How can HR turn the dial on the environmental agenda in business?
For the last year, businesses have been consumed with handling COVID-19. But while we’ve been busy managing the disruption of homeworking and workforce changes, we’ve been neglecting another environmental threat knocking on our door.
After a historic reduction in carbon emissions – the largest since the second world war - global carbon emissions have now bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. And now, reports suggest that the world needs a pandemic-style lockdown every two years to meet the Paris Carbon Emission goals. With a government commitment to make the UK a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, there is pressure on individuals, businesses, and industries to go green.
As we move towards a post-pandemic world, we must start thinking about what we want that world to look like.
Lockdown has given us the chance to reconnect with nature and take stock of our lives and what matters most. While we have seen this play out in terms of new pressure on companies to provide flexible working and a migration of talent out of city centre locations, there is also a renewed charge for Corporate Social Responsibility. Whether it’s supporting local businesses, cheering on the NHS, or enjoying the British countryside, the workforce that emerges from lockdown is more grounded and socially conscious than the one that went into it. And that’s saying something – even before the pandemic, 70% of people said they would prefer to work for a company with a strong environmental agenda.
Now is the perfect time to put climate change at the heart of your business and people strategy. HR is ideally placed to influence, inspire, and drive social change; here are some ways to start.
Build sustainability into your EVP
With 73% of people more likely to accept a job offer due to company sustainability, making sure your commitment to the green agenda is loud and clear could really influence your talent acquisition.
Your employer value proposition (EVP) communicates who you are and what you believe in and should come into play at every stage of your recruitment lifecycle, as well as in your people culture afterwards. Threading sustainability into your EVP will ensure that everyone that joins your business is on the same page.
You can make a start by reviewing internal policies, values, and your mission statement under this new lens. Refresh your candidate materials – or create new ones – in line with this EVP and look at any external assets that need to be tweaked. You could also take a look at how you communicate externally, such as through your social media, as often the candidate journey starts before the point of application.
The clearer you can be about your stance on green, the more likeminded people you will attract. And, ultimately, if you’re attracting more people on board with sustainability, it’s going to make your drive to net zero much easier.
Educate your people
While going green should be a business-wide initiative, HR has a key role to play in influencing both individual and corporate habits.
Every business should provide basic education to employees on best practice for being eco-friendly – such as switching off lights at the end of the working day and reducing waste. If you want to provide even more support for people to go carbon neutral, you can also invest in external training courses.
Training your people on environmental issues is a great starting point, but creating a green mindset is also about engaging your employees. You could set up working groups dedicated to driving green in your business (at Lorien, our internal ED&I steering group Cohesion has a stream for environmental change) or bring in guest speakers for seminars on specific issues to continue the conversation.
Reconsider your working policies
Now that we’re working at home our opportunities to be green have changed. Cutting down on commuting, encouraging public transport or car-pooling, and putting in place incentives like the Cycle-to-Work scheme used to be staples for the eco agenda in business.
As offices reopen, HR must factor climate change into its decisions about future homeworking policies. For example, flexible working will cut down on carbon emissions from commuting, but it opens up a can of worms in terms of double devices (at home and in the office), and double energy. Working at home we’re less likely to waste paper by splurging on printing and free stationary, but we’re also less likely to follow strict recycling. At home, we’re also less likely to be led by the spectator effect, meaning our choices around what we buy, what we do, and what we use, are going to be more individual.
An element of flexible working is almost inevitable in the new world of work, and HR should rethink policies, improve individual advocacy, and where required issue refresher training, to build sustainability into a more nuanced workforce.
Monitor and measure
It’s really hard to feel like you’re achieving anything if you aren’t tracking your progress. A transparent evaluation of where you are, what you want to achieve and what’s realistic is an important part of going green. Certain industries offer more room for impact than others, but most industries can make a difference somewhere – such as by switching to green energy, improving in-office facilities (such as by going paperless or improving recycling), or encouraging homeworking.
Once you’ve identified where you can improve, you should map out how and build a roadmap, with project milestones, to get there. Setting a commitment with a timeframe is important for accountability, and this should ideally have a senior sponsor to sign-off and act as an advocate for the project. Remember that small steps are better than no steps at all.
Here at Lorien, we are very much at the start of our environmental journey, and we’re currently embedding some of these practices ourselves. We’re realigning our EVP, looking at our workplace policies and strategy and setting out a roadmap – including better education for our people – to help us improve. We know that the journey to net-zero will not be easy, but we’re determined to do our part.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your journey, or like us, you just want some ideas of how to start, you might be interested in our upcoming event: Turning the dial on net-zero: practical tips for HR & TA to help your workforce go green.
Join us for a lively panel discussion, featuring industry leaders on environmentalism, sustainability, and people culture. We’ll be exploring how to implement the green agenda at a distance, how you can help within your day to day role, and how to drive cultural change at distance.
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