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HR can prepare future leaders for climate crunch point

A new report released today by the think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned that the next generation of leaders – today’s 30-something millennials – may meet a climate ‘crunch point’.

The report said a continued failure to act on the environmental crisis means these leaders will inherit increasingly severe burdens which are already a challenge for business leaders. 

These burdens were: emissions reductions before 2030, restoring nature and increasing support to vulnerable nations.

Getting through this climate crunch point, it added, will be the defining challenge of the millennial generation when they become business leaders. 

Report author and IPPR associate fellow Laurie Laybourn-Langton told HR magazine that leaders need to become more forceful in how they deal with the climate emergency. 

He said: “Business leaders need to act as advocates in society, to pressure leaders and politicians to take that emergency action. 

“If schoolkids can no longer see themselves as just schoolkids but also as climate activists, so must business leaders no longer think of themselves purely as leaders of their business, or of business in general, but as people with a responsibility to take action.”

Climate change and HR:

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Climate change among workers’ top concerns

To help prepare for the future, the report recommended leaders develop four key skills:

  1. Embrace complexity. Leaders will have to be able to understand and tackle areas of concern, which are often interlinked. 
  2. Expand global solidarity. Responding to the climate crisis requires massive coordination across supply chains and industries, and leaders will have to be able to coordinate their efforts.
  3. Caring collectively. Leaders will need to maintain empathy while remaining resilient in the face of great challenges.
  4. Improve ability to adapt. Organisations will need to respond to rapidly changing conditions.

Laybourn-Langton said HR professionals can play a vital role in equipping future leaders with these skills.

He said: “HR needs to keep innovating. One key area to develop is the ability to think in terms of systems.

“This involves thinking not just in terms of your own organisation, but about how it interacts with the organisations and systems around it. 

“During the pandemic, financial managers have had to think not just about the financial system, but also about the health system, and how that affects their workforce. Similarly, they have had to think increasingly frequently of the political system, for example with lockdown rules.”

Many companies, including PwC and AstraZeneca, have already committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2030, and, as of November 2021, 60 of the FTSE 100 had signed up to reaching net-zero by 2050.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, told HR magazine that sustainability and corporate social responsibility are both areas of growing importance for companies’ reputations.

She said: “Employers must recognise this and factor the importance of sustainable practices into both their wider policies and procedures and, more importantly, their career development programmes.

“Having a defined career pathway programme allows both the employee and employer to understand the proposed journey for each individual and their development within the company. These can be tailored to each role and or department to ensure the most benefit. 

“Offering training as well as a mentoring or buddy system further enables employees to grow and develop within the organisation whilst providing invaluable experience and expertise from senior members of staff.”