Four ways HR can adapt to the demands of the climate crisis

4 minute read
Antoine Poincaré, AXA Climate’s vice president of training, offers practical guidance for four key areas where HR professionals can prepare to adapt to the demands of the climate crisis

Act on climate change

Environmental challenges are transforming every job in some way, and HR professionals are not exempt.

Responsible for all people within an organisation, they will actually face some of the biggest changes of all - across employee recruitment, engagement, training, benefits and much more. Working closely with CEOs and the CSR department HR should now be starting to take the lead in guiding their workforce through this significant period of change and challenge.

If that sounds overwhelming and you’re wondering where to start, then look no further. Here I will outline the four key areas you should start preparing for now.

1. Start with the HR department

First, you need to lead by example and set the tone in your workforce. This means addressing the environmental impact of the HR department itself and considering how to shrink its carbon footprint, which will likely be digitising HR processes and focusing on the impact of transport.

For instance, offer bonuses to anyone who buys an electric bike, promote car sharing and carpooling, and install a bike garage. Plan in-person meetings and training locally – the carbon impact of a seminar you used to fly to is no longer acceptable.

Business travel should become the exception and not the rule. For every business trip ask yourself whether it is necessary, or would video conferencing suffice? Similarly, prioritise distance learning over classroom learning where possible. And finally, include environmental criteria when selecting external suppliers such as training providers. 

2. Engage the rest of workforce on sustainability

The biggest challenge facing HR is the responsibility of aligning the entire workforce on the understanding of the sustainability issue, what it means for the company and the motivation to act on it.

First, give employees the tools they need to take action by helping them learn about environmental matters and sustainable practices. Remember that every employee is an ambassador of your company and they may be asked legitimate questions or hear comments about your activity. External training providers can help here, like AXA’s The Climate School, in-person workshops like The Climate Fresk, or the new initiative by Frédéric Laloux called The Week.

Communication is key to ensuring employees have a clear understanding of what your businesses’ environmental goals actually are. Publish information setting out the organisation’s positions on environmental subjects. Listen to their feedback and their suggestions. Communication must be continuous throughout the year, and always be authentic and transparent. Employees will catch on very quickly if your messages are out of sync with the company’s actual trajectory with regard to sustainability.

To support this further look out for Green champions in your team. You may already have employees with a Green conscience who are interested or actively engaged in the environment. They might make excellent climate ambassadors for your organisation and they might also be ideal candidates for new environmental roles.

A key condition for success in getting everyone engaged and motivated is incentivisation. Increasingly, companies are including environmental targets in individual objectives and pay. To name two real-world examples, Mastercard has started linking the pay of its senior executives with the company’s CSR targets; and at the French firm Thalès 10% of variable pay is linked to CSR targets.

3. Anticipate how job roles at your company will need to adapt to the climate crisis

Climate transition is creating new needs, new competencies and new jobs – such as environmental marketing managers, statutory auditors specialised in carbon footprint analysis and climate data scientists.

Your role is to anticipate tomorrow’s skills needs and the new jobs of the future. But how? First, speak with CSR or strategy managers to find out if any projects have been carried out on the subject in your company. Check if your professional federation has done any research on this.

Having analysed all this information it is time to identify the appropriate training and to begin investing in upskilling or reskilling for different roles.

Taking the digital transition as our most applicable example, it’s likely that transitioning existing jobs will be a more important movement than creating new ones that don’t exist yet. Prepare for this.

4. Prepare for new working conditions

Extreme events, from storms to heatwaves, are set to become more frequent and more intense. Your company may have to review the location of its activities. In the event of floods, hurricanes, or forest fires employees might be at risk at the workplace or be prevented from getting to it.

The International Labour Organization estimates that the impact of heat stress will cost the global economy over 2 trillion dollars annually from 2030, due to lower productivity. Some job descriptions may also need an update to factor in working conditions affected by this heat.

Investment may be needed to adapt working practices to these changing conditions. Contact innovation managers to educate and inform them about future needs. For example, it could be useful to design cooling vests for workers –  or perhaps develop temperature monitoring tools to ensure employees working outside are safe. Some industries are already doing this, such as construction companies that have contracts with different work patterns for different expected weather conditions. This will soon become a feature of office working life, too.

The mental impact of climate change on employees is also increasingly likely to affect performance. A survey conducted by the University of Bath in the UK revealed that 60% of young people aged 16 to 25 are concerned or extremely concerned about the climate. Eco-anxiety is an emerging subject but it is bound to become a more significant issue in the future.

HR managers have a role to play by taking mental health seriously. Take a look at the services offered by psychologists and coaches, who can listen to your employees. And help your employees to take action. Any action, no matter how small, helps address anxiety.  

Working together

Most employees want their employer to go further with their environmental policy, and tackling the impact of the climate crisis on the workplace will enrich and reposition the role of HR.

Now, more than ever, it is vital to build cross-functional relations across the business and to promote collaboration between different roles and departments so that everyone is working together to address the challenges of climate change.

Antoine Poincaré, pictured below, is vice president of training at AXA Climate. AXA Climate provides climate consultancy and digital training, with initiatives such as The Climate School, which has been used by more than four million people around the world

Antoine Poincare VP training AXA Climate

Published 19 April 2023
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