Sustainability. It is quite possibly the most urgent issue facing humanity right now. We have long known that companies and other organisations can cause extreme negative consequences on the environment, even if these are unintended. So what can we do about it? And what is sustainability?
A definition of sustainability
“The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”
Thinking beyond profits
Commentators argue most businesses are failing to show leadership on sustainability. Many talk the talk; few walk the walk. But given the sheer scale of humanity’s negative effect on planet Earth, organisations can no longer ignore the negative impact they have.
Less than a decade ago many organisational leaders didn’t think beyond profits and ‘maximising shareholder funds’. But now, consumers are increasingly telling the marketplace they want brands they can trust. Society wants to buy from companies that are responsible and ethical. And employees want to work for organisations that will do the right thing.
If you need proof, consider this: in the US, 33% of consumers choose to buy from brands with a defined social or environmental purpose. And 64% of millennials won’t take a job if that employer doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices.
Sustainability is good for business
We know developing more sustainable practices is important if we want a cleaner future for Earth and healthy, happy employees. But sustainability is also good for business. When your employees care about reducing waste and improving the efficiency of your business, it can pay off… and not just in dollars, but in a company ‘feel good’ factor and a better corporate reputation.
Sustainability is something that every proactive organisation should be considering when developing strategies for improvement and growth. However, when you think of a company “going green,” HR may not come immediately to mind. But here’s the thing… HR needs to play a vital role in implementing sustainable practices. And here’s why:
Sustainability impacts company morale
Companies that focus on sustainability are often better liked by the public. This can affect the way that employees feel about working for a company and even the way that customers or clients feel about doing business with an organisation. Trying to mitigate the negative effects your company has on the environment helps customers and employees feel they are making a difference, too, just by being involved with you.
Good sustainability practices can attract good talent
Promoting your sustainability practices as a core value can help attract top people. Research shows top talent across every industry is interested in engaging with companies that are working to create a better world, and that put sustainability, ethics and the environment before profits. Recruiting such people can enrich your pool of talent, helping to build better teams.
Embedding sustainability practices during onboarding
Because recruitment, onboarding and training are integral functions of HR, HR professionals have the opportunity to ensure sustainability is part of a new employee’s view of the company from the beginning. Talking about your sustainability practices during onboarding and training can help to set the groundwork for more sustainable practices.
What are some sustainability initiatives that HR can help implement?
Define your company’s sustainability practices
Work alongside your leadership team to define your company’s sustainability practices, and how employees can achieve these by working together. For example, develop a recycling programme.
Review your workplace practices
Review all your processes and work practices to make sure they are in line with your sustainability goals. Remember to update your goals regularly and measure them against the societal issues they are aimed at solving.
Many sustainability measures require specialised knowledge such as talking to suppliers about sustainable sourcing. Clearly set out how your company’s sustainability goals have a genuine societal and environmental impact and how each individual can play their part in achieving those goals. Providing training around these goals where you need to.
Reduce waste and recycle
Look for ways staff can reduce waste. For example, help staff become paperless where they can. Give everyone a ‘keeper cup’ to discourage use of disposable coffee cups. Provide recycle bins for paper and recyclable waste.
Seek out employee ideas
Enable all employees to contribute ideas by sending them to their manager or to a dedicated ‘suggestion’ email address.
Add a green section to your newsletter
Include sustainability tips in your staff communications, as this can help encourage green behaviour. Suggestions for waste reduction, lower energy use and recycling programmes can be a simple yet effective addition.
Incorporate sustainability goals into performance reviews and include them as an objective for employees, with clear incentives attached to them. Offering a reward programme will not only deliver tangible and measurable business gains, but will also send the message that your sustainability goals are just as important as any other KPI.
Provide volunteering opportunities
Let employees volunteer for a charity of their choice with paid time off. This could be as simple as a few days a year but can help your staff feel good about giving back.
Share sustainability successes
If you find ways to improve energy usage, reduce waste or you win any sustainable gain, share these successes (see newsletter tip above). This sends a positive message to other employees about maintaining an efficient environment.
Make it fun and social and always say thank you
Sustainability may be a duty, but that doesn’t mean those who fulfil it don’t deserve recognition. In fact, it makes it even more critical that employees feel truly good about sustainable action.
Employees are a company’s primary stakeholders because they are ‘the company’. Having them as advocates in making the company sustainable will go a long way to help you achieve your goals.
Sustainability benefits us all
Taking a more sustainable view of your business can help drive employee engagement and retention. It can also create a culture of innovation and a company brand that employees, potential recruits and customers can identify with.
Ultimately, candidates and customers alike are attracted to organisations that care about meeting the needs of people today without compromising the needs of those who will come after us. And this comes down to developing the corporate leadership we need today to create the future we want tomorrow.
A commitment to sustainability is a smart business strategy long-term. But it is also the right thing to do. How are you stepping up?