Climate 'lip service' stalls progress and leaves employees flat

Many British businesses see climate policy merely as a branding exercise, rather than something fundamental to future growth, research suggests.

Research released today (20 January) by consultancy Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA) found that over half (51%) of C-suite leaders in the UK believe branding is the driving force behind their sustainability strategy.

Yet Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at consultancy firm Gartner, warned of severe consequences as a result of organisations giving minimal attention to issues like the climate crisis.

Branding and employee expectations:

Brand vs culture – Does it matter?

Ensure employees are engaged with the brand

Brewdog: culture vs brand

Workers sceptical of employers' green claims

Speaking to HR magazine, Kropp said: “Many organisations have responded to this trend by using social media channels to fire out generic statements highlighting commitment or opposition to an issue. 

“However, we have found that this approach actually disengages employees when it is not backed up by visible action.”

As the majority of workers (74% according to Gartner) want their employer to be involved in societal, political, and cultural debates  employers have often had a knee-jerk reaction which, according to Kropp, can be counterintuitive. 

“In response, companies need to make environmental action and communication a big part of the employee experience proposition. 

“Managers need to be given the tools to discuss the environmental policies of the business and communicate the achievements of its initiatives.”

While 75% of UK executives say their organisation is doing all it can to reduce its impact on the environment, only 51% of employees agree.

The report identified sustainability as a key growth lever for the next decade. 

It said that companies which see climate action as an opportunity to create value, rather than a branding exercise, expect better progress in their climate strategy.

Sarah Galloway, co-leader for the global sustainability sector at RRA, told HR magazine: “Despite everything that was said and done in the run up to COP26, too many UK CEOs still see sustainability as a marketing issue. 

“No wonder employees have such little faith that their leaders will follow through on the rhetoric."

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its Green Claims Code in September 2021 which sets out an official standard for companies making claims about how environmentally friendly their products and services are.

It said it will carry out a full review of misleading claims of green business, on products and advertising at the start of 2022. 

The Treasury has also announced it will make it mandatory for the UK’s largest businesses to disclose climate-related financial information from April 2022.

Galloway added: “With the CMA looking more closely than ever before at greenwashing, CEOs must do more to integrate sustainability into every boardroom discussion, business unit and even job specification. 

“It cannot remain the sole responsibility of environmental experts.”