Best practices HR departments can implement to demonstrate theirÂ commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility.
By Grant Goodrich
HR plays a large role in helping organizations achieveÂ their business objectives, but one area where the functionÂ could have a larger impact is helping shape policies thatÂ contribute to climate-conscious behavior.
Improving the partnership between corporate socialÂ responsibility and HR in support of climate-friendlyÂ initiatives could have a major impact on business results.Â According to a 2018 study by Cone Communications, 62Â percent of Americans feel that climate change is a problemÂ and 58 percent expect companies to take the lead in theÂ absence of government progress. Previous research fromÂ Cone Communications found that consumers pay attentionÂ to these initiatives and respond with their buying power;Â 87 percent will purchase a product because a companyÂ advocated for an issue they cared about and 76 percentÂ will refuse to purchase a companyâs products or servicesÂ upon learning it supported an issue contrary to theirÂ beliefs.
Currently, few companies specifically commit the fullÂ capabilities of their HR departments towards meeting theirÂ greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
Prominent carbon emissions reporting regimes such asÂ the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) and theÂ British Standards Institution (BSI) donât specifically mentionÂ HR, but rather call out governance, management, businessÂ strategy, and communications as departments that areÂ required to report.
âOnly a handful of companies out of thousands who haveÂ disclosed on the management of climate-related issuesÂ have identified incentives provided for HR for achievingÂ climate goals or reference HRâs role in integrating climateÂ into business objectives and strategy,â notes BettyÂ Cremmins, director of corporate partnerships with CDPÂ North America. All too often, organizations simply expectÂ the director of sustainability to address such mattersÂ without considering their ability to shape and implementÂ HR policies.
However, in non-manufacturing environments, policiesÂ managed by HR have had a significant impact onÂ organizationsâ greenhouse gas emissions, lagging behindÂ only facilities and procurementâespecially when takingÂ into account commutes. For smaller businesses andÂ nonprofits where one person performs all administrativeÂ tasks, the choices HR makes can critically impact theÂ organizationâs carbon footprint.
For organizations looking to make a difference, hereÂ are some best practices HR can implement to lowerÂ greenhouse gas emissions.
1. Establish a culture of sustainability. HR is often theÂ first point of contact for a prospective employee, and aÂ good place to promote the organizationâs sustainabilityÂ commitment and culture to potential candidates isÂ the careers site. This can have an immediate as well asÂ long-term impact on values and behavior across theÂ organization, as new employees understand up front thatÂ the organizationâs core values are rooted in sustainability.Â With Harvard Business Review finding that nine out of 10Â employees would take reduced pay for more meaning inÂ their work, a culture that values sustainability can createÂ competitive advantage and loyalty.
2. Provide training on the organizationâs climate andÂ sustainability policies and practices as part of newÂ hire orientation. A great way to help new employeesÂ understand how they contribute to the organizationâsÂ climate and carbon footprintâand how to minimizeÂ itâcould be done through some thoughtful trainingÂ during orientation. This training should emphasize theÂ companyâs sustainability-rooted culture, present theÂ emissions reduction practices adopted by the company,Â and invite new employees to identify voluntaryÂ commitments (e.g. walk to work) that they will make toÂ contribute to the companyâs goals.
3. Introduce wellness programs to encourage biking orÂ walking to work. Many companies have adopted wellnessprograms that reward employees for healthy behavior. WhyÂ not improve employeesâ health and reduce emissions at theÂ same time? Offering higher rewards for those who bike orÂ walk to work could be a smart multiplier on such programs.
4. Reduce travel in the interviewing and recruitmentÂ process. Much of the interview process for new hires canÂ be done remotely by phone or by videoconferencing. AÂ thoughtful refresh of interview policy and practice canÂ have the benefit of improving the overall experience whileÂ limiting travel needs to only a finalist.
5. Require the purchase of carbon offsets for businessÂ travel. A carbon offset is a payment, typically to a trustedÂ third party, to compensate for emissions made by theÂ business or individual. These payments are commonlyÂ invested in projects such as renewable energy orÂ reforestation to reduce emissions or sequester carbon.
For example, for a round trip flight from Chicago to NewÂ York, the Swiss firm myclimate estimates an individualâsÂ emissions to be about 0.5 tons of CO2 emissions, andÂ suggests the purchase of an offset ranging from $13 to $41Â in one of four emissions reduction projects.
Requiring the purchase of offsets can be a greatÂ conversation starter for the larger discussion aboutÂ organizational priorities in climate action. It can lead toÂ excellent discussions about how business is conducted,Â how and why travel is justified, and whether or not anÂ expensiveâand high emissionsâpractice is the best wayÂ to do business. At the least, policy should explicitly allowÂ travelers to purchase carbon offsets if they have theÂ resources in their budget.
6. Divest retirement plans from fossil fuel companies. ThisÂ approach could work for both defined benefit plans asÂ well as defined contribution plans. HR could require thatÂ plan providers eliminate fund offerings within 401(k) andÂ 403 plans that invest in fossil fuel companies. At the veryÂ least, HR could require the plan provider to identify theÂ investment vehicles that include fossil fuel companies,Â and could require environmental, social, and corporateÂ governance investment options be made available.
Grant Goodrich is executive director of the Great Lakes EnergyÂ Institute at Case Western Reserve University.