The role of HR in environmental sustainability

The role of hr in environmental sustainability

For many years environmental issues have been passed off to departments such as production/manufacturing, PR, logistics etc. but no longer can HR keep itself distant from such issues.

Aside from, or perhaps in spite of Brexit, environmental issues have been in the news consistently and with increasing regularity. The number of protests we have seen in London has exponentially increased, with Greta Thunberg arguably acting as a catalyst for some of these movements.

But how is this relevant to HR?

In parallel with the growth in news coverage, employees are increasingly interested in environmental issues in a way we haven’t previously seen; they are increasingly concerned about waste, sustainability and carbon emissions. We are seeing a new activism where people who aren’t usually politically active have been motivated to do something given the urgency and ominous position we are currently in if immediate action isn’t taken to protect the planet.

Of course this isn’t ALL employees, but even those who would prefer to relax than protest are ever more aware of what their stance is on things such as Easter egg packaging, Amazon box sizes, refillable coffee cups and foreign holidays.

As a result, employees are putting increasing pressure on organisations (including their own employers) who do not operate in a sustainable way. And we all know that increasingly job applicants are selecting potential employers based on culture and values rather than job title and salary.

With the blockade of BP this week, how are BP employees currently feeling? Might there be a small chance that morale has dipped and a few unexpected resignations have been made as a result of employees reviewing their life and work choices? No one likes it when their company is made out to be the ‘baddie’.

What can HR do?

HR has to first and foremost get on board and accept it has a key role to play in respect of environmental strategy as failure to do so will impact a whole host of things including recruitment, retention, morale, and productivity etc.

Top Level

  • Understand what the organisations strategy is on environmental issues and understand how employees and potential recruits will view this strategy.
  • Lobby the Board to get it changed if necessary, given that a lackadaisical strategy might very soon impact your ability to recruit and retain.

Down a level

  • Review what your employee handbook says about your environmental strategy. Update it if necessary
  • Consider whether your values and culture support your stance on the environment and, if they don’t, create a plan to change them.
  • Involve your unions or staff representatives at an early stage to get feedback and input
  • Consider the value of conducting a snapshot employee survey into environmental issues and ask questions about accountability i.e. do your employees hold themselves to account on this or is it just about holding you to account?

Day to day

  • If you have a large HR function, consider appointing a green team to work on sustainability initiatives and culture around the environment
  • Consider drafting some HR green objectives to work towards, e.g. staff travel to minimise carbon foot print, water/energy use, waste/recycling etc.
  • Get your staff involved, appoint some champions
  • Tap into the online calculators that are increasingly available to allow you to estimate the carbon footprint of your business (, with a focus on staff.

Extra things to consider

  • Hold short, regular training/awareness sessions on sustainability and all environmental issues. Ask existing staff to share their ideas and best practice, you’ll be amazed how many people can bring in new ideas if given the opportunity
  • Audit your HR and Training suppliers with a view to replacing some and re-appointing with suppliers that are more attuned to environmental issues (e.g. who supplies your HR software, which associates do you work with, who delivers your OH services, who sells you corporate gift ware such as pens and bin any suppliers who automatically plastic wrap each item etc.)
  • Review flexible working policies from a viewpoint of the environment. Are there any missed opportunities? If staff who can worked just one day from home what would the environmental impact be?
  • Track it all and communicate regularly as staff will want to know where improvements have been made and where your (and their) successes are coming from.

Other stuff to review and redraft

  • Re-draft your travel policy with guidelines covering the preferred form of transport, taking into account emissions. Encourage and incentivise staff to walk, cycle or use public transport.
  • Review where staff uniforms come from. Are they environmentally friendly? Can they be recycled when staff leave, are staff held to account if they lose items?
  • Review your working patterns if necessary as split shifts for example can increase carbon footprint given extra travel may be involved.
  • Review your policy on secondments, inter company transfers etc. as the carbon footprint of moving a valued employee from London to New York is MASSIVE! If you could just halve the number of secondments, what impact would that make?

And finally…

So many things you can be doing, but our message you to today is just make sure you are getting stuck right in, for the time of HR sitting on the sidelines is long gone!

If you need any support, any HR and training audits, training delivered, eLearning developed, new policies written etc please do get in touch as Jaluch has many services that can support, especially our training on Accountability as if your staff don’t understand how they are accountable in all of this, your job is going to be a very long and hard one!

If you don’t currently have an environmental policy in place, you can download our template environmental policy from our sister site Docs Wizard.

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Disclaimer: The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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