Sustainable workplaces | Encouraging green HR practices

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Sustainable workplaces | Encouraging green HR practices

Sunday, 21 February 2021 | Soni Agrawal and Roma Puri

Sustainable workplaces | Encouraging green HR practices

Organisations that have made greening a priority for themselves expect environment-centric behaviour from their people and this has resulted in judicious utilisation of resources, say Soni Agrawal and Roma Puri

Businesses need to go beyond the interests of their companies to the communities they serve.

— Ratan Tata

Very recently Mahindra&Mahindra got caught on the wrong foot. A picture of M&M’s Board meeting was shared on Twitter, where a user pointed out use of disposable plastic bottles in the Board meeting of the company. This promptly led Mr. Mahindra to take ownership and banish plastic bottles from meetings and replace them with environment friendly alternatives.

This simple narrative points out how the organisers of the meeting had not thought about the environmental implications of their actions (using plastic bottles in the meeting), when the company is actively promoting environment and sustainability, and this may be true for employees across organisations as well, who are neither aware nor committed to the environmental cause. Hence, employee involvement becomes important for organisations on its sustainability journey.

Smart organisations know how to ensure core values of their organisation. This can happen either by persuading their employees or by giving them a clear message. Organisations that have made greening a priority for themselves expect environment-centric behaviour from their people and this has resulted in judicious utilisation of resources. In addition, consistent assessment of environmental impact while taking business decisions, recycling and repurposing of resources and adoption of sustainable forms of different resources are some other important parameters.

About sustainability and sustainable workplace

Sustainability, greening the corporation, environment management are gradually becoming a part of the corporate vocabulary. The way the natural resources are extracted and consumed from earth, it is going to be very difficult to replenish them timely. It is often discussed in various forums that for generating the resources we spend in one year; earth takes around 1.5 years for the re-generation. Hence, it can be assumed that there will a requirement of the capacity of almost two Earths by 2030 to keep pace with the present natural resource consumption, and the requirement will be of three planets by 2050.

Experts have always warned people about the impacts of climate change, global warming and the recent onset of a pandemic (Covid-19) can completely rewire people’s brains. All these environmental changes will have far reaching impact on humanity and life force on the planet. They would be designed in such a way that they work on People-Planet-Profit (PPP) methodologies, thereby providing benefits to all the stakeholders. The architecture, building, resources employed would all be designed to function on the principles that promote sustainability.

The current requirement is towards developing long-term, meaningful relationships, and self-discipline for attaining effective results. Thus, the design of the workplace is such that supports the basic and core idea in a more accommodating and comprehensive manner. When employees find the conviction among their leaders, they tend to behave in the manner that supports green and sustainable way of working in an interrelated and interlinked way.

A Green workplace is an eco-friendly and focused organisation and leans towards the adoption of business practices that are justifiable in nature, energy efficient, and well suited to the complex as well as the ever-changing world of business. It advocates the model based on 3Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle. It is not only green building and green infrastructure, rather it has a much broader scope. It encompasses green competencies, green attitude, and green behaviour, which is combined synergistically to help the organisation become green or sustainable. Values are the essential characteristic that both employees and organisations uphold and operate at multiple levels (societal, organisational and personal), thus playing a fundamental role in shaping the organisation’s culture with regard to a shift towards greater sustainability.

Recent changes post COVID-19 in HR domain

A lot of changes were witnessed post pandemic in the very year of 2020. Globally, work from office (if not completely zero) definitely went on the downward slide. At the same time, thanks to availability of internet and online working option availability, work was not completely shut. Although, work from office was very less, we could experiment with new working models in most of the industries and companies of all sizes. Though we were not meeting face-to-face, we were still connected. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology and digital way of working tremendously.

Now, with the vaccine discussions, new experiments are being made. These include mixing remote and office work with safety protocols, remote management, making tough decisions like giving furlough to some workers and growing the roles of others, engagement, learning, monitoring and evaluating so that the business of the organisation can happen as usual.

Global industry analyst Josh aptly mentioned at Perspectives 2020, “For us in HR, it is really time to be the heroic leaders of the response.” Thus, the HR is experimenting and finding opportunity the year of the pandemic and following year with huge expectations and the big acceleration of the transformation HR. The enmeshment of all aspects has caused a sea change in how people are working at home, trying to strike a balance among all the domains. The clear segregation between home and work has today blurred, integration, of an ‘enforced’ kind is in place which is different from the voluntary work from home which companies used to give. Thus, in this process of transformation and management of unprecedented situation, HR is gaining smoothly greater importance.

Work from home and sustainable aspects

Although, work from home (WFH) was always advocated by HR fraternity (as it gives the opportunity for work life integration), the actual decision to allow the employees to work from home was a difficult one. The principal risk to firms when allowing employees to work from home is a potential inability to monitor those employees to the same degree as would be possible if he or she worked in a traditional office setting.

During Covid-19, the situations are different. Everyone is worried about health and wellbeing related aspects. Supply chains are disrupted. Daily and essential works are taking more time as no support is available at home. More than that, all the family members are available all the time at the same place with kids not going outside is an extra burden of managing and engaging them with lots of patience. Along with that the individual difference of managing stress and uncertainties also play an important role when we talk about working effectively in this uncertain times.

Working from home or working at home during the Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to realities which are reframing the very fabric of our social, occupational, and emotional lives. Not surprisingly, the nature of WFH has changed in recent years. The cost to employees of corresponding with employers and co-workers quickly and effectively from a distance has fallen dramatically.

In addition, the positive aspect can be seen that resource utilisation has gone down dramatically. Due to WFH and less commute required, there seem chances that less people need to travel daily to attend their office. The proposed hybrid model, where WFH and online learning will be a part, lesser vehicles will be needed on the road. That will definitely impact positively in terms of less polluted air and sound. Due to digital way of working, prevalence of electronic mail, video conferencing software, and mobile communication through ubiquitous cellular communications networks, the usage of electricity, paper will go down.

Leaders’ role in encouraging sustainability in organisations

The role of leadership is pivotal when it comes to encouraging sustainability in organisations. CEOs across companies and nationalities are understanding the importance of committing to sustainability and have placed sustainability on top of their agenda. The seriousness of climate threat and the growing awareness around environmental issues is making organisations commit to reducing their contribution to pollution and depletion of natural resources.

Indian organisations have become a part of the Carbon Disclosure Project thereby committing to reduce emission of carbon but recent reports show that CDP has pulled up 20 Indian organisations for their weak sustainability disclosures. A recent CDP India Annual Report also discloses that Indian companies are not much concerned about deforestation and do not make a realistic assessment of the impact of their business on deforestation. This indicates the lack of seriousness to take environmental impact of business into consideration.

This is where the role of leadership becomes highly significant. Integrating sustainability and environmental issues into the strategy of business can only be accomplished at the highest level of the organisation. We need the business leaders to step up and work towards becoming more sustainable. There are examples of leaders who have taken sustainability to be the most important driver of their business. Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia is a shining example of sustainable leadership. He not only made sustainability a part of his business but also worked with his vendors to make their businesses sustainable. His contribution to the environment extended to producing documentaries meant to sensitise people on environmental issues.

Late Y.C. Deveshwar, former Chairman of ITC Ltd. in an interview had stated that sustainability was a key to gain competitive advantage. The current CEO and MD of ITC, Sanjiv Puri has committed to stretch goals to improve its sustainability performance by 2030 by replacing 50% of the company’s energy consumption with renewable sources.

These examples demonstrate the leader’s vision and commitment to sustainability are imperative to promote sustainability in organisations. The leader’s beliefs about environmental conservation and a vision centered around sustainability can motivate employees to take up the environmental cause. The leader can become a catalyst in enhancing awareness on sustainability by making it a part of the corporate vocabulary and integrating sustainability as a value in the organisation’s culture.

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