In the midst of everything that’s happened in the world over the last year, the rather large and important matter of our Earth’s climate has remained consistently present in the public consciousness.
What was previously commonly referred to as “climate change”, many have begun referring to as the “climate emergency”.
Increasingly, businesses in particular are under pressure to reduce their carbon emissions output. The below figures indicate why.
- 60% of Brits indicated in 2020 that they’re more worried about climate change than they were in 2019, according to Ipsos Mori
- 52% feel priority should be given to the environment even if it meant a slowing down of economic growth
- The UK Government are aiming to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels
- Business activities account for half of all emissions in the UK.
So, what role do HR play? HR can be a significant driver of greener business and together can help their organisations tackle the climate emergency and reduce their own carbon emissions output.
However, this may be easier said than done.
It can be difficult enough as it is for HR to shape their strategy and their objectives around organisational objectives that may already conflict with each other.
Organisations have lots of stakeholders to appease, which presents a challenge when setting objectives.
Many organisations have a primary fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and investors, while others may simply have a lack of buy-in from the top when it comes to environmental change.
However, could you argue that for the climate emergency, everyone is in fact a stakeholder?
The climate emergency affects all of us, and as awareness of the situation increases, making the case for building a greener business should become easier for HR.
The benefits of going greener
Greener businesses are in a position to boost their credibility both internally and externally, particularly through certifications such as becoming a B Corporation for example.
It gives organisations a better chance of building stronger relationships with all stakeholders, particularly considering how much more conscious people are of the climate emergency now than in previous years.
For some stakeholders, green initiatives, policies and processes aren’t just a hope or a nice-to-have but an expectation.
Particularly if a business has a clear disregard for the environment, this is now more potentially damaging to stakeholder relationships than it ever has been.
For HR, it has many benefits for many areas of the function which are explored in further detail in this guide.
So, where do you start?
What is your current carbon output?
When it comes to planning or strategising about just about anything, you need a thorough understanding of your current situation before planning the best course of action.
It can help to do this just before setting your HR objectives for the year, so any learnings can be incorporated ready for the new year.
When it comes to measuring carbon output, this can be a bit tricky. For example, while remote working has taken lots of commutes by car off the roads and reduced energy consumption in offices, energy consumption has increased in homes.
Measuring your true carbon footprint as a business can therefore be a bit of a pandoras box.
However, start simple and try an online carbon footprint calculator for your business. Measure what you can and what you feel is most relevant for your business.
There are even organisations that will do a carbon audit for you to help you truly understand your business’ carbon emissions output.
Once this is done, you can work out where the opportunities are for your business to reduce emissions, how HR initiatives, policies and procedures can help and set targets and objectives.
Setting targets and objectives
Next, decide on your priority areas. Are emissions from employee commutes too high? Is your workplace energy inefficient? Could you go paperless?
When setting your HR objectives for the year, incorporate green objectives.
Based on your assessment of your current situation, you might decide to set an objective of reducing the business’ carbon output by 25% by the end of the financial year, for example.
Alternatively, you might set informal targets for your employees to aim for, such as making less trips to the workplace by car to help reduce emissions, for example.
So, you know where you stand with your carbon output and you know your objectives and targets. How will you achieve them?
In the 1990’s, The Rover Group perhaps pioneered the idea of ‘green recruitment’ by making environmental responsibilities a part of every job description and every job advert they put out.
When recruiting, including environment-focused responsibilities in job descriptions or referencing the organisation’s commitment to creating a greener business helps improve the recruitment process from an environmental point-of-view.
New recruits are more likely to be aligned with your environmental goals and will be aware of your green processes and policies from the outset.
Performance management and appraisals
Once you’ve set out your objectives and targets around creating a greener business, it’s important to monitor your progress and make changes where necessary.
Appraisals offer the perfect opportunity to reinforce your organisation’s commitment to reducing carbon output and to identify where changes or improvements could be made.
Appraisals are, of course, a two-way conversation and give employees the chance to offer their own suggestions or their own feedback on any initiatives, policies or procedures your company has implemented.
Training and development
Education and awareness around the climate emergency are incredibly important when it comes to tackling the issue.
Many know of the climate emergency, but how many know the extent of the challenges we face? And how many know how to tackle these challenges?
Understanding what behaviours are environmentally friendly and what behaviours aren’t can be eye-opening.
Training and workshops set up by HR or by an external company can help educate your staff in developing more environmentally friendly behaviours.
This can help achieve greater buy-in to your green initiatives from employees too.
Remember, developing soft skills can help here too. Teamwork and collaboration are needed by us all to tackle the climate emergency and so can help your business carry out its green initiatives more effectively and reduce its carbon output.
Green reward and incentives
Carrying out green initiatives, making behavioural changes to become more environmentally friendly and helping the business reduce its carbon output deserves to be rewarded in the same way as hitting KPI’s, targets or generally performing well.
Review your reward strategy and use it to help achieve your green objectives.
Rewards don’t have to be monetary, as we’ve discussed previously, and non-monetary rewards are often best in scenarios like these as they are often more timely and more impactful.
Green departmental targets and managers who are empowered to reward for hitting those targets can go a long way to helping you achieve your green HR objectives.
Your remote working policy could be significant in your attempts to build a greener business. Consider how this might affect the carbon output of your business and its employees and introduce initiatives that align with your carbon objectives around remote working.
How energy efficient is your workplace? Can it be improved? Simple things like switching off lights and conserving energy or improving the energy efficiency of your workplace can be significant in the long run.
Encourage recycling where possible and going paperless could be significant too.
These are just a few examples of green initiatives you could introduce to help create a greener business.
Employee benefits can help you meet your green objectives.
An employee benefits platform that hosts the right employee benefits wont just help you go paperless but could help encourage more environmentally friendly behaviours among your employees.
Commuting Loans help make public transport more affordable for your staff through a no-interest loan where payments are taken from your employees’ net pay each month.
Recently, the UK Government announced an investment in greener public transport including support for zero-emission buses as part of their efforts to “build back greener”.
Remote working has of course reduced the need for commuting to the workplace, and with many businesses looking to move to a hybrid model once businesses reopen, the number of employees commuting each day in the UK may never reach pre-pandemic levels.
However, for businesses looking to return to the workplace either partly or in full, employees commuting to the office again, particularly by car, means the carbon output for these businesses may rise again.
With the UK Government providing ever more support for greener public transport, making public transport more affordable for employees could help reduce the need to commute by car and therefore reduce carbon output by employees.
Bike to Work Scheme
During lockdown in the UK in 2020, the Secretary for Transport Grant Shapps announced that cycling in the UK had increased by as much as 200% on weekends and 100% on weekdays.
According to the National Travel Survey in 2018, around 60% of 1–2-mile trips are made by car.
Cycling has the power to drastically reduce much of the UK’s carbon output and the Bike to Work Scheme is an employee benefit that can really support this.
In recent times the scheme has been made more accessible too with the application limit increased, allowing employees to get e-bikes on the scheme to make their work commute that little bit easier and more accessible.
We’ve written before about why the Bike to Work Scheme is so popular, but in the context of reducing your business’ carbon output the Bike to Work Scheme seems a no-brainer, particularly as many look to return to the workplace in some capacity.
Car Benefit Scheme
For many, the work commute is just that bit too far to walk or cycle and driving to the workplace may be the only real option.
The Car Benefit Scheme is the cheapest way for employees to drive a brand-new electric vehicle.
There are loads of benefits to the scheme and helping your employees reduce their carbon output from their commute and in their lives in general are just a few.
Employees and employers make Tax and NI savings on the scheme too.
As part of a hybrid working model, if employees can either walk, cycle, take public transport or drive electric to the workplace this could drastically reduce carbon output from your employees’ commutes.
As we’ve seen, HR can play a significant role in building a greener business and reducing carbon output.
Businesses across the UK have a vital role to play in helping the UK hit its carbon emissions targets by 2035 too.
Continual assessment and refinement of your carbon emissions output is crucial too. It’s important to remember, building a greener business is a continual process!
So, remember to each year incorporate green objectives and targets into your HR objectives and planning and to continually monitor your business’ progress throughout the year.
The benefits of doing this? As mentioned, improved employee recruitment, improved retention, improved relationships with company stakeholders and a greener planet than before!