Employees are passionate about sustainability and ready to play a bigger role in their organisations' sustainability and carbon reduction plans.
By leveraging its many touchpoints with workforces, the HR function is at the forefront of driving sustainability.
With sustainability as one of the key issues of our time, employees are seeking to play a bigger role in their companies’ sustainability initiatives, according to research conducted by real estate services firm JLL Asia Pacific.
The Sustainability in the built environment: An employee perspective survey (Sustainability in the built environment: An employee perspective survey) sought the views of employees from Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, mainland China, India, and Australia. The survey found that while workforces are looking for greater representation in their organisations’ sustainability initiatives, the majority feel disengaged from their employers’ sustainability agenda.
Findings from the report show eight in 10 employees believe that sustainability initiatives are a must for business today, while 75% expect their organisations to follow sustainable business practices. However, roughly two-thirds (65%) of workforces are not aware of their companies’ carbon reduction goals, while 60% reported their companies do not involve them in green initiatives. Importantly, expectations that focus on sustainability are a determining factor when choosing which organisation to work for – especially among younger employees. Half of those polled stated they would choose a sustainability leader as their future employer when weighing up career opportunities. In other words, the fact that when choosing between two equal offers, half would prefer to work with a sustainability leader. However, sustainability still does not have the power to topple salary and benefits.
Significantly, 78% of employees aged 21 to 30 want to work for a company that actively involves staff in sustainability efforts, while 64% of respondents aged 31 to 40 share the same view. The findings are particularly pertinent at a time when people are keen to work for organisations they feel can make a difference.
The HR function's role in advancing sustainability
With employees on the frontline of any business, human capital strategies and sustainability strategies have a strong interdependent relationship. By helping to define vision and core principles, the HR function can strategically play several roles in developing and steering an organisation’s sustainability culture. For instance, it can assist in developing a clear definition of sustainable company culture. What does it mean? How is it measured? Who should be the organisation's role model? How will employees have an impact? Being part of a company’s sustainability efforts can be a source of pride for individuals. It can also provide an opportunity for alignment between both the values of organisations and their workforce. Engaging employees in sustainability practices by encouraging them to contribute and giving them the tools to make sustainability a part of their own lives can result in a more satisfied workforce, and may even make them ambassadors for the company.
As organisations become increasingly scrutinised by consumers, regulators, and employees for their ability to offer a sustainable business model, environmental, social and governance (ESG) can be used as a tool to guide and measure sustainability performance. Leveraging the principle of what gets measured gets managed, having a robust set of ESG metrics and a model to organise and govern them not only guides companies as they strive to achieve a positive impact on our society and the environment; it also enhances their business reputation and strengthens staff engagement. In this way, engaged employees tend to attract likeminded employees, which can help the organisation to build a workforce that embraces a sustainability mindset.
While sustainable offices have been in the background for some time, the COVID-19 health crisis has thrust sustainability into the spotlight. With awareness of how and where people work heightened by the pandemic, making office buildings healthier and more sustainable places to work can also contribute to the wider concept of employee wellbeing. When asked to compare office, residential, and retail buildings, 70% of the employees surveyed by JLL believe office buildings can be highly impactful in reducing carbon emissions in comparison to residential (55%) and retail (50%) buildings. Furthermore, 65% of the staff also stated that they would prefer to work in buildings that contribute to reducing carbon emissions. Beyond employer action, JLL’s survey also revealed that workers are looking for universal adoption of removing unnecessary packaging, recycling water, waste, and plastic, and adding sustainability features in all buildings, as ways to ensure a sustainable future for upcoming generations.
While green certified buildings are considered the gold standard, developments without sustainability credentials can also offer features that support a sustainability agenda and create healthier spaces for people. Among the numerous changes desirable to employees, some are easy and inexpensive to implement — especially bringing nature and greenery indoors into the office environment. Simple steps like this can help to reduce stress, boost attention span, and elevate general wellbeing. Understanding some of the barriers that workers face in following a more sustainable lifestyle can also shape companies’ corporate sustainability strategies. Meanwhile, enabling staff to live healthier and more sustainable lifestyles is not only pivotal for our collective future, it represents a prime opportunity for companies to build more trust, loyalty, and advocacy among their most important stakeholders – their workforce.
Roddy Allan, Chief Research Officer, APAC, JLL pointed out that real estate plays a crucial role in laying the pathway to a sustainable future, as office and residential buildings are instrumental in reducing carbon emissions. "Increasingly we will see businesses investing in sustainable real estate or leasing office spaces in green buildings as part of their sustainability strategy, which will ultimately improve employee engagement and retention," Allan said.
Building a collaborative-focused sustainability culture
Involving and engaging staff in sustainability initiatives meaningfully is easier said than done. However, involving employees is crucial if organisations want to take their sustainability strategies to the next level. A proactive way to embed sustainability in a company is to encourage staff-led initiatives — such as engaging passionate millennials as sustainability champions by making them stakeholders in the decision making process on sustainability commitments. Simultaneously, employees need to know why an action is of consequence and how their participation is important. Implementing sustainability ideas co-created with employees reinforces the concept that they are an integral part of the company’s sustainability agenda. As advocates and enablers, once staff see the positive impact of sustainability initiatives they have helped to create, new ideas tend to flow. Similarly, whenever sustainability initiatives are identified, organisations must make it easy for staff to get involved.
Creating dialogue with staff throughout the process of introducing and implementing sustainable practices, can encourage them to become more invested in the process. For example, employers can work with employees to discuss their individual attitudes to sustainability initiatives and get to know what would encourage them to become engaged. Communicating clearly and consistently with staff about how the company is planning to approach sustainability issues allows them to feel like part of the solution. Importantly, organisations must provide regular feedback to employees through statistics, encouragement, and recognition. Equally significant is the need to continuously re-engage staff as even the best strategies may lose their shine over time. Ensuring regular and ongoing interaction and idea sharing, and reinforcing employees’ value in the company’s sustainability journey can keep staff engagement intact.
As Anthony Couse, Chief Executive Officer, APAC, JLL, put it, in their pursuit of sustainability, businesses in Asia Pacific must ensure that their corporate goals are closely aligned with the goals of their employees. "As the importance of sustainability grows, by championing the benefits of sustainable practices, organisations can not only boost employee engagement, they can also make a contribution toward protecting the planet," Couse concluded.