ESG & CSR concerns | Too few leaders factor sustainability into business decisions, HR professionals say

Too few leaders factor sustainability into business decisions, HR professionals say

Around 43% of business leaders still do not factor sustainability into their business decisions, according to a new survey of HR professionals.

The survey, conducted among nearly 100 HR professionals by HR recruitment firm, Wade Macdonald, reveals that while sustainability does influence internal policies and practices in the workplace, it is not carried over externally. The number of respondents was also far lower than for previous surveys by Wade Macdonald, who usually receive around 850 survey responses, suggesting sustainability is rarely see as a priority among HR professionals, too.

Caterina Glenn, Director of HR Division at Wade Macdonald, was not surprised by the survey result, commenting: “It seems that the business community’s responsibility to implement green policies has been accepted more by the public than by businesses themselves. Sustainability is a societal priority, but there is often little financial or legal incentive for leaders to make sustainable business decisions.”

The CIPD argues that Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is an essential responsibility of HR departments, and ethical business strategy is a must. HR professionals play the essential ‘middle’ role that allows employees to communicate their concerns and expectations with upper management.

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With green change on the horizon in 2024, Wade Macdonald sought to determine the extent to which sustainability influences business policies and decisions from an HR perspective.

80% of respondents to the survey reported that their workplace has introduced internal sustainability policies, such as encouraging recycling or cycling to work, or partnering with non-profits to take part in beach cleans, conservation work or contributing to food banks.

However, sustainable policies are less commonly implemented externally, such as the development of business partnerships or projects, that would alter the organisation’s direction towards becoming sustainable in the future.

Glenn continued: “Internal sustainable policies are a simple way to make a difference and create a stronger company culture, both important goals. But external policies cost more and may do harm to businesses, especially those that are small or medium sized, in the short term.”

The responsibility for implementing green policies also seems to exist internally – 91 per cent of respondents believe sustainability in the workplace is a joint responsibility between employees and employers, with only 19 per cent believing green policies should be solely employer-led.

Glenn added: “A business leader’s first responsibility is to their employees and the business to keep it afloat. During a cost-of-living crisis and a volatile business environment, many employers will be focusing on employee priorities, like salary increases and flexibility, over pursuing a new sustainable business direction. Internal policies allow them to continue their sustainability drive and offers their employees the opportunity to help steer the business.”

However, a new brand of climate action is emerging, with the number of green jobs and infrastructure expected to increase in 2024. 2023 saw significant changes in the roles of HR professionals, including greater emphasis placed on the value of Employee Relations Managers and increased influence by HR leaders in key business decisions.

Glenn continued: “We are expecting the rise in internal green policies to feed into HR roles, with green hiring, green training and green compensation eventually playing a greater role within the HR remit. More climate legislation is being introduced or pursued by politicians and campaigners, and ethical business practice, especially the treatment of employees, is very much in the spotlight.

“Businesses, and HR professionals in particular, should prepare for this. Our survey demonstrates that employees are willing to take an active role in implementing and participating in sustainable policies. They will be holding their employers to account and seeking opportunities for their workplace to go greener in the future.”

Read the full report here.

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