Why HR needs to have a green agenda

With COP26 around the corner, People Management looks at why and how firms need to be addressing climate change

WIth the next round of international climate change talks, COP26, due to kick off in Glasgow this weekend, the impact of climate change has been on many people’s minds – including that of businesses’. Just this week, more than 200 firms including BT, Salesforce, GSK, Selfridges and Hewlett Packard have signed up to the Climate Pledge to reach Net Zero by 2040.

But for many, and particularly younger people, climate change isn’t just something they consider when it’s in the news or every time there’s a UN conference on the issue. It’s something they consider when they make life decisions about what they eat, how they travel and where they choose to work.

A poll of 1,000 young people, carried out by GetMyFirstJob.co.uk website, revealed that a third (33 per cent) believe climate change has affected how they search for opportunities. Of this group, 68 per cent said they would like to work for an employer that is doing something positive for the future of the planet, while 29 per cent said they would prefer not to work for an organisation they believe is causing harm to the climate or the environment.

Kate Shoesmith, deputy CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said the figures signposted that companies’ green credentials are crucial for attracting candidates. 

“Young people will be especially impacted by climate change in the coming years, so it is no surprise that environmental commitments would be important to them in their working lives as well as personally,” she told People Management

HR and talent teams also need to be aware of this when developing their company’s employer brand as it could make the difference when trying to fill vacancies, especially during the current labour shortages, she said.

“This also gives HR directors a reason to push environmental responsibility up the agenda at the leadership level, given the impact it will have on a business’s ability to hire staff.”

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The research found that, out of all those polled, three-quarters (76 per cent) believe employers could do a better job at explaining their commitments to the environment, with two in five (42 per cent) saying they would like firms to tell them more about their green commitments during the job application process.

Gudrun Cartwright, climate action director at Business in the Community (BITC), warned that “if companies don’t enable active engagement in developing and implementing their climate action plans, they risk haemorrhaging talent”.

HR professionals have a “critical role” to play in ensuring that jobs are designed so employees feel empowered to shape and drive climate action, have the skills they need to be effective and are rewarded through systems that incorporate progress to tackle the climate crisis as key performance indicators, Cartwright said.

But, she warned: “People, particularly young workers, really care about the steps that their employers are taking to tackle the climate crisis and their frustration will only get stronger as the need for action intensifies.”

Professor Nicholas Clarke, deputy dean of Kent Business School and professor of organisational behaviour and HR management at the University of Kent, added that “responsible leadership” can come from addressing climate action.

What all the firms that have signed the Climate Pledge have in common is that they integrate sustainability into every role and engage employees with the company’s agenda, he said. This means articulating a clear set of sustainability goals, aligning employee values with corporate values, appointing sustainability champions, supporting transformational change and involving all employees in their mission.

Karen Handley, head of future careers at Virgin Media, added that it is “vitally important” for firms to be connected to what matters to job seekers in order to attract top talent. “Employers that adapt their business strategy to create a lasting positive impact on the communities they serve while accelerating action on climate change will be those best able to successfully attract high potential candidates,” she explained.