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Can HR change the world?

A new approach is helping businesses to slash their emissions by encouraging employee change
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Three colleagues smile during an outdoor meeting

This article first appeared in our Earth Day 2022 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, printed on 22 April 2022. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Business is responsible for the majority of global
emissions; in fact, the Carbon Majors Report concluded that 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 1988 can be traced back to just 100 companies.

The challenge for most businesses is the idea that success – when defined as growth – necessarily entails an environmental cost.

Over 70% of an organisation’s emissions are ‘scope 3’ – the indirect emissions caused by things like business travel, employee commuting, purchased services, heating and lighting.

As companies grow, so too does the number of employees – and with them their attendant emissions.

Growth with a conscience

For over 30 years Russell Dalton, founder of Planet People, has worked with global HR teams to facilitate huge growth.

‘By helping clients to grow – and employ literally hundreds of thousands of extra staff – we were massively contributing to the problem’, he tells us. ‘All that commuting, the heating and lighting, the consumables. We generated countless millions, possibly billions of tonnes of extra carbon without so much as a second thought. That isn’t the right way to grow a business.’

Russell set up Planet People to help companies to grow while at the same time defining and delivering on a net zero agenda.

The HR management consultancy and marketing agency helps organisations to completely rethink who and how they recruit, the way they work and how employees are rewarded.

‘Planet People is exactly what I’ve been doing for decades’, Russell tells us – ‘only this time I’m doing it with a conscience and a net zero purpose.’

A new approach

Due to the importance of scope 3 emissions, businesses can dramatically reduce their carbon footprint by inspiring more environmentally aware activity in their employees.

‘By encouraging and empowering your workforce to make net zero choices, you can significantly reduce emissions’, Russell explains. ‘You can then use this in your customer marketing, employer branding and internal communications.’

Planet People’s three-step approach for businesses begins with a carbon audit to reveal the carbon footprint of a company’s workforce. This gives the HR department a starting point – which is crucial for determining a realistic end point.

It’s not an easy task as the scope 3 emissions audit relates to the behaviour of sometimes thousands of individual employees – each with their own lifestyle and commuting habits – but the main goal is to arrive at a figure that can be used as a springboard for action.

‘Providing we use the same calculations’, Russell explains, ‘we can assess reductions after changes have been implemented.’

The next step is to create external and internal branding around the organisation’s zero carbon achievements, and then to revise the reward strategy so all employees are encouraged to record and celebrate their contribution. ‘It’s amazing how a business team can rally around a flag’, Russell says.

Reinventing employer brands

Employer branding isn’t new; it’s an organisation’s ‘people persona’, and defines what it means to work for the company. ‘That perception is important to people looking for new employees’, Russell explains. ‘If you have a good employer brand, you attract the best talent and spend less on advertising and recruitment. If you’re true to your brand, more savings can be made because attrition falls significantly.’

Over the last 20 years almost every employer brand has used the same theme: teamwork. It has been a great hook but, for Russell, it’s not fit for a world of environmental change.

Click here for more information about Zero Carbon HR 2022 and to book your spot.

Planet People’s ‘environmental employer brand’ (EEB) is something completely new; it uses a company’s carbon agenda as the main tool to attract staff, then celebrates net zero achievements and each employee’s contribution to progress.

This isn’t just for ‘green’ businesses; anyone on a net zero trajectory could benefit from effective environmental employer branding.

‘By 2025, 75% of employees will be millennials’, Russell tells us. ‘Of these, 89% rank a company’s carbon agenda as a principal choice when choosing where to work. It makes sense. If you’re not creating an EEB, your competitors soon will – and you will fall behind in the search for the best people.’

Authenticity is key

While zero carbon achievements and rewards are themselves attractive to employers, Russell believes they must be ‘sold’ in a creative way that is engaging and resonates with the audience – just like any other mainstream marketing work.

Does that mean candidates are vulnerable to greenwash from recruiters who are trying to attract the best talent? ‘No’, Russell says. ‘The relationship between employer and employee has to be honest and authentic from the outset. We can’t manipulate the truth; employees just know too much about the inner workings and process of business.’

A company’s authenticity, purpose and intention are key to this approach; it will only work if the rewards and employee working practice are completely integrated into the business ethos. ‘Simply asking employees to recycle more isn’t a green employer brand and will fool no one when it comes to candidate preference’, Russell says.

Signs of authenticity to look out for include rewards based on innovative, incentivised lifestyle changes – assisted by the company – that focus on net zero.

Working from home, carshares, electric vehicle (EV) subsidies, EV charging points, cycle-to-work schemes, scooter charging, vegan options in the canteen and no-fly bonuses are just some of the examples that suggest a potential employer is genuinely trying to do its bit.

‘These incentives signify that beyond a salary, the business is focused on helping their staff – the largest emitters of scope 3 emissions – to mitigate their carbon’, Russell explains.

Net zero rewards can work really well from a talent perspective; they promote health and wellbeing, foster collaborative working, reduce days off sick and, most of all, massively reduce staff turnover.

‘These are just the employees’ plus points’, Russell tells us. ‘An environmental employer brand becomes a major focus for customers, suppliers, investors and supporters – everyone! It’s a win all round.’

An HR summit for climate change

As a way to support HR teams with the introduction of net zero incentives and rewards, Planet People is supporting Zero Carbon HR 2022, the world’s first big HR summit for climate change.

This year’s summit (12 September) will be the first of an annual event curated to change the world of work. It will give HR teams across all sectors access to support around a zero carbon strategy, plus advice from A-list climate change influencers, business leaders, suppliers and specialists.

Anyone who manages staff – whether HR, business leaders or FDs – will get chance to discover innovative new ways to reduce their carbon output and harness a better way of working; the event promises to deliver a sustainable business model for a tomorrow’s HR agenda.

‘We are the first HR consultancy business that has pledged to work solely in this space’, Russell tells us. ‘Our sponsorship of the event is the perfect way for us to realise our aim of getting employees on the climate agenda. 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2 were lost in lockdown without commuting – imagine what could happen if we could achieve this year on year!’

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