Can HR Support the Environmental Agenda?

With all the energy focussed on technological disruption, it’s easy for the business world to lose sight of one of the greatest threats to its long-term survival and prosperity: climate change.

This is an issue that affects us all. But with world leaders distracted by short-term thinking and party politics, we are stuck in a state of inertia.

Instead of waiting for someone else to act, isn’t it time the business world stepped up and took the lead in driving the green agenda?

Environmental issues are typically covered by a business’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. CSR was once seen as a box-ticking exercise – a type of corporate chicanery designed to produce good PR stories rather than genuine change.

But as employees become increasingly concerned with social and environmental issues, a proactive and effective CSR strategy is now something that people actively look for in an employer. And of all the business functions, HR is perfectly placed to inspire, educate, and motivate the workforce to turn ideas into action.

While adopting a culture of sustainability requires all areas of a business to work together, here are a few ways that HR can lead the way.


Make sustainability part of your identity

Given the growing importance of a green mindset, sustainability should be a central part of any conscientious business’s plans. Make sure this is reflected in your corporate mission statement and values.

This sends a powerful message to existing staff, potential new recruits, and even competitors that you take social and environmental issues seriously.

What’s more, as the focus on climate change and the environment becomes greater, putting sustainability at the top of your agenda will ultimately make your business a more attractive place to work.


Educate your staff

Adopting a green approach requires a business-wide effort, with every member of staff contributing towards a common goal. For this to work, you’ll need to provide effective training on the issues around sustainability, and the initiatives you plan to introduce to further the cause. This will help bring your mission and values to life, and will instil a green mindset in your workforce.

Make sustainability training part of the regular on-boarding process. On top of this, you could offer sustainability seminars periodically, inviting guest speakers to inspire change and motivate action.

Whatever your approach, it is critical that your people understand exactly what they can do to contribute towards a greener organisation.


Take action

Now it’s time to take action. By introducing green initiatives that everyone can get behind, you will help raise awareness of environmental issues and encourage your employees to take a more sustainable approach both inside and outside of work.

It’s one thing saying you want to be a sustainable and environmentally friendly organisation, but what does that mean in practice?

First, it’s important to note that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability. A manufacturing business will have different sustainability challenges than a software producer, for example.

Nevertheless, there are some simple initiatives that pretty much any business can introduce – and it all starts by asking the right questions. Here are just a few examples to get you started.


1. What are we doing to reduce the number of commutes?

This is a big one. As anyone who gets stuck in rush-hour traffic on a regular basis will know, our current approach to commuting is not only time-consuming and stressful, it’s also incredibly inefficient. Most people sit one to a car, despite them all heading in the same direction.

By promoting carpooling, or by subsidising public transport costs, you can encourage your employees to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. For those that live close enough, cycling or even walking to work is an excellent way to keep fit and reduce emissions.

If you incentivise alternatives to the one-car-per-person mode of commuting, your employees will be more likely to make the change. For example, you could provide free meal vouchers for those who cycle to work, or free book vouchers for those who take the bus.

Whatever your approach, set a business-wide target for reducing the number of vehicles travelling to your workplace, and encourage everyone to get involved in reaching it.


2. Do our employees need to commute to the workplace every day?

While some people need to attend the office each day, many don’t. Thanks to modern technology, most of us can get on with our jobs pretty much anywhere.

Remote working has many benefits, from increased engagement to higher productivity, but it’s positive effect on the environment is often overlooked.

Just think: if each of your employees worked from home just one day a week, you’d cut the emissions associated with commuting by a fifth – just like that! Now imagine if every company introduced a similar policy – you can see how small changes can have a big impact.


3. What can we do to reduce unnecessary waste?

With modern HR software, it has never been easier to move towards a paperless office. That means no more paper timesheets or payslips. Instead, your employees can record time and attendance, access important documents and policies, and view pay-related information digitally, via their laptops of smartphones.

Taking this a step further, is it really necessary to print piles of brochures, guides, and white papers? By going fully digital with your marketing materials, not only do you save a tonne of paper, you’ll also be meeting customers’ expectations.

Of course, producing some waste is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be wasteful. Make recycling an organisation-wide policy by placing recycling bins in every office.


4. Are we doing enough to support local businesses?

While supply chains and logistics networks are beyond HR’s remit, there are a number of ways that the HR function can push a more sustainable agenda when it comes to cooperation with other businesses.

For example, is the food you prepare and sell in the company cafeteria imported from all over the world, or is it locally sourced? By supporting local farmers and producers, you reduce the miles that food travels from source to plate, significantly reducing your company’s carbon footprint.


Sustainability is now a business imperative

The above are just a few examples of how HR can lead the way in adopting a more sustainable approach to business. These initiatives shouldn’t be seen as one-off changes, but as part of a wider change in mindset.

This new mindset goes beyond your average CSR strategy. Green policies are no longer something that can be rolled out to please onlookers; they are a corporate imperative. If we want our businesses to have a successful future, we need to ensure that there is a healthy and thriving environment, society, and economy in which to achieve success.

Just as businesses are desperately working to adapt to technological disruption, they should also be looking to adapt to environmental disruption.

This is an issue that affects everyone, and people are desperate for ways to help, to feel that they are part of the solution rather than the problem. An effective sustainability strategy will help unite your workforce behind a green agenda – and HR is best placed to drive this change.


Nick Edwards - http://www.praguecopywriter.com

Nicholas Edwards is a freelance writer and editor based in Prague, the Czech Republic. When he's not helping local businesses master the English language, he loves writing about the future of work for People First. 

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