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Colborn’s Corner: Green HR?

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Quentin Colborn
With campaigning for the local elections hotting up, Colborn’s Corner addresses one of the issues that appears to be coming to the fore – the environment.


It’s strange to think that with the current debate on the Health Service, Iraq and so on the key issues emerging for the local elections seems to be that of the environment. Now I’m not for one minute saying that the environment is not important, if the world were a business, it is something that would be on the long term strategic agenda.

And while I’m sure there are some very big and high profile exceptions to this, I have a view that most organisations will place commitment to the environment on a par with the commitments given to people with disabilities. Many annual reports will have a phrase stating they give full and fair consideration to employees and potential employees with disabilities – and I’m sure that many say and do much more than this, but the same is often said about the environment – often with little meat behind it all.

But what if organisations did take their commitment to the environment seriously? What would this all mean to the world of HR? Let’s think the unthinkable! I’m not saying I agree with all these ideas, but it could be worth thinking about.

Recruitment:
We currently operate within an open recruitment market, people are free to travel where they like to work, but do we ever think of the environmental aspects of travel to work? What would happen to organisations if they only recruited people who lived within a radius of say 15 miles, unless they used public transport? What would that do for traffic congestion? How limiting would it be for recruitment?

Homeworking:
Mention this topic and some line managers will start foaming at the mouth and mutter ‘Skivers charter’ – but what is the reality? How many of us have looked objectively at the cost benefits of employees working from home? Of course for some, home can simply be a base of operations, but for others there can be commercial benefits to be had by having employees based at home.

There are lots of ‘people’ issues as well of course, none the least the need for human interaction between staff. From an environmental perspective there may be a reduction in travel pollution, measured against that though there may be an increase in heating when a whole house is kept warm for the sake of a solitary worker at home.

Company cars:
The big topic! There are of course some organisations that not only provide company cars but also unlimited free fuel. Once you have had the tax charge for free fuel, where’s the incentive to minimise the usage? I think it’s the only benefit where organisations say ‘help yourself, have as much as you want!’ I believe that free fuel for private usage is not only bad for the environment, but also bad in reward terms when the employee can choose what size cheque to write! What about types of car? I would be interested to hear of organisations who have put green cars on their company car lists. What was your experience of take-up?

The paperless office?
Will we ever get there? I doubt it! In some quarters HR has the reputation for generating paper and administration work, but how often do we think green and look to change the rules? Many organisations will insist on keeping voluminous paper files, but could some of the approvals and authorisations they contain be managed electronically with no need for paper? Most of us are used to using a PIN and paying for items remotely, so why not approve salary increases and submit SSP forms electronically? Technically it can all be done (and I’m sure it is in some places), but when will we take steps to make our processes less dependent on paper and the whole range of copies and printers?

What do you think? Is it all pie in the sky nonsense or does HR have a role to play? Who has introduced green policies – incentivising cycling to work, delisting cars from the company list on account of their emissions? Let’s hear your views!

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant who supports organisations with a wide range of HR activities. To contact him T: 01376 571360 or e-mail him at [email protected]

Colborn’s Corner: series articles

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