More and more, employees and candidates alike are seeking organisations with a commitment to environmental, social, and governance initiatives.
By Simon Kent
The recent United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) demonstrated clearly how difficult it is for world countries to agree on how to stave off global warming. It also brought home how saving the planet is everyone’s responsibility. Huge challenges lie ahead and whist international targets are critical, action is required from everyone—and employees want to play their part.
According to a report by Robert Walters, 34% of UK workers would now turn down a job from a company with poor sustainability credentials. Alongside this, a third (33%) of respondents to a survey by GetMyFirstJob.co.uk said they think that climate change has affected how they’ll search for work opportunities. Of those people, more than two thirds (68%) said they’d like to work for an employer that is doing something positive for the future of the planet. Nearly half (42%) of young people asked said they would like employers to tell them more about their green commitments during the job application process.
“In this competitive jobs market, entry-level job hunters often have access to a wide range of options and the majority want to know what employers are doing for the good of the planet,” says David Allison, CEO at GetMyFirstJob. “Organisations of all types and sizes must seize this opportunity in the battle for their future workforce. Shout about all the positive steps your organisation is taking.”
HR departments have a central role in communicating these issues—to the workforce and beyond to potential candidates. However, Jamie Mackenzie, director at Sodexo Engage, thinks this role can go further. “HR teams can work with CSR groups or chief sustainability officers (CSOs) leading on climate action, to implement activity and measure climate strategies,” he says. “They have a strong grasp of what communications work and what gets ignored. They know how to implement new policies and measure their success.”
Mackenzie highlights HR’s role in promoting company initiatives such as using more energy efficient products or pursuing zero-waste initiatives. Intel, for example, is currently recycling 75% of its waste and has a zero-waste target for 2030. But, there are other HR areas which can be aligned to this agenda. Employers may look to offer discounts on ethical brands, or offer alternative rewards such as tree planting, days off for charity work, or charitable donations, rather than mainstream vouchers and goods.
“In tackling the climate emergency, HR should introduce rewards that enhance the employee experience whilst simultaneously encouraging sustainability,” says Mackenzie. “Environmentally friendly rewarding bears the potential to empower a workforce by making employees feel like they’re making a difference, however big or small and that their values align with the business too.”
Social entreprise Giki offers a platform to help organisations and their employees identify ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Co-founder James Hand acknowledges that employees want to take action on climate change and are looking to their employer to see how they can help. Initiatives around eco-friendly commuting or sustainable food in the office can have a positive impact. “Forward-thinking HR departments are introducing programmes to educate employees and show them how they can cut carbon in their personal lives,” he says. “For some firms, the carbon footprint of their employees can be much higher than their operational emissions. As a result, employee engagement on sustainability is becoming a key part of a comprehensive CSR programme as companies look at all the levers they can pull to get to net zero.”
Kyan is a technology and digital product studio that uses Giki to inform their employees of the changes they can make in order to help support the business’ sustainability targets. Founder and CSO Gavin Shinfield says that since COVID triggered more at-home work for their organisation, there has been a big change in where the company’s emissions are being generated.
“Whereas before the pandemic, the bulk of our carbon footprint was made up of business travel and commuting. This year, home working accounts for nearly 90% of our emissions,” he explains. “Giki gives us an accurate and constantly updated overview of how these home-based emissions can be tracked and hopefully reduced.”
“HR leaders can develop a clear definition of what it means to be sustainable within their company,” asserts CEO and Founder of HR business SVC Solutions, Amanda Coulson. “What does it mean? How is it measured? How can employees be part of the discussion? This allows for constant transparency and involvement amongst each person within the brand, whilst taking ownership of key goals looking to be achieved and monitored so that the company can thrive. Once this key sustainable strategy is in place, forming part of your core culture, then your message can be spread from the top down.”
Circling back, Coulson believes a sustainable approach will also form part of a company’s recruitment strategy, so any hiring practice will also reflect on the company’s environmental values. “New employees need to share the same attitude towards your climate change agenda if you want your company to continue being a leader within this field,” she says.
“Retaining the right people is also incredibly important and this is where training comes into play,” she adds. “HR should work alongside the leadership team to align work processes with your sustainable values. These values need to be incorporated into training which reinforces and maintains the environmental culture of your business.”
Sodexo Engage’s Mackenzie affirms that HR should work across the many departments of an organisation on this issue, fulfilling their role as an agent for positive change within the company.
“Whilst we cannot defeat climate change in a day, HR teams can inspire small changes that can be the first step towards creating lasting change,” he says. “With the right communication, tools, and meaningful interactions, businesses can do their bit to reduce their collective carbon footprint. Minor changes such as reusable cups, to more significant campaigns like going plastic-free or reducing food waste, can combine to forge a sizeable difference.”