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Jenny Herald


VP of Product Evangelism

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Companies need greater sustainability alignment — here’s how HR can help

Workers are increasingly demanding that their companies take action on climate change and HR is well-placed to help keep things on track.
Green space with woman looking outwards sustainability ecology

Businesses are in the spotlight to reduce the environmental impact of their operations, and it’s not just policymakers, regulators, consumers, and investors applying the pressure.

Over one-third of UK employees say they would look for a new job if their company doesn’t take meaningful steps to address climate change. Meanwhile, 60% of Gen Z job seekers would prefer to work for a company with clear strategies for lowering their carbon footprint over one that doesn’t.

HR can help move the needle on corporate environmental goals, talent recruitment, and retention

But the onus to implement climate action policies that resonate with employees isn’t only on decision-makers. The success of sustainability strategies and engagement of purpose-driven employees also depends on HR teams. By establishing an organisation-wide culture that prioritises sustainability, HR can help move the needle on corporate environmental goals, talent recruitment, and retention.

An uneasy climate around corporate environmentalism

Many businesses make climate pledges or set ambitious goals for reducing emissions, but few achieve tangible outcomes. When C-suite and senior executives were asked what barriers they face in achieving long-term sustainability goals, two of the most frequently cited answers included lack of strategic alignment and insufficient organisational culture or mindset.

Business leaders are finding that corporate sustainability can’t be just an executive-level issue. Forming a greener business affects every aspect of an organisation, so climate initiatives are sure to disappoint — and introduce unnecessary risk — if environmental strategies don’t include individual roles and responsibilities across the organisation.

Worse yet, employees will take poor environmental outcomes and the lack of company-wide involvement as a sign that leaders are apathetic about combating climate change. And that sentiment could lead to attrition among the 70% of workers who say their company must operate with net-zero emissions.

HR must connect executive-level priorities to employee-level engagement. By addressing climate action as a matter of company culture, HR professionals can be the guiding presence that creates alignment on sustainability work.

Three steps for supporting organisational sustainability goals

Climate action strategies have many moving parts. But even the most carefully crafted plans won’t create results without a shared vision and organisational culture that drives commitment to sustainability. The connection between strategy and execution happens through HR efforts to give workers meaningful and fulfilling job experiences.

Here are three tips HR teams can use to engage employees with their company’s pledges to drive meaningful progress on green initiatives.

1. Create alignment on climate strategy and responsibilities

A company culture that prioritises sustainability starts with employees understanding the purpose of corporate environmentalism and their role in achieving climate action initiatives. HR can foster this alignment by including sustainability as a discussion item in all-staff meetings. Business leaders will have the opportunity to demonstrate the company’s dedication to the cause by sharing climate-related business goals and the strategies they’ve adopted to achieve them.

Climate education programs can then fill in any knowledge gaps employees have so they can move from aspiration to action. Companies can also support their sustainability agendas by building climate awareness in functional areas such as R&D and supply chain management. Training topics can range from guidance on team-specific expectations for sustainability work to updates about the company’s climate action strategies.

Future hires will need to be aligned on sustainability missions, too. The easiest way to do this is to appeal to candidates who fit into an environmentally-minded culture. Climate-conscious job seekers will be more likely to apply to a position if the posting emphasises the company’s environmental mission. Subsequent interviews then allow candidates to show if they’re a good cultural fit and capable of handling climate-directed responsibilities.

Communication is a two-way street, and employees are sure to have comments, questions, or suggestions on climate strategies

2. Keep communication open

Culture-building is an ongoing process. Even when employees are aligned on a sustainability mission, they won’t remain invested unless there’s consistent accountability and a sense of ownership over their work. HR can partner with other parts of the business to create a unified organisational voice around sustainability efforts and promote cross-functional engagement with ongoing climate initiatives.

For example, all-company status meetings or internal newsletters are great platforms to give updates on environmental goals and acknowledge people doing exemplary work on climate initiatives. Employees will feel much more engaged when they’re recognised and they can see the impact of their efforts.

But communication is a two-way street, and employees are sure to have comments, questions, or suggestions on climate strategies. HR teams can set up pulse surveys, Q&As with company leaders, or a suggestion box on an employee hub to ensure employees’ voices are heard. Creating an open dialogue between employees and decision-makers engages employees, reminds them that sustainability is a top business priority, and further empowers an environmentally minded corporate culture.

3. Employ the OKR method

Organisational alignment on climate action is only one part of the equation — the other is execution. Every department will have its role in supporting environmentally responsible business operations, but a successful climate action strategy takes coordinated and coherent cross-organisational effort. The Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology is a goal-setting framework that guides unit-level sustainability activities to create alignment on large-scale climate initiatives.

The OKR framework is built around a set goal (Objective) and several criteria that measure progress toward that goal (Key Results). While this may sound too basic of a goal-setting structure, its simplicity provides two distinct strengths. The first is its scalability — this framework applies to both organisation-wide initiatives and individual team goals. The second is its connectivity. Smaller-scale OKRs at the unit and individual levels function as building blocks for higher-level initiatives. This way, all teams advance shared objectives regardless of roles or responsibilities.

For example, an HR objective like ‘establish a culture that prioritises environmental sustainability’ can connect to ‘expand the company’s recycling program’. A culture that empowers employees to be more mindful of their carbon footprints will naturally garner support for recycling programs. In turn, these two objectives can help advance a larger initiative to reduce waste from day-to-day operations. The OKR framework ensures strategic applications for culture-building efforts and accountability measures for achieving key outcomes.

Employees and decision-makers must be aligned on climate action strategies and work together to advance environmental goals

Better organisational alignment, better climate action

Business leaders may be the ones under scrutiny to adopt more sustainable practices, but it takes everyone’s support to create and maintain an environmentally responsible organisation.

Employees and decision-makers must be aligned on climate action strategies and work together to advance environmental goals. Company-wide cooperation on sustainability will lead to greener business practices and ultimately benefit employee retention, recruitment, and engagement. HR professionals are pivotal figures in creating that cooperation, and the OKR method is the guiding principle that will drive businesses toward progress on their climate goals.

Interested in this topic? Read Why a solid sustainability strategy is a must in 2022.

One Response

  1. After reading this article,
    After reading this article, it is apparent that employees are driving a change within companies to act in becoming more environmentally friendly. Many leaders within businesses have seen that forming a greener business needs to involve every part of an organization. One interesting statistic mentioned within the article is that 70% of workers want their organization to have net zero emissions from operations. When looking at Human Resources, can be used to bridge the gap between the executive’s priorities and initiatives and employee engagement. Human Resources can be used as a guide to work on the companies and is essential in supporting and making sustainability goals accomplishable. Ensuring that the company has the connection between the strategy and execution occurs in Human Resources by helping employees have fulfilling jobs. One suggestion mentioned is to create alignment on strategy and responsibilities by illustrating to employees the purpose and importance of sustainability and environmentalism. Education programs about environmentalism can also educate employees that may be lacking information or inspire others. When hiring future employees will also need to be aligned with sustainability efforts. Communication is also essential in this process. For a sustainability mission to be effective employees, executives, and human resources need to be on the same page.

Author Profile Picture
Jenny Herald

VP of Product Evangelism

Read more from Jenny Herald

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