Human Resources

7 Ways HR Can Help Build Net Zero Organisations

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If we continue with our current rates of carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation and environmental destruction, it’s likely that temperatures will rise by around 2.7°C by the end of the century. This could mean the deaths of millions of people in developing countries and cause global disruption, food shortages and unrest.

Along with everyone else in society, businesses and organisations have to play their part in reducing emissions and in becoming net-zero— we owe it to the world.

There is some good news though. We have all the tools we need at our fingertips to stop a calamity like this from happening, and the solution we need is a fairly simple one: we just need more balance. 


What is net-zero?

First, a quick science lesson. Net-zero is a way of describing a perfect balance between the amount of greenhouse gases that we emit and the amount removed or neutralised from the environment.

When we burn fossil fuels, we create emissions made up of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). These gases collect in the atmosphere and form a thicket blanket around the earth, trapping more of the heat from the sun and causing the overall temperature of the world to rise. This is called the ‘greenhouse effect’ or global warming.

Net-zero is one method of counteracting it.

By removing CO2 from the environment through natural measures like reforestation (planting trees) and habitat creation, and through eliminating harmful emissions by improving energy efficiency, being more mindful with our energy use, and thinking sustainably, we can effectively cancel out the warming effect of the greenhouse gases.


Why should HR lead the net-zero charge?

The more cynical among you might be asking, what does this have to do with human resources? Well, the answer is quite a lot.

HR departments have direct control over key business areas that influence the day-to-day operations of a company like performance management, rewards and company culture. These are essential tools for helping leverage a change in values, making HR departments well placed to encourage a commitment to net-zeros an integral part of the organisation.

Here are some of the most effective ways that you can build a net-zero culture at your own organisation.


 

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1.    Embed net-zero in your company values, principles and culture

If you want to stand any chance of success in building net-zero ambitions at your company, you’ll need to make sure that sustainability is built into the core values of what your organisation stands for.

That’s because values are one of the essential elements that binds an organisation together. A company’s values are the very reason it exists and they inform most things about how a business operates — from strategy decisions and marketing, through to day-to-day operations.

Brent Gleeson, in a fascinating article for Forbes on company values and culture, describes company culture succinctly as, ‘the collective result of how people on the team think and behave, their shared values and how they react to internal and external stimuli.’ For Gleeson, values should inform the behaviour of a company and how it makes decisions to fulfil its goals.

If you can embed sustainability, an awareness of climate change, and our collective (and corporate!) responsibility to solve the climate crisis into your company’s culture, you’ll find it a lot easier to motivate employees to achieve your net-zero objectives of their own accord, rather than having to harrang them.


2. Encourage remote/hybrid working wherever you can

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that remote working is good for the environment.

Recent statistics from the UK Government, cited in the Transport and Environment Statistics 2021 Annual report’, show that domestic travel — of which commuting to and from jobs takes up a significant part — produced 122 MtCO2 e (million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2019. That’s 27% of the UK’s total C02 emissions, making domestic travel the most emitting sector in the UK.

Not only will you be saving emissions from your employees’ journeys, you’ll also be saving it in the form of energy that won’t be used in your office, like lighting, heating and air-conditioning. If your office transitions to remote work completely, you could make significant savings by not having to pay for office space too.


3. Design environmental and sustainability rewards

If you’re trying to change a company’s approach to sustainability, the carrot generally works better than the stick. In other words, you’ll find that people will respond better to your attempts to embed net-zero in an organisation with encouragement rather than with discipline.

Designing environmental and sustainability-focused rewards and achievements is a useful way to build that encouragement and positive reinforcement. Measures like this have been shown to improve productivity too. 

Creating dedicated awards to encourage net-zero can be as simple or as complicated as you want. Use your creativity to think about your net-zero strategy, the behaviours that you need to encourage and how a particular award or reward could encourage a change in behaviour from others.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that employees in your organisation use a lot of carboard or plastic cups in the coffee machine, and you want to improve sustainability in your organisation. You could create an award for the person who recycles the most in a year, along with a prize like extra holiday, a gift voucher or a cash bonus.

Maybe you want to reduce the emissions that your employees contribute to by driving into work? You could implement a cycle-to-work or car-share scheme and institute rewards for everyone who gets a sustainable form of transport to and from work.


 

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4. Support the creation of a dedicated net-zero strategy

Devising a dedicated net-zero strategy is absolutely essential if your organisation is serious about becoming carbon neutral.

Whilst human resources obviously can’t create the entire document, it can help to inform that process with specialist data and expertise on people management, and also play a practical role in encouraging collaboration between different departments.

Focused on everything to do with people in an organisation, human resources is well placed to support senior management in crafting a dedicated net-zero strategy.

The World Economic Forum has some useful advice for companies looking to set and achieve net-zero targets. They recommend that companies adopt a four pronged approach to setting up a dedicated strategy:

  1. Define targets — Identify the emissions that your company creates and where they could be reduced
  2. Set strategy — Set your net-zero commitment, set interim goals and determine what steps you’ll take to get there
  3. Implement — Take action consistent with your targets
  4. Publish and track progress —Measure and track your progress, make your results public and adjust your actions, as required

5. Offer dedicated training and development

Investing in your training and development programmes will ensure that your employees have the right information and skills to actually help a business achieve net-zero.

When it comes to encouraging sustainability, and even just talking about climate change, there can often be a lot of jargon and buzz words to decipher. This can put a lot of people off finding out more about a subject. To encourage employee buy-in, make a subject as accessible, and as interesting as possible. A dedicated training and development programme, focused on climate change, how it affects your business, and what your business is going to do about it will help.

Relevant, engaging training programmes will equip employees with the what, why and how of your company’s net-zero plan and give them the ability to put that plan into action.

Specific training or development you might offer your employees could include:

  • An all-staff training course that explores sustainability and net-zero — and how your company plans to achieve it
  • Volunteering opportunities, like environmental activism (eg. planting trees, restoring habitats etc.), where employees learn about net-zero through practical action
  • An info-session on a specific, relevant topic: eg. how to make supply chains greener
  • Specific skills training for managers implementing net-zero plans

This article explores some of the innovative ways that global organisations are using training and development to further their environmental aims.


6. Create a sustainability champions scheme

There’s a reason why sustainability champion programmes are quite a popular idea in a lot of organisations: they’re a very useful tool for driving organisational change and helping companies become more environmentally friendly.

A sustainability champion programme will help to encourage net-zero in a company by recruiting one of the most powerful agents of change there — the employees themselves.

Sustainability champions are usually employees who are passionate about making your organisation greener.  They are specially selected to be ambassadors for green initiatives in a company, organising events and activities to promote sustainability.

Setting up such a programme if you don’t have one already can really help to support the implementation of your net-zero policy.

Check out this helpful advice on how to implement a sustainability champions policy here.


 

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7. Encourage your CEO and board to lead from the front

This tactic will probably form an important aspect of your overall approach to achieving net-zero at your company. It’s a difficult one to implement, with a lot of moving parts, but it can really improve the effectiveness of implementing your policy.

Getting support from your CEO, board of directors, and senior management will help to supercharge your efforts to drive culture change. Employees expect to see meaningful action from managers and senior members of staff if they’re being asked to change their behaviour.

Getting buy-in from your CEO and board will show that net-zero efforts are being taken extremely seriously across the organisation, and that change is happening now, encouraging your employees to get on board with your efforts.


Climate change is a looming threat to the whole of humanity, but we have the tools at our disposal to stop global heating on such a drastic scale. It can be as simple as making sure our emissions are carbon neutral by implementing net-zero ideas.

Some might grumble at having to change behaviours but don’t let that stop you in your quest to bring net-zero to your organisation. The stakes are too high. There are no jobs on a dead planet, after all.


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