As recession looms and large-scale redundancies are announced on a daily basis it would be understandable for ‘green’ issues to slide to the bottom of the in-tray for HR Managers. Inevitably short-term acute pressures will drive immediate priorities, but for those HR Managers who have the space to think about how their organization can best weather the current economic storm and come out on the other side in a stronger position, ‘green issues’ should be at the forefront of their thinking.
Managing in a Downturn
A growing number of analysts believe that adopting more environmental strategies should be one of the key strategies for managing in a downturn. Moving to more sustainable business practices offers the opportunity to simultaneously reduce costs, manage risk and increase appeal to a growing number of environmentally and socially concerned customers.
In the uncertainty of a recession, businesses are increasingly looking at the financial savings that can be made by reducing energy use, fuel use and waste. These savings are dependant on changing employee behaviour and can be driven by HR departments.
Becoming greener drives innovation. Research shows that companies who outperformed the competition continued to invest in refreshing their products and services, adapting them to the changing market. A greener business builds on the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle, but it requires much more than that. A sustainable business requires innovative thinking and fundamental alterations in business models.
Greener policies help companies to recruit talented employees. More frequently in job interviews companies are being asked about their environmental initiatives and businesses are beginning to realise the potential that green credentials have as a recruitment tool. Accenture discovered that 75% of MBA students from top schools were willing to accept a 10-20% lower salary to work for a ‘responsible’ company.
Environmental initiatives within the workplace can assist with employee retention. If successfully managed, these initiatives bring different groups of employees together to run innovative, creative and up-lifting schemes that can build loyalty and enhance team-building.
Putting Green HR into practice
If ‘green’ is one of the strategies required to help companies through the recession, how can hard-pushed HR managers implement successful initiatives that reinforce corporate objectives?
Global Action Plan is an environmental charity that helps people to live more sustainable lifestyles and has worked with 77 of the UK’s largest companies. Based on a mixture of practical experience and academic research, the charity believes that there are five key components essential to encouraging employees to change their environmental behaviour.
- The involvement of facilitated groups
- Innovative communication
- Wider community engagement.
Communicating environmental messages is fraught with difficulties. Poor communication can often create employee scepticism leading them to view resource efficiency drives as thinly veiled cost-cutting exercises. An essential first step is to find the environmental enthusiasts within the company and to bring them together in a supported group. This enables employees to test out their views with others, share understanding and crucially it enables them to decide upon actions that match the culture of the company. The creation of these teams also provides an opportunity for HR Managers to build inter-departmental communication and understanding.
Once established, it is important for the team of employees to measure for themselves the environmental impact of the company this helps them to make abstract environmental issues, tangible.
Employees at Investec were so shocked by the amount of paper that they were throwing away that they decided to build a 3D paper tower display (pictured). The visual shock of the display drove individual employee action which had the combined impact of achieving amongst other savings, 28% reduction in waste per employee.
The Investec tower is one example of how creative employees can be in communicating environmental issues. Occasionally, however they need further support and guidance.
One of the biggest communication challenges is transport. Road transport contributes 22% of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, a large proportion of which is generated by business travel. Economically, the cost of fuel has risen 210% over the past 20.years The decisions and driving styles of drivers has a major influence on emissions and fuel use, this is not always understood by drivers and so businesses are missing out on potential savings.
Global Action Plan has developed a bespoke driving simulator which helps employees make this connection by teaching them how to drive in an environmentally efficient and cost effective way. It provides participants with a breakdown on their fuel efficiency, distance travelled and overall ranking. This element of competition between employees adds a popular added dimension to the learning experience.
Environmental issues can be shrouded with doom and gloom which is dispiriting for people who want to achieve positive change. Global Action Plan believes that at the end of a campaign the environmental and financial savings achieved should be celebrated. All participants in Global Action Plan’s programmes receive a UNEP thank you certificate as part of this celbration..
Wider Community Programmes
Environmental employee engagement programmes are not just restricted to the workplace and Global Action Plan is increasingly working with companies to help their employees take action in their homes and in the wider community.
A well established employer supported volunteering scheme is an attractive recruitment tool and has been found to also improve retention rates. In the Corporate Citizenship Company’s study “Good Companies, Better Employees”, Centrica reported that involvement in its volunteering scheme increased job satisfaction, improved retention and reduced absence due to sickness. EDF similarly found that within six months of the launch of their employer supported volunteering scheme, the program had paid for itself through financial savings made in improved staff retention.
An example of this working in practise is a Global Action Plan initiative that has enabled Sky and F&C Asset Management employees to work with elderly residents at a Housing Association to plant and grow their own vegetables, make outdoor furniture from reclaimed wood and build a straw bale tool shed (pictured).
Through all its activities, Global Action Plan has discovered that environmental initiatives are an excellent way to unleash creativity and stronger team work within companies. They are an under-utilised tool in the HR Managers tool-box that should become increasingly important in helping companies come out of the recession stronger and more competitive.
By Trewin Restorick, the CEO of Global Action Plan