LEARN FROM THE EXTINCTION REBELLION?
Environmentally minded business isn't just about saving the planet - it has people benefits too
Words by Sophie Parrott| Design by Theo Griffin
Over the last few months climate change has topped the news agenda. Protests made headlines as, most notably, Extinction Rebellion (XR), the non-violent action group, sought to increase awareness of impending environmental and ecological collapse. Amongst other efforts, activists disrupted transport networks and glued themselves to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s front gate. Whilst their undertakings received mixed reviews, their cause, according to research, strikes a chord with today’s workforce. New figures from BRITA Professional cites environmental sustainability as an important concern of employees. Therefore, should savvy employers be asking if there is a way they could action against this – with potential to be a more sustainable business, better attract talent, and retain key hires?
Firstly, organisations need to consider who in their workforce is most interested in climate action. BRITA research found that younger generations better value the sustainability credentials of their employer, with 86% saying that they would stay with their employer for longer if they reported on how they were lowering their carbon footprint. This means employers should consider how they might internally market environmental and sustainability causes to their workforce.
Aside from being of interest to employees, the environmental and sustainability publication Environmental Leader explained that sustainable employers can enhance brand image and heighten their competitive advantage. Yet, advertising a firm as being environmentally-minded will fall flat if it is nothing more than a branding exercise – in this month’s Compensation & Benefits feature Santander’s CHRO explains that employers who do ‘purposeful branding’ without following through will be seen to be “jumping on the bandwagon”.
Juliet Silvester, Head of Responsible Business at Fujitsu understands this. She explains that sustainability is ingrained into the computing company’s DNA. “We built our first factory in Kawasaki in the 1940s. The Japanese term is 自然と調和する(Shizen to chōwa suru) but the translation is ‘In harmony with nature’ so even before words such as sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) or business responsibility were being considered, Fujitsu was conscious that it was going to be erecting a factory in an urban area where lots of people lived.” She explains that Fujitsu, keen to lessen the physical impact of their factory on the local community, planted trees to cover the building. Over 80 years they grew tall enough to hide the building
Fast-forward to the present day and Silvester explains that Fujitsu are now thinking about sustainability in global terms - supporting the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which the intragovernmental organisation describe as existing to combat global problems – such as poverty, gender inequality, health and wellbeing, education, hunger and climate action. The goals that Fujitsu are most focused on relate to reducing hunger, improving health and wellbeing, and making cities and communities more sustainable. This translates into internal operations where Fujitsu look to introduce sustainable practices. “We’ve introduced solar panels, in one of our UK sites we’re looking at bio-diversity, and we’ve got our own beehives so that we can protect the bees. We’ve got initiative after initiative to make sure we’re continuing to make a difference where we can,” she adds.
Fujitsu aren’t alone in their thinking. Jo Davis, Group HR Director at Mitie believes it is no longer acceptable for businesses to solely prioritise commercial success over environmental responsibility. “As a large employer of 54,000 employees, we have a huge responsibility, to our employees and their families, to ensure that our business is conducted in a socially responsible way and we have lots of great initiatives underway to deliver real sustainable businesses improvements in 2030,” she says.
Yet, some research suggests that sustainable initiatives needn’t hit the bottom line. Consultancy Challenge Advisory found that 62% of executives consider sustainability strategies as necessary, not only to be competitive, but to withstand the future of work. With Mitie interested in the UN’s gender equality targets, the benefits don’t stop at improving the odds for women in work; there is vast amounts of reporting on how better gender equality in the workforce can benefit a firm’s coffers. The facilities management firm aren’t likely to have closed their gender pay gap by over two per cent, their gender bonus gap by almost a quarter, and moved to equal representation of men and women on their Board without these changes having a genuine commercial benefit.
For HR, whatever sustainability goal it is they are chasing, be it environmental or gender-focused, they can’t go it alone. Rebekah Wallis, Director of People and Corporate Responsibility at Ricoh UK says that whilst “HR has a fundamental role to play in businesses being sustainable; that’s not just on their own, it can often be in collaboration with other areas of the business.” However, HR does have a leading role. “HR can strongly influence people’s behaviours through the working culture in terms of policies and processes. If you set [sustainability] policies in place where the things put in place are supported by learning, it can actually shape behaviours and mindsets.”
Therefore, for HR to benefit the environment, employer business goals and employees, they should continually assess their internal and external operations to see where improvements can be made and where they can have a positive impact in a genuine way. Although HR plays a pivotal role in driving this initiative forward the responsibility should be shared with the Board, and across other areas of the business.