Sustainability and the role of HR

Sustainability and HR in recent years have coexisted within organisations, and today’s workforce is rightfully demanding that sustainability is in the peripherals of HR executives and board members’ minds.

Back in 2019, CIPD posted an interesting think-piece on sustainability in HR, and it got us pondering ways in which we could share our knowledge and passion for this topic.

The piece, in summary, calls for a holistic approach to HR. This allows companies to create a diverse and inclusive workforce as well as one that is conscious of environmental impact.

Businesses should aim to look at sustainability initiatives in a cerebral way, instead of falling into the trap of box-ticking without any tangible results.

The next generation of workers are craving to work for meaningful organisations that offer more than just a steady income and progression opportunities.

In a study conducted by Conecomm, they found that 64% of Millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work, and 83% would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues

Equally, business leaders and senior HR executives are also conscious that offering more and doing more will increase candidate attraction, employee retention, and reputation in the market.

We recently hosted an event with Jill Ridley-Smith, who is a NED, business mentor, and board adviser. The event gave us an opportunity to do a deep dive on sustainability and the role that HR must play, and we wanted to share our key takeaways with you in this blog.

It’s important to be purposeful 

Authenticity and intention is key when implementing sustainability initiatives, and it’s down to HR to drive this and ensure that senior stakeholders are aligned with their beliefs.

A great example that was used by Jill was Deliveroo, quoted as “The Worst IPO In History” after their 224-page document had no statements on environmental, social or governmental principles.

In a nutshell, Deliveroo had failed to follow through with the lip service they had paid to sustainability, which caused their share price to plummet and for trust to be lost post IPO.

It’s important to show evidence

The Deliveroo case study was elaborated on widely at the event, and Jill highlighted that although this is an extreme example, it shows how crucial it is to evidence what you’re doing.

Whether this is setting KPI’s to hold your company accountable, or other methods to ensure that you don’t fall short on your ESG analysis, evidencing what you do will continue to pay dividends in the future.

Where to start if you’ve never thought about sustainability before

Sustainability is more than planting a tree every time someone new joins the business, or swapping plastic cutlery for recyclable materials in the cafeteria. It’s consciously trying to make an impact by looking at all areas within sustainability/ESG and having a purpose behind it.

The following were some examples shared: 

HR Specific

  • Diversity, Equality/Equity and Inclusion initiatives
  • Social sustainability positioning statements
  • Drive authenticity and embed values
  • Incentivisation structures
  • Education and training


  • Public sustainability positioning statements
  • Embed sustainability into strategic planning
  • Engage the board
  • Data collection
  • Target setting and performance management

If you already focus on sustainability, what else can you be doing?

You’ll never be “complete” with sustainability, as it’s complex and ever-changing, a tick box exercise simply doesn’t work. However, if you’ve already laid the foundations, it’s important to start refining and ultimately improving what you already have in place.

This could be setting more specific KPIs, or conducting larger campaigns and initiatives that still tie in to your wider mission and goals. In HR, it’s important for you to be the “voice of reason” and hold up the mirror to what you’re doing regularly.

Access the full event recording by clicking here

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