HR professionals should help shape climate change agendas - Sarah Munro

HR professionals are being left in the cold by UK employers when formulating climate change strategies, new research has found.

Sarah Munro, Senior Associate and employment law specialist at Pinsent Masons

The report by global advisory company Willis Towers Watson, found that only half of the organisations it surveyed said that HR was involved in developing their company’s climate change agenda and, of those that hadn’t involved HR, only nine per cent planned to do so in the future. Yet, 97% agreed that employees have a significant role to play in an organisation’s climate strategy.

The survey questioned HR leaders from over 120 organisations to learn more about how they are addressing climate change ahead of next month’s COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow.

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The findings surprised me as HR & Reward teams are key players in enabling cultural and behavioural change in organisations. They do so by applying appropriate reward, development and recruitment strategies and by ensuring relevant policies and processes are in place. HR professionals can, therefore, play a pivotal role in organisations’ climate change strategies.

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Over the last number of years, HR professionals have been heavily involved in diversity and inclusion projects. HR teams have ensured that employees are motivated and engaged in a positive, cultural change. Through employee networks, champions, training and good communications, HR teams have engaged their workforces in key issues and enabled a real change in the workplace. They can use that experience to help with the cultural shift we're experiencing now in respect of climate change.

HR professionals can also upskill their existing workforces to ensure that they are ready and able to assist their organisation’s transition to net zero. This will help retain existing staff but equally, by having a clear climate strategy, HR and recruitment teams will be able to attract the best talent from the new generation of climate conscious workers.

The report also noted that 62% of those surveyed believed that employees’ pay should be tied to an organisation’s delivery on climate change. There are already examples of executive pay being linked to net zero targets but HR professionals can help cascade that down through an organisation by introducing climate objectives at all levels.

It seems to me that HR is not being shut out deliberately, but the pace with which organisations are moving on climate change means that they have not had time to take a step back and think about using the expertise they have in their HR teams to engage their own workforce on this issue. Employers could really benefit from hearing what their employees think about climate change and using that to help shape their strategy.

The report describes the involvement of HR leaders as “the missing link” and I agree. The benefits of using HR professionals’ skills to ensure that the best talent is retained and recruited, that the workforce is engaged in this cultural change and that the business is well-equipped for the future are clear.

It is time that HR professionals are brought in from the cold to help shape organisations’ climate change agendas.

Sarah Munro, Senior Associate and employment law specialist at Pinsent Masons

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