Beyond Earth Day: Integrating the Planet into Your Company Culture

By Helen Russell May 11, 2022
Beyond Earth Day: Integrating the Planet into Your Company Culture

This past Earth Day, many marked the occasion with activities and events aimed at answering the global call to invest in our planet. At Rivian, we consider every day Earth Day. Our company's very reason for existing is to help transform the relationship between people and the planet through technology, conservation, collaboration and foresight.

Transitioning to a more sustainable future won't be achieved overnight. To build the kind of world our kids and our kids' kids deserve, it's going to take continuous dedication across communities, economic sectors and nations. And the need is urgent. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report underscores, the steps we take—or do not take—in the next few years will determine our future on this planet.

Today businesses are uniquely positioned to drive sustainable change, and society is counting on us. In Edelman's 2021 Trust Barometer, more than two-thirds of those surveyed said they expect the corporate sector to lead on solving societal problems. Business ranked as the most trusted institution globally, over NGOs, government and media. And "my employer" landed even higher, with 72% responding that they trust their employer to do what is right.

Businesses can address climate change on several levels. We can produce goods and services that help bring about more planet-positive outcomes. We can operate in sustainable ways. And we can foster cultures that respect and protect both people and the Earth. At Rivian, we're committed to striving for all of the above. As Chief People Officer, my focus is on culture. We recognize that building an environment-forward culture requires attention to both people and the natural world around us, as well as a profound understanding of their inextricable link. Here's how we approach this important work.

Helen Russell, chief people officer at Rivian.

It starts with our mission:

Rivian's mission is to Keep the World Adventurous Forever. We see "forever" as the most vital aspect. In order for the Earth to continue to sustain us and enchant future generations, we must reduce carbon emissions and transition our global economy away from fossil fuels. The products we make every day are helping to transform transportation and energy systems and move society toward this goal.

We also affirm that forever is for everyone. Our People Team works to nurture an inclusive and purpose-driven culture, where everyone belongs. Our 'Me, We, Forever' philosophy emphasizes a level of self-awareness that strives to, with humility, optimize for each other, and the planet.

It is reinforced by who we hire:

We know we must live up to the promise of our mission to attract and retain our desired workforce. Ideal candidates are highly intrinsically motivated, energized by challenges, and they want to leave the world better than they found it. They understand that we can deliver more as a group than as individuals. Every new full-time employee receives an equity grant, and this ownership-for-all philosophy is a key recruiting message. We believe that a shared sense of true ownership encourages collective success and leads to the best decisions for Rivian for the long-term and not just today.

It is cemented through how we communicate:

Rivian grew from fewer than 1,000 people to over 10,000 within two years. Scaling rapidly while maintaining our values has been my team's top priority.

Our weeklong onboarding doubles down on our mission and culture from Day 1. Every Monday, I attend the first hour of everyone's first day to discuss the importance of our culture, our focus on belonging, and the unimportance of hierarchy. At onboarding, we introduce Forever—Rivian's philanthropic mission dedicated to conservation and making the planet a stakeholder in our success. Employees from across the company share their experience and their role in helping fulfil our mission. CEO RJ Scaringe meets new hires within their first two weeks to reinforce why we are all here.

Every team member receives a copy of Compass, our values guide designed to inform how we solve problems, learn new things and work with one another. These values—Come together, Ask why, Stay open, Zoom out, and Over deliver—are part of our daily vocabulary.

We host a bi-weekly All Hands meeting to ensure opportunities to hear from senior leadership and experts from across the business. One of our best-received All Hands was a fireside chat between RJ and Rivian board member Rose Marcario, who shared her unwavering commitment to the planet and leadership lessons from her influential work with Patagonia.

 It's realized through how we reward and inspire:

The change we hope to galvanize, and the values we aim to embody require not just vision but focus and active listening. Managers and team members engage in quarterly "Recharge" conversations. These are driven by a desire to understand how we can give and be our best every day. Our promotion criteria are focused on the "how" as much as the "what."

We are building a Sustainability Empowerment program to cultivate awareness, educate and further motivate planet-forward decision-making at work, and at home. It emphasizes how individual actions can have big impacts at Rivian and in our communities, and it offers space for dialogue.

Earlier this month, we welcomed our first Chief Sustainability Officer, Anisa Kamadoli Costa. Anisa will be responsible for Rivian's sustainability roadmap for the business and our products. Through her position, she gives the natural world, our communities and future generations a seat at the leadership table, and together we will continue to deepen the integration of people and planet.

The complexity of the challenges we face right now are as astounding as the stakes. From the level of the individual to that of entire industries, we must come together in ways we never have before to shift to more sustainable ways of living. This is our historic chance to build a better world. One of my deepest aspirations is that, like Rivian's technology, our culture can ripple beyond our business and help inspire the change we need. To my fellow Chief HR Officers and their People Teams – join me in hope and in action. As a group, we can drive real and lasting change.


Helen Russell is the chief people officer at Rivian. 

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