Five Ways HR Can Drive The Pursuit of Environmental Sustainability

Sustainability is high on the Global and C-Suite agenda, what will this mean for Human Resources?

Sustainability has seen an increasing focus on the C-suite agenda for organisations. The combined result of changing perspectives around the world on the topic of climate change, has resulted in it being far more critical for companies to acknowledge ways that they, too, can adopt more sustainable practices. 

As Deloitte, one of the Big four Global consulting firms points out, the concern of senior leaders about climate have increased significantly, so too has the optimism that organisational leadership can do something about improving sustainability. 

A recent survey by Deloitte of more than 2000 global CXO’s across 21 countries, saw approximately two-thirds of executives stating their companies were very concerned about the impacts of climate change and 79%, stating they saw the world as being at a tipping point with climate change.

Deloitte 2022 CxO Sustainability Report | Source: Deloitte
⤴️ Download Deloitte 2022 CxO Sustainability Report | Source: Deloitte

Furthermore 97% of those surveyed reported they were feeling the pressure to act on climate and environmental sustainability from their stakeholders. With 88% in agreement that with immediate action, it is possible to limit the predicted worst case impacts of climate change. 

The battle against climate change isn’t a choice, it’s billions of choices

The question is, how do these findings and sentiments translate to action within the organisation and what role will Human Resources play in developing, implementing and driving an action plan to facilitate the pursuit of environmental sustainability? 

Here we will explore the proposed routes for Human Resources:

One: Shaping Sustainable Policies

One of several primary responsibilities that HR will have to help shape sustainable initiatives for their organisation, will be through the design and roll out of policies that will progress towards the advancement of greater sustainability.

Moving the needle in a variety of areas will benefit from being closely aligned with the company’s strategic goals. The partnership between Human Resources and the C-suite will, as ever, need to be aligned in order to ensure policies are measurable, ultimately achievable but also connected to the strategic vision of the organisations sustainable goals. 

The policy shaping piece on sustainability will be far reaching, moving far beyond the operational, to the strategic and tactical and could include: 

  • Policy on the organisation using energy efficient and/or climate-friendly technologies, equipment and machinery. 
  • Policy starting the organisation’s commitment to increasing the efficiency of energy use in work buildings.
  • Training and development policy, commiting to training employees on climate change actions and impacts. 
  • Travel policy: Driving reductions in the amount of air and non essential car travel, to client, supplier, customer meetings.
  • Business relations policy: Requiring suppliers and business partners meet specific sustainability criteria. 
  • Compensation and benefits policy connecting senior leaders’ compensation to environmental sustainability performance

Through HR’s partnership with the C-suite on the development of policies and procedures that are customised to fit the organisations vision and values on sustainability. It is possible to connect the value of enhanced sustainability to stakeholder interests and stakeholder value.

Two: Going Paperless

If you haven’t moved to become a paperless, or even paper lite organisation then don’t worry there is still time. By supporting your organisation to go paperless, it’s possible to achieve more than environmental benefits alone. 

Reducing paper can significantly uplift efficiency and improve productivity across the organisation, in addition to significantly reducing costs.

But what exactly is a paperless, or paper lite office? As the name suggests a paper-free office is a workplace that reduces the use of physical paper in its processes and practices in favour of operating more digitally documents. 

Digital transformation can be an important tool in addressing critical environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues

The previous means for organisations to operate was through the storage of paper documents, in physical filing cabinets. However with the advent of cloud computing and digitization, it is largely possible to store the majority of documents on digital rather than physical files. 

Whilst the phase out of paper can take time, the approach, supported by HR to become paper-lite, ahead of a full transition to paperless can help to foster a paper-free culture in the workplace over time.

Three: Adopting or further embracing remote & hybrid working

The buzz around hybrid working does not seem to be going away. As the world steps into its post pandemic era of some office work and some home work for many employees, it’s worth considering how impactful remote and hybrid working can be for sustainability goals. 

Policies that actively support and champion hybrid and flexible working can add significant value to the environmentally sustainable agenda. 

The reduction in employee commutes to the office, in conjunction with the reductions in power usage deployed within the work environment itself will have a sizable impact on your organisation sustainability goals. 

The Carbon Trust, an organisation advising business, government and organisations on the route to net zero emissions, conducted a study in 2021 into how working from home can save energy and reduce emissions.

An assessment of the impact of teleworking on carbon savings and the longer-term effects on infrastructure services | Source: The Carbon Trust
⤴️ Download an assessment of the impact of teleworking on carbon savings and the longer-term effects on infrastructure services | Source: The Carbon Trust

The study found that there was a strong correlation between tele-working, and home working with a reduction in carbon emissions. Whilst this reduction had been significantly contributed to by the pandemic, it is feasible for the benefits to continue with the ongoing adoption of a hybrid working approach. 

Pre-COVID emissions components and total carbon savings per country | Source: The Carbon Trust
Pre-COVID emissions components and total carbon savings per country | Source: The Carbon Trust

Four: Asking Employees to turn off their cameras in virtual meetings

With the shift to more hybrid working, comes an increase in the use of virtual meeting software such as Zoom. 

Yet in an effort to replicate the connectedness of being together in real life, the use of the video camera to see each other as you would in the workplace has been adopted. 

However, it’s recently been reported in a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that it’s possible to reduce the environmental impact of continuous streaming, by turning the cameras off in virtual meetings

New research shows that if you turn your camera off during a videoconference, you can reduce your environmental footprint in that meeting by 96 percent

The research into this area indicates that the gains to be made to the environment from remote working, are negated by the carbon emissions caused by the very use of the technology aiding this transition. According to MIT researchers, the continuation of home working until the end of 2021, saw the global carbon footprint grow by 34.3 million tons in greenhouse gas emissions. 

As such, the study evaluated the carbon impact reduction to be achieved by the simple act of turning off your camera can be seismic.

Yet, as Melissa Romer points out in her blog article reflecting on the study, it’s vital for business leaders to consider when they are turning off their video camera and the appropriateness of the situation at hand where they are doing so.

Meetings that deliver difficult messages, meeting people for the first time, viewing presentations given by team members or other people and speaking up at large gatherings or town halls are all instances where keeping the camera on is justified, in spite of the sustainable benefits. Connection is after all, the central tenet of organisational harmony.

Five: Invest in reusable initiatives to eliminate single use plastics

By investing in permanent solutions to reduce single-use plastics. It’s possible for HR to support the organisation in making simple switches, such as no longer supplying single use water bottles in the office fridge to providing employees with reusable logo branded bottles. Other ideas to make the switch can include company-branded Tupperware and the use of metal straws.

Bringing it all together

It’s vital to keep in mind that amongst all the initiatives to become more sustainable, that recent employee engagement studies indicate increasing awareness and concern for the environment. 

Furthermore organisations like Sage are actively engaged in playing their part to become more sustainable and contribute to a more environmentally friendly future. With Sage HR at your side as you make the shift to more sustainable practices, you can be assured that your HR team is taking vital steps in the right direction to reach your sustainability goals. 

Sustainability and Society Report | Source: Sage
⤴️ Download Sustainability and Society Report | Source: Sage

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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.