Guest writer Adam Clarke, from CoachHub, discusses the importance of HR in driving business sustainability strategies internally and how people development programmes can benefit the planet as much as the workforce.
At this time of year, all eyes are on the United Nations’ Annual Climate Change Conference. The event brings together government stakeholders from across the world to collaborate on efforts to confront the climate crisis. During this time, businesses in every sector are equally reminded of the urgency with which climate change must be tackled.
When businesses think about sustainability, HR may not be the first department to come to mind. Yet, ultimately, the environmental impact of an organisation is driven by its people. This means that HR departments have a vital role to play in motivating workforces to reduce their climate impact. HR must therefore be brought on board with any environmental transformation programme in its early stages.
Action on climate change is a business necessity
Organisations are coming under pressure from all stakeholders to make their operations more sustainable. For example, over two thirds (68%) of people are more willing to accept job offers from organisations that they consider to be environmentally sustainable. Within the context of the ever-present skills shortage, businesses simply cannot afford a lack of action on climate change.
Equally, businesses have a financial imperative to become more environmentally friendly. Almost half (44%) of businesses state that they have enjoyed improved profitability due to their sustainability programmes, with a range of potential reasons behind these boosted profits. For instance, encouraging sustainable operations can increase efficiencies, as when organisations use fewer resources, they can drive down costs.
Additionally, taking proactive action on climate change can mitigate future financial risks. Whilst the climate emergency may not feel like an urgent threat in the UK, the latest Climate Change Risk Assessment report details some shocking potential risks to human life. For instance, unless further action is taken, annual damages from flooding caused by global warming will increase by at least 40% by 2080. Such damages not only have a financial impact on households and businesses, but could result in health risks and even danger to life. The direct incentive for businesses to implement sustainability strategies is clear.
Engaging HR to design and execute an effective sustainability strategy
Introducing a new strategy on climate change, or perhaps revamping an existing strategy, represents a significant organisational transformation. In many cases, organisations focus first on systems and operations, seeing their people as an afterthought. Yet, it’s the people within the organisation that must adapt to these new approaches. When leadership mandates significant change to the routines and behaviours of their workforce, they need workforce buy-in to succeed. This is where HR comes in.
HR teams are the drivers of internal communications. From an employee’s first day on the job, they engage with HR for everything from onboarding to ongoing learning and development. As such, HR has a central role to play in encouraging employees to act in an environmentally friendly manner in their day-to-day work. This can include providing learning modules on the importance of sustainability, or offering digital approaches to professional development rather than recommending travelling for face-to-face development opportunities.
Beyond everyday responsibilities, HR has a key strategic role to play in a business’ sustainability strategy too. Given that employees are prioritising the environment when selecting a company to work for, they are likely to look for proof of continued organisational commitments to sustainability throughout their time with an organisation. It is up to HR then to communicate how the business as a whole is making progress on their environmental commitments, demonstrating real change in how these commitments are implemented.
Encouraging climate-friendly people development
Today’s employees are also seeking a commitment to people development from their employer. Three-quarters (74%) of employees feel that they can’t reach their full potential at work due to a lack of development opportunities. In today’s labour market, where people move from job to job more freely than in the past, this is bad news. Organisations could be at risk of losing out on top talent if they do not have a competitive people development offering for their workforce.
Advancements in digitisation mean that people development can now form part of an organisation’s sustainability strategy. Gone are the days of face-to-face courses that employees must travel long distances to attend. Staff can now connect remotely to learning and development programmes, with a significantly reduced climate impact.
People development programmes can also act as a support as a business progresses towards environmental sustainability. For example, digital coaching can help people incorporate new values, ways of working and ways of thinking. These capabilities are all crucial during moments of organisational transformation, such as that of the journey towards sustainable operations. Digital coaching also gives employees the skills they need to drive this organisational change forward with grace and confidence.
The time is now for a sustainability strategy that encompasses every department of a business. As the climate crisis rages on, organisations must realise the importance of a long-term, consistent approach to sustainability. HR departments have a vital role to play, not only in communicating about sustainability, but in offering people development programmes that benefit the planet as much as the workforce.
About the Author
Adam Clarke is an award-winning and experienced EMEA business leader specialising in scaling businesses at hyper-growth levels. He has a passion for working at pace, developing people, coaching, building fun, passionate and engaged cultures and fostering diversity and inclusion. Adam joined CoachHub as Vice President UK & Ireland in March 2022, leading the revenue strategy and execution in the region.
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