How HR Teams Can Drive Sustainability Initiatives

Having a robust sustainability policy is non-negotiable these days

Having a robust sustainability policy is non-negotiable these days for organisations. As Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues continue to top businesses’ priority lists, HR is increasingly being called upon to implement and facilitate companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies. This is another item to add to HR’s busy agenda, so how can People Management teams implement, promote and drive forwards environmental sustainability initiatives in the workplace?

Recruitment and retention focus

A company’s sustainability practices can be a deal breaker for current and prospective employees. Job seekers are actively looking to work for organsiations that take climate change seriously and are more educated on environmental issues than ever before. In fact, a report from IBM found that one in three respondents who changed jobs last year took up a role with an employer they perceived to be either more environmentally sustainable (35%) or socially responsible (40%) and a further third (34%) opted for jobs where they were able to directly influence environmentally sustainable outcomes.

Figures also show that by 2029, the workforce will mainly comprise millennials and Gen Z  and this well-informed demographic takes sustainability seriously in all areas of their lives. The need for transparency is evident, and HR must ensure that its policies on sustainability stand up to scrutiny.

In the past, the creation of a sustainability policy was left up to the discretion of the business owners, but now national and international laws, global regulations and policies are in place to ensure businesses play a part in addressing the climate challenge.

Here are five ways that HR can drive forward its company sustainability initiatives:

Garner feedback – and act on it

Sustainability is a shared issue so it follows that the question of what employees would like to see implemented should be asked. Pulse surveys, suggestion boxes, and employee focus groups, spearheaded by HR are a great way to generate ideas and unearth innovation. HR can then action the most appropriate suggestions and employees are far more likely to get behind them and make these a part of the culture going forwards. Over time, the business’s values and demands might shift but by keeping the conversation going on sustainability, HR can keep a finger on the pulse of what is important to employees, prioritise the actions needed – and thus contribute to an improved employee experience and fulfil its corporate sustainability responsibilities.

Appoint sustainability champions

Building a ‘green team’ from your employee pool is an ideal way to have an impact on sustainability drives. Not only will you be able to maximise their enthusiasm, but it also puts the responsibility into the hands of the employees themselves. Global companies often have a specific person, a sustainability officer for example, or a team that heads up CSR in the organisation. Smaller companies can spread the responsibility across individuals and, providing this is signed off by the board, HR can take a back seat and let the people who really want to make a difference run with their ideas.

It is important to add that modelling positive behaviours around sustainability from the leadership is also key – if the leaders are seen to be taking climate change seriously, then employees are more likely to get behind any initiatives.

Consider hybrid working as the norm

The new normal post-Covid workplace has seen companies quickly adopt hybrid working practices in order to facilitate workers’ demands for flexibility, but this also aligns with the green agenda too. A recent study of over 1000 decision-makers by the CIPD found that more than three-quarters of respondents’ organisations (78%) allow hybrid working while just 8% don’t. HR can help formulate policies on hybrid working and travel to help CSR initiatives such as reducing energy usage at work and implementing more sustainable IT practices. Again, some of the responsibility falls on the employee to help facilitate these working methods, but with strong policies in place, hybrid working can support the wider sustainability drive within the organisation.

Promote community initiatives

Volunteering is one unifying activity that can help enforce an organisation’s CSR policy and allows those individuals who want to get involved in doing something tangible for their local community to facilitate this. HR can also make volunteering a part of its wellbeing strategy and can support a charity that the organisation promotes. This can be voted for by the workforce, giving ownership to employees and allowing them to decide on the causes that mean the most to them.

Maximising green employee benefits

If you have an employee benefits platform or offer your people some kind of reward and recognition programme, embedding sustainability options in these is a great way of engaging those who are interested in environmental initiatives. Things like salary sacrifice for electric cars and cycle-to-work, plant-a-tree schemes and rewards for taking part in green-focused activities is an easy win for HR managers wanting to encourage company sustainability practices.

A whole organisation approach

Sustainability isn’t the responsibility of one particular department in a company but a whole organisational concern. That said it can often fall on HR’s shoulders. Transparency is everything and employers need to put their money where their mouths are to ensure that everyone is on the same page, supporting and promoting any sustainability initiatives.

With HR delegating responsibilities across the organisation, it will be able to maintain momentum, increase awareness of the green agenda and ensure the company is achieving its sustainability responsibilities while remaining aligned with the wider business goals.

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