2 June 2022

On Sunday, 5 June, it’s World Environment Day, this year hosted by Sweden (hi everyone!). It’s an important day for raising awareness, but the truth is we no longer have the luxury of reserving environment-related discussion for days like these. Our long-term and constant goal should be to preserve as much of the earth’s natural resources as we can. 

A decade ago, action to reduce corporations’ environmental impact was a “nice to have”. No longer. Today, business leaders face sustained and increasing pressure from their employees, their customers, and – perhaps most compellingly – their investors to act decisively on environmental issues. It’s now a necessity as well as a genuine opportunity.

Arising from this shift, green human resources management – Green HR – takes responsibility for driving ecologically sustainable practices within organisations: raising awareness, developing environmentally friendly policies and procedures, and helping to build a positive, intentional culture that places the individual worker and the business squarely in the centre of the environmental crisis and our collective response to it. 

An important early definition of the term saw a more traditional HR end goal in boosting employee morale and satisfaction. Today, the focus is also on its role in heading off potential harm resulting from resource depletion, climate change, and conflict.

Why should HR teams go green?

Green HR initiatives align with various HR processes, like staffing, performance management, and training and career development. Here are five ways Green HR benefits people and the companies they work for. 


One: It helps build resilience

More than ever, organisations that pursue short-term goals at the expense of long-term vision make themselves vulnerable to systemic shocks and other circumstances, predictable or not. That’s why 62 percent of senior executives consider sustainability to be strategically important in maintaining competitive advantage and ensuring the business’s longevity. Boards, investors, and, yes, HR, all have crucial roles to play in this regard.


Two: It improves organisational efficiency
You’ll help boost efficiency through digital transformation, online recruitment and training, teleconferencing and virtual interviews, hot-desking, recycling, and energy saving.


Three: It supports an holistic approach to employee wellbeing 

Green HR contributes to employee wellbeing by encouraging intentional living – acting on your values and beliefs in a conscious way – and workers who take on green habits or activities, from going vegan to volunteering, are more focused at work, researchers say.


Four: Going green helps drive worker engagement and productivity

Did you know that researchers say workers who take part in green initiatives are less likely to fall ill? A sense of purpose and organisational pride reduces absenteeism and can help improve retention rates.


Five: It’s great for public relations

Green HR helps foster relationships between businesses, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and legislators, but it’s the customer companies may focus on the most. Sustainability has important social and economic elements, but environmental concerns lead in consumers’ minds. 


Sixty-six percent of consumers would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand, according to Nielsen, and 81 percent strongly believe that companies should have programs in place to “improve the environment”. A separate study by Futerra found that 88 percent of US and UK consumers want brands to help them do better by the environment.

How to make your HR team green

Here are just a few ways in which you can go green. 


One: Host virtual interviews and think twice about meeting in person
Quick and efficient, remote interviews and meetings avoid travel, driving down greenhouse gas emissions. 


Two: Store and process documentation in the cloud
Going digital reduces physical storage space and effort, saves on printing and paper, and helps lessen the impact to the environment of industrial forestry!


Three: Foster a sustainability-directed work culture

Encourage, even incentivise, employees to live cleaner and greener, and to take a longer-term strategic approach to doing business.


Four: Offer work-from-home days

When employees do not need to travel to work, they reduce their carbon footprint – and they’re more productive too! 


Five: Promote lower-carbon means of transport into the office

Not everyone can ride to work on a bicycle, but public transport and facilitated lift clubs do help. Your choice of office locations can make a difference too. 


Six: Ensure there is enough greenery in the workplace
Create a space where employees can take a moment to breathe and enjoy nature.


Seven: Make employees’ mental health your top priority

With care at the centre of your culture, you’ll have a happy, invested workforce – and save the organisation loads on recruitment, onboarding, and lost time. 

There are always small (and often cost-free) opportunities to drive change – you just have to make this way of thinking a way of life. We don’t have a choice. The slogan of this year’s World Environment Day is “Only One Earth”. 


There is no Planet B.

Adapted from Ashleigh Ball, Junior Consultant, AIMS International South Africa, original article.