The spotlight is on climate change as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) approaches, kicking off on 31st October. Leaders from around the world will be gathering to discuss accelerating action towards climate change mitigation goals.
Environmentalists around the globe hope it will reaffirm commitment to a shared cause and set a precedent that helps those working on the ground succeed in driving real change.
Albeit on a smaller scale, this role in setting a framework for success is also an important one for any organisation’s HR team – hearing challenges, uniting diverse groups behind a shared mission, and creating a landscape that will help them thrive.
An HR team is fundamental to setting culture but is not always the first corporate function that comes to mind when you think about the climate. So, when the worlds of sustainability and business come to meet, how can a HR team help foster a climate-conscious culture?
It could be helpful to team up with your Communications team and develop a plan to engage your staff on climate change.
Connecting on climate
An important element to consider is how you keep your staff base up to date on what’s happening in the world.
What do you want to tell them about the climate crisis? Does the work of your organisation combat or address the challenges presented by climate change at all?
It could be helpful to team up with your Communications team and develop a plan to engage your staff on climate change. They may have ideas for how to update staff more regularly and effectively on this topic.
For example, at the Soil Association, we send a fortnightly internal e-news updating on the activity in the organisation. This will often include relevant climate change news updates, the organisation’s thoughts on these, and details on how to get involved with any ongoing climate change campaigns.
Ahead of COP26, we are running a Pledge for our Planet campaign; this is aimed at an external audience, but we are strongly encouraging employees to engage with this key external moment and live our values by joining in and pledging to take sustainable actions in their day-to-day lives as well.
A plethora of recent polls have shown that many people are concerned about climate change; showing your employees you care about the climate crisis may help inspire a sense of comradery with, and maybe even loyalty to, a principled organisation.
Action and advocates
As well as keeping staff up to date, it’s important to make them feel empowered to take action.
This doesn’t just mean campaigning, there are a number of ways staff can get involved. For example, do you have passionate environmentalists in your organisation? Perhaps they would welcome the opportunity to play a sustainability leadership role or would like to set up an environmental working group.
Given the right forum, these natural advocates could discuss anything from office recycling to volunteer days with sustainable organisations or charities. Environmental support could also form a staple part of your social calendar if staff nominated an environmental charity to raise money for across the year. This would be an easy and meaningful way to show dedication to this cause and embed a climate-conscious culture.
Could you go paperless? Or are there any transport policies you could review to better support sustainable travel?
Whether any bright ideas come out of an employee working group, an HR team session or even an HR sector blog, the HR team can take these forward to influence senior leaders, and champion changes to help make the organisation more sustainable.
For example, could you go paperless? Or are there any transport policies you could review to better support sustainable travel?
Even slight changes to company policy could have a drastic impact on the organisation’s carbon footprint. As well as supporting the climate, this type of activity will be increasingly important for employer image as sustainability reporting becomes more commonplace in the future.
Discussing important issues like climate change with staff and senior leaders is key, but, when doing this, it’s crucial to consider the impact this may have on their wellbeing.
The state of the world is a frightening topic for many, and the full scale of the impacts of climate change cannot be addressed by any individual alone.
So, when discussing the issues, sharing only relevant information and practical ways they can get involved will help keep morale high.
It’s also vital to make sure, as HR professionals, we’re aware of the emotional toll of these topics, and the emotive journey they may take individuals on. Always signpost to places to get support if staff are feeling challenged emotionally, such as employee assistance programme providers.
We can all play an important role in tackling the climate crisis. A few small but deliberate changes will help employees see your organisation cares, understand what they can do, and feel excited about the opportunities to build better together.
The Soil Association is the charity that digs deeper to transform the way we eat, farm and care for our natural world. Find out more about them, and the work they’re doing at COP26.