On 20th April 2021 the UK government set a legal commitment to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.
This deadline is designed to act as a ‘stepping stone’ towards achieving the end goal of the UK becoming net-zero by 2050. Announced at the 2021 Cop26 global conference launch in Glasgow, it has been described as the world’s most ambitious climate change target.
However, despite 72% of employees believing sustainability should be a priority over the next five years, 74% of UK business leaders are not ready to commit to a net-zero strategy,
So how can business leaders rethink their long-term strategy and play their part in achieving net-zero?
What is ‘net-zero’?
Net-zero means achieving a balanced state where no greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere. These gases are linked to global warming as they help to trap energy from the sun within the earth’s atmosphere.
The most common is carbon dioxide (CO2). It is released whenever fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, are used. To reduce these emissions, energy use needs to be lowered with a switch to lower or non-carbon-based forms of energy – such as solar, wind and hydro.
What does net zero mean for a business?
Achieving the overall UK target will rely on each business, organisation and individual to play their part in adapting behaviours and reducing energy consumption. For a business, this means identifying and tracking the organisation’s carbon costs.
Where emissions are unavoidable, an organisation will need to offset their carbon costs to achieve net-zero status. This can be done with carbon credits that help to fund projects to reduce energy consumption.
How can HR professionals help?
Effective people management is essential if organisations are going to achieve the transformation that’s required. Here are five ways in which HR teams can make a difference:
1. Transforming culture
Achieving net-zero will require some fundamental changes to the way we work. HR leaders have a pivotal role in making this happen – turning policies into practical and sustainable actions that make people feel a part of the process.
With effective handling, this can become an essential part of a company’s EVP (Employee Value Proposition), creating a vibrant and people-focused culture. In caring about carbon commitments, an employer is caring about its people.
2. Remote-first strategies
Reducing emissions means rethinking how, where and when we work. Moving to remote work and hybrid workforces offers significant reductions by removing the need for daily commutes.
For many organisations, this will mean moving to a remote-first approach with HR teams building organisations that are no longer reliant on offices that release high amounts of energy or carbon-emitting daily travel.
3. Tracking carbon costs
HR teams can play an important role in keeping track of carbon costs across a workforce. Working with a finance team, they can monitor the carbon footprints of individuals and departments, covering areas such as:
- Commuting: How far do they travel to work and how?
- Workplace: What are the relative carbon costs of remote and office environments?
- Business travel: What are the costs of road/train/plane travel and hotel stays?
Cloud-based tools such as ELMO Expenses offer an integrated carbon calculator that estimates Co2 emissions based on business journey distance and transport type. This data can be used to create reports to monitor performance over time.
4. Paperless processes
Despite the growth in digital tools, the average UK office worker is still interacting with around 10,000 sheets of paper each year – forms, worksheets, reports and policy documents.
To change this, HR teams will need to work alongside CIOs to review and replace any working process where paper can be replaced with a digital or cloud-based alternative.
5. Monitoring carbon performance
How well are carbon policies being followed? What kind of improvements can L&D deliver? What about performance-related incentives? These are the kinds of questions that HR can help an organisation to answer.
With digital tools, carbon costs can be built into performance monitoring with productivity balanced against the environmental impact of each action and decision.
What are the net-zero challenges facing HR?
To achieve the transformation, HR leaders need to be given a central role in net-zero strategy. They need the resources, tools and support that will be required to build sustainable and carbon-friendly workforces.
But research by the University of London and Microsoft suggests that these changes aren’t currently in place with 41% of UK employers set to meet the 2050 target.
It found that 74% of UK business leaders are not ready to fully commit to a net-zero strategy. This is despite 72% of employees believing sustainability should be the number one business priority over the next five years.