Wellbeing and sustainability challenges need to be tackled together

The interlink between climate change, people’s health and the health of the planet are increasingly being recognised, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) commenting that climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity.

In addition to this, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reinforced the impact of the climate crisis on physical and mental health.

As HR leaders look at how they foster a healthy work environment and enhance the wellbeing of their workforce, there’s an opportunity to collaborate with sustainability teams to make progress on both people and environmental agendas.

Combining efforts can enable these teams to elevate sustainability and wellbeing goals, encourage the uptake of healthy habits, and tackle sustainability challenges – all of which form important elements of ESG strategies and reporting.

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Raising sustainability efforts to the same platform as people will signify to everyone that these are important priorities and can help improve employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity. This is highlighted in our recent research which shows that over half (51%) of people of all ages said they would be more engaged with their organisation overall, more satisfied in their jobs (53%), and more productive (47%) if the place they worked had strong eco and social commitments. 

As a global healthcare company, we’re recognising this connection between wellbeing and sustainability, and looking at how we can play our part to create a healthier and greener future. While we don’t have all the answers, we’ve taken some key steps, including those listed below, and are collaborating with others to embed an approach which addresses these areas in tandem.


Raise awareness of the connection between the health of people and planet

Increasing the understanding of the link between the health of people and the health of the planet can help your wellbeing goals better resonate with your employees. Leveraging external reports and research, and engaging with other organisations can help HR teams communicate these messages as part of initiatives that aim to encourage healthy behaviours.

For example, key agencies and bodies including the WHO and IPCC are increasingly highlighting this connection, and groups such as Forum for the Future are focused on driving a shift in this area too. By working with other organisations or peers in your sector, you can share ideas and identify actions that will have a positive impact on your business.


Engage and empower your people to help achieve sustainability goals

Raising awareness alone is not enough. To maximise their impact, HR and sustainability leaders need to empower employees to take action. If people feel that they are equipped to do their part to tackle the climate crisis they can become real advocates both within the workplace and in their personal lives too.

At Bupa, we’ve launched a Sustainability Academy to upskill our people, from those in leadership roles to functions most responsible for influencing our carbon impact. Improving their knowledge of climate-related issues, educating them on the impact on our health, and highlighting tangible ways they can drive real change means they can incorporate wellbeing and sustainability into, for example, decision making processes and team objectives.

We’ve also created talent development programmes that empower employees to proactively investigate health and sustainability challenges, and collaborate with eco-start-ups to identify innovative solutions – this includes technologies that can convert the energy from workouts into clean useable electrical power.


Promote healthy habits which benefit the environment

The pandemic sparked a greater interest of being in nature and the benefits to our health and wellbeing. This has been supported with research that shows exposure to green spaces can reduce the risk of conditions and diseases such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stress.

Businesses can integrate nature into wellbeing programmes in a few different ways, from volunteering in urban environments or setting team challenges focused on exercising outdoors.

Bupa’s Healthy Cities Initiative, for example, encourages employees and communities to come together to complete health challenges, and in doing so, people can unlock investment in the restoration of urban environments. Participation last year resulted in over 88,000 trees planted which helped restore environments damaged by fires, create new urban forests, and prevent desertification, all through the completion of physical activities.

Our global employee wellbeing programme ‘Viva, Healthier & Happier’ provides health benefits, support and resources, and also defines what we mean by wellbeing through five key areas: physical, mental, financial, social and environmental. This final aspect brings all the external insights and our internal education and awareness together to suggest meaningful action for our people to take.


Healthy people and healthy planet

A healthy environment is essential for healthy people, and improving both requires consolidated action and collaboration. As recognition of the inextricable link between the two increases, HR teams have an opportunity to get on the front foot and implement wellbeing initiatives that have the biggest impact on wellbeing and sustainability ambitions, thereby delivering a more holistic strategy for demonstrating credible ESG impact.

Nigel Sullivan is chief sustainability and people officer at Bupa