How Climate Conscious Is the Language Industry?



arth Day, established in 1970 and celebrated every year on April 22, aims to mobilize people around the world to protect the planet by safeguarding the  environment. It’s apt, then, that the April issue of MultiLingual magazine should address this topic through the lens of the language industry.

Late last year, Mike Klinger of Language Transactions raised the sustainability topic with several language industry organizations and gently nudged us into taking action. Mike was motivated by a docuseries on climate change that explored how we can have a positive impact on the environment in different areas of our lives, including at work. Because the average person will spend around 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, it’s easy to understand how habits and behaviors in that arena can make a difference.

We’ve all seen advice about ways to alter our environmental impact: reevaluate how much we drive and fly, conserve water, use renewable energy, reuse, and recycle. But how many of us apply this advice at work? And how many companies prioritize sustainability at all? 

Those questions were our starting point when representatives of five language industry organizations — Language Transactions, CSA Research, the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), the Association of Language Companies (ALC), and MultiLingual Media — got together to discuss sustainability in our sector. Our goal was to assess industry attitudes and behaviors related to sustainability at work.


Why Prioritize Sustainability in Business?

While sustainability may seem like a curious topic for localization professionals who are understandably focused on near term challenges, it can’t be relegated to the personal sphere only. That’s because the evidence for rapid climate change is compelling and necessitates a collective effort to combat the crisis on a global scale. Temperatures are rising, the ocean is getting warmer and more acidic, species are disappearing, and extreme weather events are increasing each year in frequency and intensity.  

The good news is that embracing sustainability is the right  thing to do not only for Mother Earth, but also for businesses. The United Nations defines sustainability as “meeting the needs  of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It doesn’t mean sacrificing profits or focus, and it can be a competitive advantage with a positive impact on the bottom line. Improving resource efficiency, lowering operating costs, enhancing brand reputation, and attracting environmentally conscious clients like millennials, GenZers, and regulated industries are all solid business incentives to build sustainability into your corporate strategy. 

Climate Change and Sustainability Survey

Our coalition of language industry organizations developed a survey to find out how climate conscious the language industry is as a whole. The survey opened on March 6 and, at press time, had 115 verified responses from respondents in 29 countries. Since the survey was distributed and promoted through our organizations’ channels, we know that most respondents come from the localization sector, which tends to have professionals that are well-educated and globally minded.  

For this article, we present only preliminary results. The survey will remain open through April, so if you haven’t taken it yet, you still can. We will continue collecting responses and updating our findings as the sample size gradually increases. 

With the sample at its current size, it’s too soon to draw reliable conclusions based on our demographic segments. As more people respond, we’ll update this analysis to break out the data by company type and other attributes. For now, we can see some clear themes emerge. 

Note: Some percentages may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding. 


Awareness, interest, and concern is high

Happily, awareness of the impacts of climate change among our respondents is high, with 95% reporting that they are very aware (58%) or aware (37%). Just 3% report being very unaware of the effect of humans on the climate. The counter part to this question, which measures a respondent’s “interest  in and concern about” climate change, shows an encouraging 94% being either very interested (52%) or interested (42%). Just one respondent was not at all interested.  

But few think they’re doing enough

Eighty-three percent (83%) of respondents feel they are not doing enough to lessen climate change. The complement to this question asks respondents to rate their personal actions around sustainability. Sixty-nine percent (69%) rate themselves as either very active (14%) or active (55%). The most common actions include recycling, using public transit or working from  home, using solar power, and reducing consumption. Write-in responses are plentiful and varied, and other notable actions include reducing international travel, voting for politicians who support the environment, and eating less meat.  

Employer actions are rated as neutral

When asked about their employer’s level of interest in or concern with climate change (or their clients’ interest or concern, for respondents who identified themselves as freelancers), notably, many respondents were neutral: 34% selected “neither not interested nor interested.” When asked whether their employer (or clients) have an environmental, social, governance (ESG) plan, 45% said yes, 21% said no, and 34% said “don’t know.”  

Beliefs about customer perceptions are mixed (“How important do you think your employer’s attitudes and practices around sustainability are to customers?”). Forty percent (40%) say it’s important, 18% say it’s very important, and 31% say their customers are ambivalent about it. Only 10% report it being unimportant. This matches what we have read in publicly available large-sample market research indicating that global consumers, especially those in younger generations, consider a company’s sustainability efforts and reputation when making purchasing decisions.  

We also asked respondents to consider how they would  describe their company’s actions around sustainability. Forty nine percent (49%) rate their employers as active (46%) or very active (3%). Only 11% rate them as not active (8%) or not at all active (3%). And neutrality once again takes a significant piece of the pie at 39%.

Businesses share responsibility 

The survey asks who ultimately has responsibility for sustain ability and climate change mitigation efforts. Respondents could choose governments and legislative bodies, businesses, individuals, or any combination thereof (see Table 1). Most respondents believe responsibility should be shared. No matter the combination, our language sector sample expects businesses to play a role in tackling climate change challenges and to take a leading role in sustainability efforts.  

We saw a clear consensus when we asked how important it is for the localization industry to prioritize sustainability. Seventy-eight percent (78%) believe it’s very important (29%) or important (49%); only 7% believe it’s not important (5%) or not at all important (2%). Sixteen percent (16%) sit in the neutral zone, choosing “neither unimportant nor important.”



The data, while still a work in progress, show that the language industry is highly aware, very concerned, and active when it comes to climate change and sustainability practices. This is good news. From our initial review of data by company type, we see that privately held companies can learn something from publicly traded companies, who appear to be further down the road with sustainability initiatives; the same is true for smaller companies learning from larger ones.  

Another major theme that emerges is neutrality, which we would argue is synonymous with either a narrow view of social responsibility (“It isn’t the business of businesses to be concerned with climate”) or complacency in this arena (“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”). As advocates of more action, we can hope that this figure will change as we get more responses to this survey. Yet, there is  plenty to be optimistic about and much to be proud of. Many individuals and businesses are making plans, taking action, and recognizing the importance of #LocSustainability.  

Call to Action 

Many people agree that climate change is the defining crisis of our lifetime. It stands to reason that any efforts we make to mitigate its effects should extend to work, where we spend vast amounts of time. So let this be your wake-up call if you haven’t yet begun thinking about sustainability at work; and if you have, let this be your invitation to share your know-how and experiences with others.  

Up next: Our small, scrappy, quasi-consortium will be looking for ways that our organizations can address the gap between knowing and doing. We’ll share success stories and explore strategies and tactics for turning sustainability intentions into actions. We’ll spotlight companies doing great things in this area, and we’ll keep the topic on the industry’s collective radar.  

In the meantime, we encourage you to do some exploring of your own. Here are a few ideas to get started:  

  • Develop an ESG plan for your company or organization.
  • Measure, track, and reduce your company’s environmental impact (remember that the extensive computational infra structure required for translation services consumes vast amounts of energy).  
  • Advocate for change at your organization; educate and inform from within.  
  • Partner with nonprofits making a difference.
  • Encourage or allow remote work if you don’t already.

Please let us know what our organizations can do to help you on this journey.

Allison Ferch is executive director of GALA, where she leads internal operations and is responsible for executing and expanding programs and services to members.

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