How HR can drive sustainability 

By Rhianna Knight-McGrath

Sustainability has become a critical issue that organisations cannot afford to ignore. As pressure mounts from the general public to place greater value on sustainability and environmental protection, companies are forced to take action. 


A study by Deloitte found that 69% of workers want their companies to invest in becoming more sustainable. Around 74% of employees find their jobs more fulfilling when they can make a positive impact on environmental. This isn't surprising given that 96% of millennials are concerned about the environment. Research also shows that sustainably-strong companies have 55% better morale, 38% increased employee loyalty, and 16% increased productivity.  


These statistics highlight the value of taking proactive steps to improve organisational sustainability, particularly on matters HR, such as attracting talent; employee experience, engagement and retention; and job satisfaction. As Gen Z continue to enter the workforce at pace and become key players in the talent market, companies are having to demonstrate their environmental and wellbeing credentials to remain competitive.


Having to balance economic prosperity with environmental sustainability and social well-being is changing the landscape for HR professionals. They have a particular role to play in shaping and implementing sustainable practices within their organisations. But by that we don’t mean watering the office plants and taking out the recycling. 


HR leaders are uniquely positioned to drive sustainability initiatives throughout the employee lifecycle from recruitment, to onboarding, creating sustainable workplace policies, fostering a culture of sustainability and engaging employees in sustainability initiatives. 

The impact of sustainability on businesses

The UN's sustainability goals have had a profound influence on businesses globally, compelling them to adopt practices that prioritise environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations. These goals have catalysed a shift towards sustainable practices, with companies now more accountable for their impact on the planet and society.


One significant trend is the transition to public benefit corporations (PBCs), where sustainability is embedded into the core of their operations. HR's involvement in driving cultural and structural changes within organisations is instrumental in this transition. By fostering a culture of sustainability and implementing necessary structural adjustments, HR plays a key role in ensuring that businesses align with the values of environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

HR’s role in sustainability

HR plays a crucial role in advancing sustainability within organisations, serving as a catalyst for change and progress. Actively engaging employees in sustainability initiatives, HR fosters a culture of responsibility and inclusivity that is essential for driving meaningful change.


Key areas of HR involvement include shaping hiring practices to ensure alignment with sustainability goals, building a culture that prioritises environmental and social responsibility, implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and contributing to broader social responsibility efforts. Through these initiatives, HR not only supports the organisation's sustainability objectives but also cultivates a sense of purpose and commitment among employees.

How HR can Drive Sustainability

Hiring practices play a crucial role in advancing sustainability goals. HR departments can drive sustainability by integrating relevant criteria into recruitment processes. This involves not only seeking candidates with the skills and qualifications necessary for the job but also assessing their alignment with the organisation's sustainability objectives.


For example, HR professionals can incorporate questions about candidates' values, experiences with sustainability initiatives, and their ability to contribute to environmentally responsible practices during interviews. Prioritising candidates who demonstrate a commitment to sustainability can ensure that new hires are aligned with the company's environmental and social responsibility goals from the outset.


To deepen their commitment to sustainability, organisations can create dedicated sustainability roles. HR would then identify employees with the right skills and passion to take on such roles as well as sourcing external candidates who share the organisation's values.


Alternatively an organisation may choose to nominate representatives from each department as sustainability officers to form a committee. This committee could meet once a quarter to drive sustainable initiatives forward. Involving individuals from various parts of the organisation ensures that sustainability is integrated into all aspects of operations. This collaborative approach fosters a culture of sustainability and ensures effective implementation of initiatives.


Sustainable recruiting 

Fostering a culture of sustainability 

HR has the power to shape organisational culture and values, making it instrumental in fostering a culture of sustainability. This can be achieved through various initiatives, including education, training, and leadership development programmes.


HR departments can organise training sessions and workshops to raise awareness about sustainability issues, highlight the importance of environmentally friendly practices, and provide employees with the knowledge and skills needed to incorporate sustainability into their daily work routines.


Some of these practices may be formalised in company policies which require employees to minimise how often they print documents and commit them to recycling initiatives. Leadership development programmes can be used to empower managers to lead by example and champion sustainability efforts within their teams. Involving management makes it more likely for cultural initiatives to succeed. 


To strengthen their commitment to sustainability, organisations can organise company fun days or charitable initiatives tied to environmental protection. These events not only promote the company's social responsibility but also support its environmental goals.


Engaging employees in fun and meaningful activities such as beach clean-ups, tree planting, or eco-themed competitions can help foster a sense of camaraderie and purpose among their teams. Such initiatives not only boost morale but also solidify a culture of sustainability within the company, encouraging employees to take an active role in protecting the environment while having a great time together.


By embedding sustainability into the organisational culture, HR creates an environment where employees are motivated to adopt eco-friendly practices and contribute to the company's overall sustainability goals. 

Encouraging participation in green initiatives

Employee engagement is vital for the success of sustainability initiatives within organisations. HR can drive sustainability by encouraging employee participation in green initiatives through effective communication and involvement strategies.


These initiatives may include bike-to-work schemes, flexible or remote working policies, recycling programmes, energy-saving campaigns and even subsidising commutes via public transport.


HR departments can leverage various communication channels, such as newsletters, intranet platforms, and team meetings, to raise awareness about sustainability, share success stories, and provide updates on progress. Keeping employees informed and engaged will foster a sense of ownership and collective responsibility among the workforce.


Involving employees in the planning and implementation of green initiatives can increase their sense of commitment and motivation to contribute to sustainability goals. 


Having a nominated sustainability committee could help to significantly reduce the burden of planning and implanting these initiatives on your HR department. Distributing the workload evenly helps to ensure that sustainability initiatives add value to the organisation rather than becoming burdensome. 

Promoting diversity, equality and inclusion

Promoting DEI as part of an organisation's sustainability efforts may sound a bit left field, but stick with us… it will all make sense soon. 


Prioritising diversity in recruitment and talent management processes ensures a wide range of perspectives are represented and considered. It’s been well proven that diverse teams improve innovation and creativity and crucially make better business decisions 87% of the time


Therefore having a diverse range of perspectives will ensure sustainability initiatives are as effective as possible and altogether inclusive so that they address the needs of all stakeholders.


HR can further improve equity and inclusion by implementing policies and practices, such as flexible work arrangements, fair compensation structures, and so on, which would help attract and retain a more diverse workforce. 


Consequently working from home also helps reduce an organisations overall carbon footprint so you may choose to make flexible working or hybrid work part of your sustainability efforts.

As we’ve mentioned, travel is a key area where sustainability initiatives can drive down an organisations carbon footprint. 


Electric vehicle (EV) schemes can encourage employees to switch from a diesel vehicle to an environmentally-friendly one. Schemes like these typically work on a salary sacrifice basis, whereby employers lease an EV that is paid for by the employees pre tax salary. This saves employees money on their taxes and making owning an EV more affordable. 


Employers can also support this switch by providing on-site charging facilities though some EV benefits scheme providers include free charging as part of their package.


Other sustainable benefits may include discounts and deals with qualified, sustainable companies. This encourages employees to lead a more sustainable lifestyle outside of work and encourages them to shop with environmentally friendly companies. 


Organisations may also consider supporting employees that work from home to switch to more sustainable sources of energy. They can do this by subsidising the purchasing of solar panels, air source heat pumps or even paying the difference in their energy bills between using oil and gas or renewable sources, which currently most providers offer at an increased price. 


HR departments should consider these options carefully when constructing their employee benefits packages. Not only should your benefits speak to the needs, wants and concerns of employees but they should speak to the sustainable culture you are trying to create. In doing so, employee benefits can help further some of your organisational goals while also keeping employee happy and motivated.

Prioritising sustainable employee benefits

Ensuring compliance and reporting 

HR departments may, in some organisations play a role in ensuring compliance with environmental regulations. This may involve monitoring social responsibility, environmental impact, employee well-being, and community engagement metrics. They also play a key role in ensuring that the organisation's practices align with industry standards and best practices for sustainability and environmental responsibility.


By maintaining transparent reporting processes and actively engaging with stakeholders, HR can drive continuous improvement in sustainability performance.

About the author


Rhianna Knight-McGrath


Rhianna is our Digital Marketing Assistant, experienced in driving results for B2B organisations. She leads the company’s marketing communications strategy by planning, and implementing marketing campaigns that boost brand awareness and drive business growth.





Final thoughts

Championing sustainability is no longer an option for organisations, it's a necessity. The world is facing pressing environmental and social challenges, and businesses must demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice (at least some) profits over people and the planet if they want to remain competitive and reputable. Afterall, it’s not just employees and potential candidates on the line, it’s also your customers. 


HR stands at the forefront of this movement. In recent years the role of HR has expanded far beyond an administrative or support function and now holds more power than ever before to drive significant organisational change.


From considering sustainability during the hiring process, to fostering a culture of social and environmental responsibility and inclusivity, HR's role in promoting sustainability cannot be overstated. By taking proactive steps to embed sustainability into every aspect of the organisation, HR professionals can lead the way towards a more sustainable future.


Ready to make a difference in your organisation? 


Contact our team of HR consultants today to learn how we can help you integrate sustainability into your HR practices.



We need your consent to load the translations

We use a third-party service to translate the website content that may collect data about your activity. Please review the details in the privacy policy and accept the service to view the translations.