There is a growing number of sustainability professionals within both large and small UK businesses; however, there is still a lack of clarity over where responsibility lies at many firms, according to new research.
According to a survey conducted by British recruitment and human resources services Hays, around a third of UK firms now have a dedicated sustainability team within their business, suggesting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are fast becoming integral to the inner workings of corporations.
The survey of more than 3,200 UK-based professionals was conducted in order to gain insight into how the size of an organisation might impact its sustainability management and responsibilities. The findings revealed that overall, 33% of respondents had some form of a sustainability team within their business.
When broken down, 26% said their organisation had a small, dedicated team in charge of overseeing sustainability, whereas only 7% said they had a large team dedicated to the same goal.
Out of those with smaller sustainability teams, a third said they worked for a very large organisation with more than 1,000 staff, while 29% were from a company with between 251 and 1,000 employees. A further 23% of these respondents said they worked for medium-sized firms – classed in the survey as having between 51 and 250 employees – while only 16% said they belonged to a small company of less than 50 staff.
20% of respondents claimed a single member of staff was responsible for sustainability efforts with support from colleagues in different parts of the company to manage sustainability issues within their businesses. Of these, 24% were part of a small organisation, 20% were from a medium-sized corporation and 22% were from a large organisation.
Adoption of sustainability expertise into boards has been slow, but the study provides hope here, with 27% of respondents saying they had a main board director at their organisation whose sole responsibility is sustainability.
Despite the growing importance of sustainability initiatives in UK businesses, 29% of respondents said their organisation had no current department dedicated to sustainability, and that any issues were managed by one or more people alongside other separate responsibilities. More worryingly, a further 17% said they were not sure who was in charge of managing sustainability in their organisation. This included around a fifth of respondents who were part of very large organisations and 16% who were from medium-sized businesses.
Accountability for sustainability
10% of survey respondents said board-level accountability for sustainability lay with their human resources department, while around 8% said compliance and health & safety were responsible. A further 8% stated that responsibility lay with estates and property departments, whilst 7% said sustainability was managed by the operations department and 4% said responsibility fell in the finance department.
Hays concluded both employers and professionals still lacked clarity over who was responsible for sustainability within their organisation. Over a quarter of respondents said they were not sure who looked after sustainability within their business, the largest proportion of which – 33% – said they were from a very large organisation, followed by 29% from a large organisation.
Paul Gosling, a director at Hays specialising in sustainability, said it was promising to see sustainability issues rising up the business agenda, but called for more clarity from employers on who is responsible for driving sustainability programmes and how they communicate such strategies with staff.
“Today it is about recognising the value of people with specialist expertise who can advise organisations and drive the right activity, in order to meet their sustainability goals,” he said. “Ultimately, having a dedicated team is the way forward. As well as this, employers need to effectively communicate their sustainability strategy.
“There are real benefits of having a clear and focused sustainability agenda. Not only is it the right thing to do, but there’s also a huge opportunity to ensure you are attracting and retaining the best talent. As revealed in our research, 78% of professionals say an organisation’s commitment to sustainability is crucial when considering a new role.”
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