design, making repairs or reusing materials, such as coffee bags.”
For a growing number of people, environmental issues represent not only a variable on which to make their choice of work, but also a factor that determines the degree to which they are attached to the company and, as a result, are more productive and motivated.
According to a study conducted in the United States, nine out of ten employees are more satisfied and happier if they are involved in green initiatives put in place by their company. “The issue of sustainability will be more and more linked to the economic performance of companies,” says Alessandro Sancino, professor of sustainable management and innovation at Bicocca University in Milan. “Companies will move toward a green culture not only for ethical reasons and to improve their social reputation, but also for issues of economic convenience.”
Employees today are increasingly asking companies to pursue not only ecological but also social sustainability: work environments that value diverse talent, formal and informal merit recognition practices, but also measures that improve work-life balance, such as smart working and the short work week.
“So many people resign because they are no longer willing to live to work and receive compensation that produces profit for someone else,” explains sociologist Francesca Coin, author of the essay The Great Resignations: The New Rejection of Work and the Time to Take Back Our Lives.
“What is often missing in a job is a vision of the future. Low-impact companies offer that — that’s why they often have lower resignation figures, while their ability to attract and retain staff is higher. The pandemic, in this sense, marked a watershed, and was the litmus test of everything that had gone wrong before: a toxic work culture of low wages and grueling shifts, of mobbing and bullying, of poor safety of and on the job, of a sense of work that is often lacking. The big resignations stem from here.”
To make themselves appealing in the eyes of employees, potential candidates and customers, many companies today put sustainability at the center of their marketing and communication strategy — so much so that we talk about green employer branding.
I was asking myself: what legacy do I want to leave in the world?
HR departments are promoting what is known as a green work culture: some provide free-use bicycles for commuting to work, some aim to reduce plastic consumption and paper waste in offices, and some use short-chain products and limit meat consumption in canteens. Some companies choose to become certified as B corporations, committing to certain standards to ensure a positive impact on their employees, society and the environment. Today there are more than 6,000 companies certified as B corporations worldwide, 200 in Italy, where the first was Nativa, certified in 2013, which helps other companies to improve their social and environmental impact.
“During college I had already signed a contract with a solid company: I had everything the company tells you to desire,” explains Valentina, 28, who now works for Nativa. “However, this did not make me happy: filling out Excel tables to make the company’s results improve was not my goal. I was asking myself: what legacy do I want to leave in the world? I would look at my younger sister and tell myself that we are borrowing this planet from future generations.”
Because of its type of mission, Native is able to attract many young people. “Every week dozens of resumes come in from professionals willing to leave their jobs to join our group,” explains Paolo Di Cesare, who co-founded the startup with Eric Ezechieli in 2012.
Extinction Rebellion or High Finance
A LinkedIn survey from 2022 shows, there would not currently be enough qualified people to meet the demand for sustainability professionals: in fact, since 2015, "green" job openings have increased by 8% per year, while applications from those with appropriate skills have risen by only 6%. That is why we should invest in training, to prepare people who are experts in the field of sustainability: sustainability manager, sustainability specialist, environment manager, governance manager.
“This vocabulary is rather limited to mid- to high-level professionals with bargaining power and prior experience,” says Vittorio Martone, a sociologist of the environment at the University of Turin. “That's why climate quitting is not for everyone. However, there is another phenomenon, which also relates in some way to the change in values involving work: it is the return to the countryside and the romanticization of village life.”
This is the choice made by Matteo Turrino, 34, an Extinction Rebellion activist who previously worked as a programmer for a UK company in the financial sector. “In order to work in that environment I had to completely abstract myself,” he says. “How could I go to the office thinking that in 30 years a billion people will be without water? I remember a business trip to Dubai: I was sitting in front of my computer inside an air-conditioned skyscraper while it was 50 degrees outside and dozens of workers on construction sites in the sun. At that moment I asked myself: why am I here and why are they there?”
Matteo had a steady contract and a good salary, but he still decided to quit his job. “I wondered: does the work I am doing respect my values? Do I really need all this money? To change my way of life, I moved to the mountains with other likeminded people. For many, work is a form of activism. I would like activism to become a job: going back to the life I had before is not an option.”
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