Bringing HR in from the cold in the fight against climate change

If there’s one key takeaway from this year’s crucial COP26 climate conference, it’s that all of us need to take environmental responsibility seriously in the fight against climate change. If not, we’ll have to learn to live with its’ potentially devastating effects.

The effects of humankind’s activities on the earth’s natural environment are already impacting on all our lives – both at home and at work. Be it the cost of living rising due to crop failures, to water shortages due to severe droughts and heatwaves making working environments for some a genuine hazard: it’s clear that the science is pointing towards a potentially difficult and dangerous future if we all don’t act now.

Businesses have a vital role to play in addressing critical climate changes issues, but according to research by Willis Towers Watson, over half of UK employers are not involving their HR teams in their own environmental responsibility strategies. Surely this can’t be right… right?

HR climate change environment responsibility help

Excelling at or excluded from environmental strategies?

Now it’s true that HR teams have plenty on their plates right now. But excluding HR from these initiatives just doesn’t make sense. That’s because for positive change to really happen, it has to involve people.

Whilst many companies are taking climate change seriously, the research seems to indicate organisations’ efforts are carried out in silo, rather than as part of a wider HR strategy.

To me, this doesn’t really make sense. If the people within your business need to make changes to the way they work in order to meet your organisation’s green objectives, then the best team that can help do that would be HR. After all, HR teams play a huge role in promoting, maintaining and monitoring successful company cultures – so why can’t the same be true of an effective environmental responsibility strategy?

With successful environmental strategies depending on a fully supportive and involved workforce, here are four practical things HR teams can do to ensure they play a key part in shaping and supporting this vital work.

1. HR can act as the focal point

HR teams can be the focal point in kicking off and maintaining vital engagement. You can help develop and introduce environmental responsibility programs by asking for employee feedback and ideas as to what can make them truly effective. You can also encourage communication channels that allow for open discussion, and make it easy for your people to exchange feedback and share ideas of their own on your company’s HR portal.

Just like the development of an effective company culture, a good environmental awareness strategy can only work when employees take it to heart and share in the objectives and goals of an organisation – and one way HR can help with this is to ensure employees play a key role in developing your strategies.

2. HR can help make it visible

Providing a clear and progressive policy for your business’s environmental responsibilities is one thing: but you also must ensure it’s implemented by your entire business, so making it visible is the first step in doing this.

An HR team can play a huge part in this by keeping employees updated, informed and educated about climate change and how they can help minimise their impact both at home and in the workplace. Plus, they can also act as the first touchpoint for announcing new initiatives or inviting suggestions or feedback from your employees – and this could involve anything from switching off the lights when not in use, to getting involved with volunteering activities.

Also, consider whether a review what your employee handbook or onboarding process is required to make your environmental goals and ambitions immediately obvious for the new starters to your business.

3. HR can incorporate environmental responsibility objectives into job designs

The CIPD released a comprehensive guide for embedding environmental sustainability into an organisation, and one thing they suggest is incorporating your green practices into your job designs.

Your hiring process will as a matter of course involve HR, and this is an area where you can help your organisation hire the right people to fit with both your roles and your company’s culture. However, you can also play a huge part in creating role-specific tasks or responsibilities relating to an aspect of your company’s own environmental or sustainability objectives.

In addition, HR can then use your company’s environmental or sustainability strategy as an attraction tool for job seekers. The Willis Tower Watson research also found that 58% of employees they surveyed would consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work. So, if you’re not already considering this within your organisation’s talent attraction strategies, you can certainly be the best placed team with which to make it happen.

4. Empower your HR team to lead by example

Once you’ve decided on how your business will be more environmentally responsible and everyone is aware of your key objectives, you’ll then need to ensure you put your plans into practice – and multi-talented HR teams can be the one to lead the way.

If your strategy involves a reduction of paper waste, ensure that the HR systems you use support paperless working! If you encourage people to recycle more on your premises, make it as easy and visible as possible for both you and your staff to do this. Setting an example to the rest of your organisation isn’t just about finding ways to motivate your employees in the short term; it can also inspire them in more lasting ways, and this can be crucial when it comes to a successful environmental responsibility policy.

Don’t fall into the ‘Greenwashing’ trap

Finally, you may have heard the term ‘greenwashing’ more and more recently. This is when companies market themselves as being more environmentally friendly than they really are.

For example, if your business chose to purchase carbon offsets and then promote itself as ‘carbon neutral’, you couldn’t then promote your business as being ‘green’ in the way it operates or due to its products – otherwise, your company could easily (and legitimately) be accused of greenwashing.

Always be truthful and accurate in your aims, objectives and results. If you want to keep employees on your side, you need to be transparent and truthful – and share not just the vision but the practical steps you are taking to achieve them.

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