Environmental sustainability: 5 actions HR can take

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Corporate sustainability has traditionally been a key responsibility for departments such as production/manufacturing, PR, logistics in large businesses. However, smaller businesses that lack these departments may still have Net Zero or B-Corp aspirations; either way, HR can support organisational environmental sustainability goals.

Environmental and climate change issues have rightly been at the top of the news agenda with increasing regularity. As a result, the number of protests we have seen nationally has increased, with Greta Thunbergand Extinction Rebellion taking centre stage.  

How is HR relevant to environmental sustainability?

The key is to view employees as people, not workers. That sounds obvious, but when you look at them as consumers and human beings with values, it’s clear how vital engagement and retention are to match those values in the workplace.

Employees are increasingly interested in environmental issues in a way we haven’t previously seen; they are concerned about waste, sustainability, and carbon emissions. For example, a recent McKinsey poll revealed that 89% of employees see it as necessary for their employer to make sustainability a priority. And Cushon revealed that 87% of employees want their employers to take action on pensions, which generate up to 23 tonnes of carbon, per pension pot, per year.   

These climate-conscious employees are putting pressure on their employers. Job applicants are selecting potential employers based on culture and values as well as than job title and salary. The time to act on both climate change and employee values, is now.

5 steps HR can take

HR has a pivotal role to play in ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) strategy; surely failure to get involved will impact the organisation across recruitment, retention, morale, and ultimately productivity.

1 – Influence the ESG strategy

Ensure that HR has a voice informing the organisation’s ESG strategy, so from a people perspective, it matches your employees and potential recruit’s values. Think about Net Zero pensions, electric fleet vehicles, and measuring individual employees’ carbon scores. A business case backed up with evidence of the impact on the bottom line will be key to this as will a review of the EVP (Employee Value Proposition).

2 – Understand company carbon footprint…

When HR measures individual employees’ carbon footprints, they’ll be able to deliver an aggregated company score, too. This supports external marketing efforts in addition to organisational sustainability goals.

3 – Bring employee benefits and reward in line with aspirations

  • Consider whether the organisational values and culture support the businesses stance on the environment and if they don’t, create a plan to review your Employee Value Proposition.
  • Ask the workforce what they would like to see and how the business can support them as people, not just as employees
  • Review your reward and benefits package, ensuring that relevant benefits are on offer across the diversity of the business, from age to ethnicity and with a focus on the environment.

4 – Involve internal stakeholders

Who knows the business better than the employees working in it? Appoint a group of sustainability champions to create green goals and motivate staff to get involved. e.g. staff travel to minimise carbon footprint, water/energy use, paperless working, waste/recycling, etc.

5 – Involve unbiased third parties

  • A fresh pair of eyes can go a long way when reviewing the policies, procedures, and packages on offer to align them with the business’s desired EVP.
  • Ensure that any third parties you involve match the culture and values of the business’s aspirations.

Need a hand?


Lisa Trent is our HR guru

There really isn’t very much to do with people that she doesn’t know about! Whether it’s furloughing, HR Environmental sustainability, or people management, she’s on hand to listen and help.

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