Action Guide

Build a Cross-Functional Climate Team

Environmental Defense Fund

Transitioning to sustainable practices can be challenging. Cross-functional teams can better support your sustainability strategy by engaging the appropriate stakeholders, getting buy-in from key leadership across the company, and unlocking additional skills and expertise that can help you realize your goals.

Concerted effort is needed from all levels of an organization to drive meaningful sustainability outcomes. This is where cross-functional engagement comes into play. By bringing together individuals from different departments, with diverse skill sets and unique perspectives, you can better address a range of sustainability initiatives and drive long-term, positive change.  

To activate your sustainability strategy, several teams across the company need to work together, not just one department. This includes getting the right leadership together and securing executive buy-in for your sustainability strategy. Implementing your sustainability strategy should be viewed as a collective effort, with input and action required from individuals across the organization. This approach can have significant benefits, including: 

  • More people in the company understanding what your sustainability strategy is and why it matters 
  • More people working together and sharing their knowledge 
  • Better problem-solving and decision-making 
  • Better understanding of why sustainability is important for the company to do well 
  • Improvement in your company’s reputation  

Strategies for Building Cross-Functional Teams and Engagement 

Building cross-functional teams at your organization is crucial to achieving net-zero targets and goals. Here are some steps that you can take to build cross-functional teams that work together to achieve your targets: 

  1. Define and prioritize goals: To create cross-functional teams, start by setting clear goals that align with your company’s vision and strategy. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Involve stakeholders from relevant teams across businesses, executives, and advisors in identifying and prioritizing important projects that will help you meet your goals. This helps ensure that everyone understands what they are working towards and creates buy-in by including them in the planning and initiation process. 
  2. Identify team members: Once you have identified key projects, you need to identify which team members will be required to complete them. It is important to have members from the appropriate departments and functions. Think beyond the sustainability team to other functions like operations, finance, procurement, and marketing to build out the best cross-functional team for the job. Also consider the diversity of the team itself in age, race, ethnicity, and other aspects of identity. Teams with diverse identities are more likely to consider several perspectives and the ways your company impacts diverse communities through its operations and decisions. This diversity of knowledge helps teams take a more comprehensive approach towards sustainability and consider how their actions will impact the entire organization and society. This can improve outcomes and avoid challenges that would arise if the project was instead completed in a silo. It also encourages teamwork and helps business units work together to achieve shared goals.   
  3. Establish team roles & governance: Once the team members are chosen, you should make clear what role each team member plays in the success of the overall project. Additionally, you should establish a governance structure to ensure that your sustainability goals are integrated into decision-making processes. Strong governance can help identify risks and opportunities throughout the project and proactively find solutions to support your sustainability goals. 
  4. Foster collaboration: You should create an environment where team members can share their ideas and perspectives. Open communication channels can help develop a sense of shared ownership and support the cross-functional team in working together. The team should have the power and resources needed to make decisions.  
  5. Provide training: As needed, you should provide training to team members to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge needed to achieve your sustainability goals. Appropriate training could focus on detailed technical skills on topics such as energy efficiency, or a focus on soft skills to support cross-functional teams such as communication, teamwork, and leadership. 
  6. Measure progress: Make sure that cross-functional teams are achieving their project goals by setting key performance indicators and measuring progress against them on a regular basis. This can be reported to business leadership to demonstrate the effectiveness of the team and show progress towards achieving your sustainability goals. If the team is not performing as expected, these check-ins provide an opportunity to intervene early and identify roadblocks.  
  7. Recognize success: Finally, you should recognize and reward your cross-functional teams for their achievements. Celebrating success can motivate teams to continue their good work and inspire others to follow their example. Rewards could include bonuses, promotions, or public recognition.  
Patagonia is a well-known outdoor clothing and gear company that has made social and environmental responsibility a central part of its business model. The company’s commitment to sustainability is supported by its cross-functional Social and Environmental Responsibility (SER) team, which includes individuals from different departments across the company. The SER team is responsible for a range of sustainability initiatives, including reducing the company’s environmental impact, promoting fair labor practices in its supply chain, and supporting environmental advocacy efforts. The team is composed of individuals from departments including product design, sourcing, and marketing, who work together to integrate sustainability into all aspects of the company’s operations.1

Overcoming Challenges

Working across departments can help companies become more sustainable, but it can also be difficult. You may run into challenges, including: 

  • Business leaders not prioritizing sustainability 
  • Communication challenges between departments 
  • Lack of resources or other priorities getting in the way 

While there is no easy fix for these challenges, you should try to open communication and serve as a liaison across teams to resolve issues. Regular communication from top leadership on the importance of sustainability – and building it into the performance cycle – can help build support for this work. 


  1. Patagonia’s Corporate and Social Responsibility History 

Other Sources: