Building the ESG Workforce Connection
By Chris Davis

Engaged employees can be advocates of an organisation's environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies. 

A consistent and compelling narrative supported by interactive activities is essential to driving ESG employee awareness and best practices.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), a framework for assessing and guiding how an organisation can evaluate its sustainability and societal practices, has become a focal point in today’s business world, including the property development sector. As companies navigate the dynamics remodelling the future of work, ESG can help invigorate employee attraction, retention, and engagement as a key workforce strategy.

For the Q2 2022 issue’s Spotlight cover story, we have invited organisations from different industries to share their insights on which aspects of ESG hold the most relevance for the HR function, how they are implementing ESG strategies, and the various ways that ESG practices can be leveraged to establish a talent recruitment advantage amid keen competition.

As one of Hong Kong's leading property developers, Sino Group’s ESG policies go beyond prioritising good corporate citizenship – it underpins the organisation’s vision of “Creating Better Lifescapes”. ESG concepts are embedded into the Group’s goal setting, policies, and performance targets that cascade across the entire company, explained Elaine Liu, Group Associate Director and Chief Human Resources Officer, Sino Group. “Whether in work, life, or play, from the broader cityscapes to individual lives we are shaping the city we call home,” Liu said.

With a growing number of jobseekers actively seeking to work for organisations that incorporate ESG principles into their values and operation, Sino Group’s commitment to “Creating Better Lifescapes” provides a strong foundation for retaining the best talent and attracting passionate individuals to work for the company. “We are committed to raising our ESG performance so that we will continue to be viewed as a preferred employer of choice for existing employees as well as talents in the market,” Liu said. “When employees feel that they are contributing to the company’s higher level goals, we believe they are likely to become our brand advocates, especially in the era of widespread use of social media.”

Committed to a singular vision

Charting a course for 2030 and beyond, Sino Group has implemented Sustainability Vision 2030, a comprehensive blueprint covering areas such as renewable energy, plastic reduction, green building certification, and innovative sustainability solutions. The company’s sustainability goals encompass its new developments, including a vast number of new buildings currently in Hong Kong registered and listed under the WELL v2 project directory; the world’s first architectural benchmark focused exclusively on human health and wellness to enhance sustainability.

While Sustainability Vision 2030 drives the “big picture” sustainability vision, the day-to-day initiatives, policies, and campaigns are equally important as these are the areas where the workforce see the values reflected. For instance, with diversity and inclusion represented by the “S” in ESG, the HR function organised a Diversity & Inclusion Month, which featured a series of activities and events, including webinars, mini games, and interviews with ethnic minority staff. Additional highlights included an interactive seminar featuring representatives from the Equal Opportunities Commission, the NGO CareER, and Hong Kong Seeing Eye Dog Services. “These events provided insights on how to integrate diversity and inclusion practices in the workplace and appreciate the diverse capabilities of different people,” Liu said.

Connecting the ESG dots

To equip staff with a better understanding of Sino Group’s ESG and sustainability initiatives, a Sustainability Academy has been established, which provides programmes and webinars covering topics. Different communication channels are also used to inform staff about ESG concepts. These include town hall meetings, email messages from top management, articles uploaded to inSino, Sino Group's mobile app, webinars, seminars, workshops, and ESG-related activities. “From our 2019 level, we aim to increase our training hours per employee by 50% by 2025 and 100% by 2030,” Liu said. Furthermore, to encourage lifelong learning, the Group offers examination leave and educational subsidies, enabling staff to participate in external learning and training programmes.

Meanwhile, Sino Group’s ESG Steering Committee sets directives on key issues from health and safety to climate change mitigation, community support to diversity and inclusion. The Committee also supports the Board of Directors in overseeing and steering the Group’s sustainability efforts, establishes directions and develops policies, as well as formulating strategies and plans. Based on the directives from the Committee and best market practices, the HR function works closely with internal stakeholders to set annual ESG targets covering a wide range of areas including gender pay ratio, diversity and inclusion, and the representation of females in senior management.

Recognising that elevating ESG awareness is a journey and not a destination, to enhance employees’ understanding of ESG-related concepts, the HR function collaborates with NGOs to organise webinars on topics such as tree management and the plant-based diet. Activities which encourage staff to adopt an environmentally responsible lifestyle are also organised. For instance, guest speakers from NGOs and professionals from different backgrounds are invited to share their ideas about effective ways to reduce food waste and how individuals can mitigate their carbon footprint. “We are committed to offering appropriate programmes and learning opportunities to help our workforce develop a better understanding of how the principles of ESG can be factored into their daily lives,” Liu said.

Wellbeing – a cornerstone of ESG

With the significance of wellbeing elevated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sino Group has put in place a holistic Employee Wellness programme that provides support across the themes of work, family, physical and mental health. This includes engaging the Christian Family Service Centre and other organisations to provide counselling support services for employees and their family members on various issues, including stress management, emotional wellness, parenting and family challenges. Acknowledging the importance of quality sleep for achieving physical and mental wellness, a comprehensive “SleepWellness” programme which includes health talks, sleep tests, and doctor consultations have been launched.

To support the fight against COVID-19, an outreach vaccination service was organised at various work locations to provide convenient on-site vaccination for employees, their family members, and friends. “Not only do we care about our employees, we also take action in giving back to society,” Liu said. As a committed corporate citizen, during the pandemic, Sino Group donated 280,000 sets of COVID-19 rapid antigen test kits to the underprivileged, remote monitoring systems to residential care homes, and 5,000 gift packs to medical professionals working at the Accident & Emergency facilities in various public hospitals and medical institutions.

On top of improving the overall sustainability of the built environment, with climate change posing environmental challenges, by taking collaborative measures, Sino Group seeks to develop a climate-resilient portfolio. As a key part of its Sustainability Vision 2030 the Group is working with academia and announced a holistic decarbonisation blueprint to formulate a clear roadmap and setting science-based targets and key performance indicators on carbon reductions towards achieving net zero carbon by 2050. Steering a path towards a greener future, the Group is also harnessing technology to strengthen energy efficiency solutions including advanced energy storage systems for its property portfolio.

Sourcing insights

As HR practitioners are being called upon to play a greater role than ever before in addressing ESG issues, Liu believes the quickest way for them to broaden their ESG knowledge and insights is to get involved. In larger organisations, to gain hands-on knowledge, Liu recommends partnering with the internal ESG or Sustainability team. She also points out that there is a wealth of free information available online. A good place to start, for example, is the UN 2030 Sustainability Development Goals, which provides useful details and outlines major goals various nations and corporations are working towards. Studying market trends, exploring competitors’ ESG activities, and seeking out the best practices being set by ESG first-movers and innovators, can also provide a rich source of useful knowledge that HR professionals can apply to their company's own needs and circumstances.

With wellbeing recognised as a key factor when making career decisions, by embracing employee wellness as a pivotal part of ESG strategy, organisations will be more empowered to create a resilient and agile workforce well-positioned for a sustainable future.

Building the ESG Workforce Connection
PR 13 June, 2022