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HR must be included in climate strategies

A new report reveals an urgent need for UK businesses to include their HR leaders and people in the development and communication of their climate strategies.

The Making an Impact - Climate Change Guide published by global advisory service, Willis Towers Watson, surveyed 121 UK HR leaders from businesses of varying sizes.

It found that while 79% of their organisations were developing climate strategies, only half had included HR in the development of their strategy and 40% overall had no intention of doing so in the future.

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“In broader terms this has been a topic of high importance for a while now so it’s surprising that HR has not been involved more,” Amanda Scott, GB head of talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson, told HR magazine.

“We need to have HR at the table talking about and inputting to the climate strategy and likewise the climate strategy needs to be embedded in the people strategy. It’s critical.”

The report, which acts as a guide for HR to become actively involved in climate agendas, urges HR leaders to convert their organisations’ climate strategies into engaging ambitions that colleagues choose to support. They can then be measured on how well they enable and motivate employees to contribute to the transition to net zero.

Further figures show that while 97% agreed employees had a significant part to play in delivering their firm’s strategy and 92% said it was vital to have a clear climate strategy as part of their employee value proposition, only 13% actually put this into practice.

Just 20% currently communicate their climate strategy, targets and progress to employees. 

“Investors, employees and new talent are looking to organisations for their action around climate. If new talent sees a lack of action or hears one thing and sees another, they’re not going to be attracted to that company,” said Scott.

“Leading organisations in this space will be those that have some sort of chief sustainability officer who sits on the executive board and is tied to HR and sits across different departments. We found that although a quarter don’t yet, 30% are looking at putting one in.”

The guide highlights ways HR leaders can empower employees to drive change, embedding the climate strategy among its people through education, upskilling and incentivising beyond the boardroom. 

“You have to make sure you are talking about your climate strategy in your employee brand, making sure you are focused on getting your employees to understand their impact and how they can have an impact and role in climate change,” Scott said.

“It needs to be part of the conversation of your people.”

Emilie Stephenson, head of ‘force for good,’ the company's name for CSR, at Innocent Drinks, said the firm’s HR function works in an integrated way with the sustainability roles in the business.

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “Ultimately, if we want to be a force for good in the world, we have to inspire wider change and our employees are the best people to do that. 

“Sustainability sits within marketing, which we see as a way to drive change and our HRD sits on the board of our foundation, which shows that we integrate these roles high up in the decision-making process around this issue.” 

The organisation boasts a sustainability committee with champions and advocates, and Stephenson highlighted work the firm does to educate and inspire its employees to want to be the change and understand why they are driving change.

Stephenson said: “We have lunchtime talks, which have been virtual recently, where we focus on knowledge and discuss climate change and what it means for people as individuals and for the company. We work with Do Nation to get people cycling to work, help teach people how to offset their carbon and change things in their personal lives, so not just recycling in the office but at home too.

“We explain why we make the choices we do in the office so that they can have confidence in them and the choices they make around their own life too. We don’t impose, but giving facts and context is really important to help people understand.”