Five ways HR can help create sustainable company cultures

To stay relevant and competitive in today’s world, companies across all industries find it is crucial to embrace sustainability to create and become vibrant and sustainable organisations.

More and more investors are increasingly using sustainability-related data as rationale for investment decisions after seeing a strong link between corporate sustainability performance and financial performance.

Analytics platform First Insight has found that 62% of Gen Z shoppers, which it says is today’s largest and most influential consumer segment, prefer to buy from sustainable brands, and a staggering 73% indicate they are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

A study by research and consulting services firm Gartner shows that 85% of investors considered environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) factors in their investments in 2020. Meanwhile, 91% of banks and 24 credit rating agencies monitor ESG, as well as 71% of fixed income investors and more than 90% of insurers.

However, getting all employees in an organisation – from top executives to service staff or factory workers – on board on day-to-day corporate sustainability efforts can be a challenge.

HR personnel can help with that. Here’s how:

  1. Define the company’s goal

HR should help employees understand the company’s goal and define its purpose to inspire them to take initiatives that will have a positive impact on the organisation’s environment as a whole. Analytics and advisory firm Gallup said in a 2019 report that only 41% of US employees know what their companies stand for and what makes them different from competitors. The research firm says the findings were significant as there is a direct link between employees’ understanding of their company’s identity and key measures of business health.

  1. Look for solutions together

Jim Goodnight, co-founder and CEO of analytics software giant SAS, said: “Treat employees like they make a difference, and they will.” Getting employees engaged will help them be motivated by, invested in, and passionate about their work, what they do for the company, and the organisation as a whole. This is where HR steps in. The HR personnel could encourage employees to provide positive, climate-friendly solutions and offer prizes to the top 10 best ideas, offer incentives or introduce volunteering opportunities that the staff might want to look into. This could encourage healthy competition in the workplace.

  1. Don’t just say it, show it

Not many employees can picture what it means when leaders say, “Being a more sustainable company is good for the organisation as a whole.” Providing an economic case will help them see how operating in a more sustainable way can help the firm in the long run. Introduce the case of IBM’s pursuit of energy efficiency, for instance. Through its decades-long energy conservation programme, the company has demonstrated that smart energy management is not only good for the environment, but it is also good for business, because each kilowatt of electricity not consumed lessens carbon emissions and improves the company’s bottom line.

  1. Integrate sustainability into the company’s brand

Studies show that being a more sustainable company will help in reducing business costs, increase bottom line, improve the organisation’s reputation, and attract new customers who value sustainability. To achieve that, the company’s message should be incorporated into its brand. HR can help by having this as one of the criteria in hiring prospective employees, asking them how important it is to them to help the company achieve its sustainable goals. The department can also conduct surveys to get valuable insights to effectively help the firm in providing better services and work culture.

  1. Walk the talk

If the company wants employees to go the extra mile to help it achieve its sustainable ambitions, then it should demonstrate its serious intent and passion by doing, not just saying. Creating a sustainable company culture is tied to the behaviours of top-level management teams, the hiring processes of the HR department, and the perks offered to staff members, among other factors. As John Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once put it, the executive leadership team should be equally committed to the company’s goal and believe in it.

A nonprofit lobbyist association, the Business Roundtable, says that businesses should understand what is needed to decarbonise national and global energy systems, the causes and effects of pollution, how non-communicable diseases are increasing due to unhealthy food and beverages, and how business decisions can adversely affect poverty, inequality, food insecurity, and conflict. Organisations are also encouraged to commit to the principle of ‘do no harm’, as many ‘harms’ caused by businesses, such as pollution, tax evasion, land grabs, and union-busting, are costs imposed on society to squeeze out greater earnings for shareholders.

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Chief of Staff Asia