Case study: A joint HR and sustainability strategy at Ricoh

Sustainability sits very firmly in HR at Ricoh, but this hasn't always been the case

Playing a part in their organisations’ sustainability efforts is perhaps not yet on the radar of many HR teams. But at Ricoh it’s seen as HR’s responsibility to such an extent that Rebekah Wallis has the dual role of director of people and corporate responsibility (CR), meaning that the organisation’s green credentials are directly led by HR.

“It’s ultimately about behaviours and mindsets so I personally think it’s through culture in how we do things round here, HR policies and practices, and learning [that we drive this]. There’s a big element of change management in there too and HR has all that within its remit,” she says.

While Ricoh has always had sustainability “at its heart”, this didn’t used to sit with HR. CR used to fall under marketing, she explains, which meant it had more of an external focus.

“From my experience it’s moving into more of an HR fit [across all organisations] and that’s because of the demands from current and future employees,” says Wallis, pointing to recent research from Ricoh Europe that found 64% of workers think sustainability needs to be at the centre of business and product strategies in the next five to 10 years.

“When we look at what people look for when they start employment and stay in it, it’s about alignment with values and that people think businesses need to be more sustainable. If you look through HR’s lifecycle from recruitment and engagement to developing people, it can absolutely be responsible for that,” she says.

What this looks like at Ricoh is a focus on culture, mindset, and policies and processes. “Some of the green elements really kicked off when we launched what we call internally ‘our new ways of working’,” says Wallis. The organisation had gone through a period of significant transformation, integrating five different organisations, which left it with lots of legacy property. This led to the implementation of agile and flexible working.

“HR was central to that as it’s about change management. For individuals used to coming in [to the office] every day, to go to not having a desk is a big change and it’s a big change for leaders,” explains Wallis.

The result has been a 24% reduction in business travel, meaning HR was able to “immediately [show] a link between a change in behaviour and a change in carbon footprint”, says Wallis.

Another major focus has been changing the rules around both traditional leased company vehicles and cars individual employees can purchase on a cash-for-car allowance. Wallis explains that, like in many firms, car travel is the biggest contributor to the organisation’s total carbon footprint (around 75%). So the company set age, mileage and emissions caps on eligible cars.

For the cars on cash-for-car allowances, which tend to be older and less efficient, employees who go above the emissions threshold are required to contribute some of their car allowance to an environmental pot, which is invested into sustainable infrastructure such as LED lighting or electric vehicle charging points.

Through the combined efforts of flexible working and the fleet carbon policy, HR has achieved a 28% reduction in carbon between 2014 and 2018.

Wallis has also taken a green approach to the leadership framework, with every leadership programme now including mandatory participation in community investment activities. Other commitments include a volunteering policy, internal circular office principles such as removing single-use plastics, education around office recycling, and regional CR champions responsible for activity such as beach cleans.

Prospective staff find the opportunity to participate in CR activities attractive, reports Wallis. And employees who volunteer are more than 20% more actively engaged than those who don’t.

But while HR is the glue holding the green agenda together, Wallis concedes that HR “can’t do it alone”. She says: “We also need to do it in partnership with others, in particular with IT to get the technology to facilitate some of the things that support green and sustainable workplaces.”

Further reading

Tackling our climate emergency: HR's role