The role of HR and environmental sustainability

January 13, 2021

It’s difficult to ignore the fact that our world is at a bit of a make-or-break moment in terms of environmental sustainability. Notable names like David Attenborough have done fantastic jobs warning us of the dangers we face if we continue the way we are. But something that is a little more difficult to see, is how HR and environmental sustainability come together. After all, HR is responsible for things like hiring and firing, right? What have they got to do with environmental sustainability? 

I decided to ask a few experts about this. But before you read their opinions, I believe it is important to remind yourself that HR is an important part of your organisation’s success – and therefore, what’s good for the business, should usually be important for HR. 

Environmental sustainability is important to your organisation 

Melissa Rey is the HR manager for executive transport service “drvn”, and says that a business should consider sustainability for two reasons:  

  1. People vote with their wallets. “The public has never been more engaged or considerate of supporting sustainability.” 
  2. Sustainability is good for business. “For companies who have their eye on the long game, sustainability is a large part of that.”  

“We live in an age where consumers care about where their products come from, and how they are packaged” she explains. “And it is always better to be ahead of the curve, than to be hit with a heavy fine for pollution.” 
As the HR manager for her company, Melissa took practices like zero waste and paperless working, and created a sustainability program which her employees could get behind, with a goal of offsetting the carbon her workforce produced.  

More employees are demanding environmental sustainability 

But you don’t even have to think to the end user of your products or services, in order to see why sustainability should be important to HR. In fact, if you take HR’s key ‘customer’ – the employee – then there’s an even bigger case for sustainability. At least that’s the opinion of Allie Golon, Managing Director of IndustryMasters. 

“More new hires and existing employees insist that their employers adopt sustainability options” Allie explains. 

Allie adds that one of HR’s primary functions is to develop opportunities for employees – and that they should look at the carbon footprint this generates. After all, more employees care about this carbon footprint than ever before. 

One such way Allie advises doing this, is by checking what your carbon footprint is in the first place – which you can do right here. You will find that things such as flying employees to training sessions will easily exceed their annual allowance for recommended CO2 emissions.  

The quality of our environment impacts employee wellbeing 

But perhaps the most obvious thing connecting HR and environmental sustainability, is the fact that the quality of our environment affects the quality of life for employees! And not just on a macro level – even down to the micro environment within which we work. 

“HR talks about wellness often” says Tom Paladino, CEO of green building consulting firm Paladino and Company. “But they are excluded from conversations of how the built environment can impact health and performance.” 

Tom says that inviting the human component into the built environment dialogue at the start of any building planning process, allows HR to become change agents and drive significant gains for the business. 

“HR can offer insights on functional design, based on talent, roles, and staff needs” he explains. “Once designed and built, HR is essential in educating occupants on how to properly use the space and promote healthy programs and options to encourage attraction and retention.” 

Ideas for supporting environmental sustainability 

Of course, arguing for HR to support the environment is one thing – but how you should go about it is another blog post in its own right. Luckily, I already published one of these quite a while ago – and you can find it here:  

5 ways HR can support environmental sustainability 

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