COP26 Takeaways: How to Include Climate Change in Your HR Strategy

07 December 2021 | 4 Minute
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COP26 Takeaways: How to Include Climate Change in Your HR Strategy

In a world dominated by the rise and fall of the pandemic for almost two years, it’s essential not to ignore another topical subject; climate change. It’s a huge focus for the world and was recently highlighted by the COP26 event held in Glasgow, where global leaders discussed the objective to achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of this century. 

But how important is it to the employee experience that climate change forms part of your company strategy? And how can HR ensure that climate change is included in the business HR strategy and becomes embedded in your culture? 


Why is climate change relevant to your business?

Climate change is a global concern, and by changing actions in our everyday lives, we can help address the issues. However, for change to come, we must collectively manage climate change, and this includes businesses as you must become role models in the fight against climate change, and HR plays a pivotal role in this.

A 2020 report of employees highlighted that 83% of respondents did not think their company was doing enough to challenge environmental issues, and 80% said their employer’s environmental values were not aligned to their own. However, job seekers were also passionate as 65% said they were more likely to work for a company that had a ‘strong environmental policy.


Part of the employee experience 

In the workplace, climate change comes under the larger area of ESG (environmental, social, and governance factors), which will undoubtedly play a part in attracting and retaining employees. With the threat of the Great Resignation, it’s essential to incorporate climate change into your strategy for employee engagement purposes, to maintain a competitive edge, and be part of the employee value proposition (EVP).


How should HR be involved in climate change initiatives?

You should partner with the business to ensure that climate change forms part of the overall business and HR strategy. The good news is that environmental and climate change concerns are finding their way onto the business radar. A recent Willis Towers Watson survey focused on 121 organisations and found that 43% have a clear climate risk strategy already in place. In addition, a further 36% are developing a strategy around climate change, and 97% believe that their people are essential for the effective delivery of the plan.

But, it’s not enough just to talk about climate change. As HR, you need to prove your commitment to environmental matters and communicate with employees how they fit into the broader strategy. HR is an essential piece of the strategic puzzle and can drive the strategy and embed it in the employee experience. 

Further data from Willis Towers Watson showed that 92% of the organisations believed that climate strategy should form part of the EVP, yet only 13% had implemented it. Furthermore, only 52% said that HR is involved in delivering a climate strategy, and worryingly 48% have not involved HR.


How do you encourage your people to commit to a climate change strategy?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer to encourage anyone to commit to an environmental strategy, but according to Willis Towers Watson, there are some crucial areas to focus on to empower you to gain such buy-in. 

HR must inspire climate change thinking and commitment to form part of the company culture and people behaviours. For example, this may be incorporated into interviews to ensure potential joiners understand and demonstrate a commitment to climate change. Similarly, it may be factored into policies, appraisals, training, and feedback to become embedded within the organisation. This will also help to engage and educate your people.

In addition, you can seek ways to incentivise employees to commit to climate change and practice behaviour that supports it. Finally, you can focus on upskilling people to build a stable workforce to challenge climate change, including ensuring that your company possesses the right skills, knowledge, and roles to support climate change. For example, do you have someone in the company or on the top table who focuses on sustainability or ERM?

All these factors can be driven by HR and supported by the business.


What can HR do now?

Several suggestions help you stand up to climate change, build it into your brand and gain momentum by leading employees. HR planning should:

  1. Gain leadership commitment – HR can’t implement change and attempt to build a culture committed to climate change if there is no senior management or Board buy-in. Therefore, educate and update your leaders on what others are doing about climate change and the requirements. You can even discuss how climate change metrics can be linked to C-suite pay and reward to ensure that leaders are accountable role models who are involved and educated about environmental factors.
  2. Obtain employee feedback – you must understand how your people view climate change and want to contribute to the cause. If you don’t already, include environmental factors into your employee engagement survey, and carry out environmental-focused pulse surveys to gain a current sense of your employee’s views, awareness, wants, and needs on climate change. Only then can you respond appropriately.
  3. Appoint stakeholders and milestones – once you have the employee feedback, you can establish the gap between what your employees know and need and what you are (or are planning to offer) concerning climate change to match their preferences and company targets. Then, you can work with stakeholders to build an HR roadmap that sets out the short and long-term objectives and assigns actions, and highlights review dates. 


Appeal to the future workforce

Finally, it’s estimated that by 2029, 72% of the global workforce will comprise Millennial and Gen Z generations. Furthermore, such generations are arguably more motivated about and interested in climate and the environment than older generations and expect current or potential employers to take an active stance in the fight to achieve net emissions.

Therefore, if you take a strategic role in including environmental factors in your strategy, this should form part of the company culture over time and help attract and retain future talent. 


Now is the time for HR to take the lead on environmental and climate change initiatives, infiltrate them into business and HR strategy, and involve employees. It’s not acceptable anymore to ignore climate change or pass it on as a future company objective. But it’s not just about ensuring that a climate commitment is written into strategy; it’s about how you can motivate your people to get on board and embrace climate change and encourage individuals to contribute to the COP26’s aim of net-zero emissions. Simply put, only people can positively make a difference to climate change, and as HR looks after people, it surely falls in your remit and interests to embrace climate change initiatives.


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