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The role of HR leaders in creating greener organisations

Discover how you’re responsible for driving sustainable changes in your business – and get some best practice advice to help your organisation be greener.

71% of employees and employment seekers say that environmentally sustainable organisations are more attractive employers


Following the pandemic, almost every industry looks a little different – and in a lot of cases, they’re more sustainable. The pandemic forced organisations to adopt hybrid working, digitalise their processes, and implement virtual communications technology – all practices that reduced companies’ carbon footprints and created new opportunities for companies to drive sustainable changes.

Now, many organisations are looking to cement those sustainable practices in place and commit to their sustainability goals. And since people play such a big part in actioning sustainable change, HR leaders will be expected to step up and manage this movement.

In this blog, we’ll look at the importance of going green and the responsibilities that sit with HR, and offer best practice advice on how you can drive sustainable changes in your business.

Why sustainability matters

Climate change is already having an impact on working environments, as well as employee health and productivity – through extreme weather, natural disasters, and changing demographics.

In fact, according to a 2019 report by the International Labour Organization, an increase in heat stress resulting from global warming is projected to lead to global productivity losses equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs by the year 2030. To mitigate these effects, every organisation will be responsible for adopting and maintaining sustainable practices – sooner rather than later.

But cutting carbon emissions isn’t the only benefit to gain from adopting sustainable practices – there’s also the chance to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and create a more compelling place to work for potential employees.

According to an IBM survey, 71% of employees and employment seekers say that environmentally sustainable organisations are more attractive employers – giving them an edge to gaining and retaining the best talent. And, a report by PwC suggested the interest in working for a sustainable employer is already leading to wider changes, with 36% of HR professionals building their hiring strategies around their organisations’ social and environmental stance.

It pays to be sustainable, too – customers also want to see greener organisations. According to Deloitte’s 2021 study, 34% of the UK’s consumers have previously chosen brands that have environmentally sustainable practices, and 32% would be willing to pay more for goods and services from brands that commit to reducing their carbon footprint.

These factors mean it’s more important than ever to adopt sustainable practices, and like many organisation-wide initiatives, HR will need to play a key role in driving the change.

Keeping your employees safe should be one of your first priorities, which can be more difficult when they’re working remotely. You’ll need to understand your responsibilities as an employer, and ensure remote work environments are compliant and meet the necessary safety regulations, all without being too intrusive in your employees’ personal spaces.

These safety precautions need to extend to your office environment too. During the remote working period of the pandemic, your teams may have expanded, and that means you need to provide a suitable office environment that can comfortably support the full capacity of your workforce.

In addition to safety, you’ll likely face reluctance from some employees to return to the workplace at all. It’ll be crucial you host honest and constructive negotiations with these employees, to understand their demands and challenges, and clearly communicate their contracted obligations.   

It can also be harder to keep track of tasks when employees are working from home; how you manage remote workers is likely to be different than if they were in the office. The same goes for keeping people engaged and responsive.

This is where having the right communication tools will become essential. Everybody needs to be using the same platforms, and be easily contactable at any time – no matter the working environment they’re in.

How you can lead sustainable change

As a first step, you’ll need to identify how sustainable your organisation currently is. The Department for Environmental, Food, and Rural Affairs has a helpful guide for how you can estimate your carbon footprint – or you can use an online carbon footprint calculator, or get support from an external professional.

Using your carbon footprint measurements, you’ll be able to set more specific sustainability goals. To ensure these goals are relevant and realistic, you can align them with international agreements like the UN’s Sustainable Development goals – or the European Green Deal, which aims to make Europe’s climate neutral by 2050. These will offer a helpful guideline as to what you should be aiming for, and what other businesses are working towards.

Once you’ve outlined your goals, you’ll need to look in granular detail at your HR processes and identify how they could be adapted to be more sustainable. Chances are, you’ll have already adopted virtual communication software, and the majority of your documentation will be digital.

However, lots of organisations are still printing, particularly during the onboarding process – think contracts, handbooks and other documentation that needs to be signed. Instead, with the right HR technology, your employees can access new start paperwork in an easy-to-use employee portal and digitally sign anything they need to, saving printing costs and reducing emissions.

Offering hybrid working is another way to reduce your organisation’s carbon footprint. According to the ONS, a reduction in personal travel, including commuting to work, drove household greenhouse gas emissions down by 25 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2020. And by avoiding the commute just one day per week, across a year with 46 working weeks, you’ll save the equivalent of 337kg in CO2 per employee. Having set out your goals to begin with, you can easily track and monitor your energy efficiency, waste reduction, total emissions, and progress to carbon neutrality – and see the difference organisation-wide changes can make.

82% of business leaders believe organisations should support employees in making sustainable decisions

People Management

Engaging employees

It’s also important to engage your workforce. Many organisations are working to create sustainably conscious workforces, with 82% of business leaders believing organisations should support employees in making sustainable decisions.

You can start engaging employees by running environmental surveys to identify the varying levels of knowledge across your teams, and figure out what’s most important to your existing workforce. Not only will this help support your future sustainability goals, but it’ll also help to engage employees in the overall sustainability conversation.

Once you’ve identified your employees’ sustainability knowledge, you can offer short, regular training sessions on your new sustainability goals, carbon neutrality, reducing resource use, and printing – to make sustainability part of the company-wide conscience, and help employees operate more efficiently. You’ll also be able to use these sessions as an opportunity to share how your goals will impact them and their day-to-day work on a granular level, as well as organisation wide.

One way you could deliver effective training is by using modern eLearning solutions. Using these solutions, you can manage, develop, and deploy both instructor-led learning and self-serve online training – providing personalised modules, automating compliance training, and giving your employees the freedom to access training resources whenever it suits them most.

Plus, offering a rewards scheme for most completed modules or biggest improvement is likely to get your workforce invested and incentivised to learn more about sustainable practices, and action them across their daily responsibilities.

Get in touch and go green

If you’d like to delve further into your role in creating a more sustainable organisation, we have consultants with decades of HR experience across a wide range of sectors – just get in touch to see how we can help

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