Working in the field of human resources (HR) today can look a lot different than it did for HR specialists of the past. Today’s HR experts may easily find themselves recruiting, onboarding, and even managing entire teams remotely.
They may find themselves immersed in esoteric disciplines such as epidemiology and public health to formulate the company’s COVID recovery plan or to prepare for the next pandemic.
And, now more than ever, HR professionals can — and, indeed, should — find themselves entrenched in the study of climate change and viable responses to it. Sustainability, in fact, is increasingly being recognized as a critical aspect of HR. This article examines the role of HR in sustainability and provides actionable tips that you can use to implement sustainable practices in your workplace.
Why Sustainability in Business Matters
Once upon a time, the line separating the professional and the social was clear and largely impermeable. The mission of a business was to serve the bottom line and the interests of investors and stakeholders.
Fortunately, that ethos has changed dramatically in recent decades. Today, consumers, workers, and investors alike expect more from the companies they support. They perceive enterprise not as purely profit-driven, but as entities designed to serve the public good as well.
Thus, implementing sustainable practices in your company is a critical component of cultivating a socially-responsible brand, which is increasingly essential to market success. However, sustainability doesn’t just yield reputational advantages. It also enables your company to reap logistical and financial rewards.
The Role of Natural Disaster Preparedness
The reality is that climate change is significantly exacerbating business risks, particularly when it comes to the threat of natural disasters that may impact your business. One of the most important aspects of sustainability in business is the development of a natural disaster preparedness plan that can help your organization quickly resume operations.
At the same time, this plan should include directives for protecting the safety of workers, their families, and even the communities affected by the event. The preparedness strategy may involve plans for transforming your campus into a storm shelter or for activating certain team members with medical training to offer first aid in the community.
Your plan should also take into consideration the physical, financial, and mental health of remote employees, who often face unique risks. If your remote workers are located far from the physical campus, for example, they may be impacted by a natural disaster while your on-site workers are not. Thus, it’s essential to consider how each and every one of your remote workers will be contacted and supported should a natural disaster strike their area.
Ultimately, such advance preparation can help offset financial losses for the company and its employees by enabling the company to return to operation as quickly as possible. At the same time, and even more importantly, the plan serves a significant moral good by serving to protect human lives and well-being throughout the community.
In addition to the ethical and financial rewards of disaster preparedness and the brand benefits inherent in a socially responsible reputation, there are longer-term benefits in sustainability.
Sustainable businesses, for example, often operate with greater cost efficiency through the implementation of energy and water-saving practices. The installation of solar panels or the transition to recyclable materials can result in a significant reduction in overall operating costs. Likewise, the institution of increasingly popular workplace perks, such as four-day workweeks or remote and hybrid options, can significantly reduce your company’s carbon footprint. And, at the same time, you’ll be further solidifying your company’s sustainable brand.
Making the Transition to Sustainability
To be sure, your company isn’t just going to become a fully sustainable enterprise overnight. The transition takes time, planning, and commitment.
The most important way to begin, though, is by cultivating a culture of sustainability through a combination of employee education and small, simple process changes. For example, you might hold a series of training seminars in-house on the issue of climate change and sustainable practices. The key in this is to ensure that the seminars are relevant, demonstrating the tangible and immediate benefits of sustainability not only to the company but to employers and their families.
These training protocols can then be augmented by the institution of new practices and programs, such as a company-wide recycling program. You may even sweeten the pot by offering incentives, from gift cards to paid time off to employees who participate.
You might get the ball rolling by instituting a water conservation plan and installing low-flow sinks and toilets on campus. And if your employees aren’t quite ready to buy into that, start a bit smaller. You may, for instance, provide employees with a reusable water bottle to replace the plastic ones. Even tiny, incremental changes can make a big impact over time!
Sustainability in business isn’t a luxury. In the face of a growing climate threat, sustainability in business is, increasingly, a necessity — and HR leaders play a vital role in making it happen through preparedness, education, and small, systematic changes.
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