Going green and HR’s influence on the environment

22 May

HR professionals can have great influence over whether their companies incorporate green practices into daily routines.

Business leaders may be surprised to hear environmentally friendly practices are excellent employee engagement strategies. Business leaders may be even more surprised to learn human resources professionals can help corporations and their employees become more green. In fact, if there's one department that's well-equipped to head up such an endeavor, it's HR.

American workforce growing more environmentally conscious 
It's important to note employees today, especially millennials, enjoy working for companies invested in social and environmental causes. Switch and Shift compiled research from a variety of sources outlining the goals of millennials today. It found a 23 percent increase in volunteerism among 16- to 24-year-olds between 1989 and 2005. Of those who volunteer, 79 percent are motivated purely by passion to help others. Millennials, more so than any other generation, are faced with the task of preserving the environment for their futures, so green initiatives and matters pertaining to natural surrondings will be of greater importance to them. 

In addition, a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management on HR and environmental sustainability found 49 percent of businesses with green workplace practices claimed these environmentally conscious actions helped them recruit top talent. On top of that, 40 percent believed a green work environment led to greater employee retention.

So, where does HR come into the picture?

HR and going green 
Corporations have enormous influence over decisions and opinions made on a global scale. Business leaders' actions can affect those of other companies, industries, governments and local communities. HR is the only department in a corporation that truly interacts with everyone. Executives, managers, entry-level employees, administrative assistants, mail room employees and more all spend time with HR in some capacity. Working with people at all levels is the key to building a sustainable, green office, and HR is the right team for the job.

Currently, according to the SHRM survey, 68 percent of companies already have implemented environmentally friendly procedures in their offices. These businesses found the green initiatives improved employee morale and loyalty, boosted brand recognition among consumers and yielded more efficient output.

To be effective, HR must help their businesses incorporate green guidelines into employees' daily activities; the environment must become a central focus and consideration on a fundamental level. Formal policies, used by 52 percent of those businesses surveyed, are highly recommended.

Some formal policies HR departments currently use include:

  • Going paperless – EcoSeed stated cloud platforms are excellent tools for businesses looking to go green. Rather than printing multiple copies of a single document, work teams can share items with each other via the cloud, making changes together and avoiding printing at all. In addition, all businesses should offer direct deposit for employees. This eliminates the need for envelopes or printing checks every few weeks.
  • Recycling – Companies should have blue recycling bins next to every printer in an office and under every employee desk if possible. Some businesses take this one step further and add compost bins to office kitchen areas. This decreases the amount of waste produced by the organization as a whole.
  • Offering telecommuting – One growing trend in business operations is telecommuting. SHRM reported companies like Dell, Aetna and Xerox allow certain employees to work from home. In fact, these three corporations were able to save 95,294 metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2014 simply by allowing employees to telecommute. Not only has this move improved Dell, Aetna and Xerox's employee satisfaction ratings, but it's made the hiring and retention processes easier.

One thing HR must remember is to design a reliable method for each policy and measure return on investment. SHRM found in its survey that 47 percent of companies with both green initiatives and ROI measurements saw a positive return, and 46 percent responded it was too early to tell with their current practices. None of the respondents claimed a negative ROI. 

To increase employee engagement, retention and recruitment, HR should look into spearheading environmental policies in their offices. 

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