Veolia is one of the biggest companies many people haven’t heard of. Providing waste and recycling, and water and energy services, its solutions reach one in seven people across the UK every week. Sustainability is core to the firm’s vision, with a focus on building a circular economy. ‘We are a commercial entity, but it’s about more than profits,’ says CHRO Beth Whittaker. ‘It has to be the head and the heart. We make money so that we can reinvest and we place equal importance across society, our planet, employees, clients and shareholders.’

Organisation: Veolia

Industry: Environmental services

Size: 14,000 employees

Connecting with community

Being as environmentally sustainable as possible has long been core to how Veolia operates, but it sees an equally important role in building and sustaining thriving communities.

As part of its contract with Westminster Council, it set up a ‘Road to Work’ scheme, whereby homeless people and rough sleepers are given the opportunity to join Westminster’s street cleaning team. The return-to-work scheme also provides specialised support services like counselling and help with housing, via a charity partnership.

It also provides a number of other programmes to support under-represented and disadvantaged groups, such as ex-offenders, the long-term unemployed and veterans, into work. Veolia has taken advantage of the Government’s Kickstart Scheme, bringing in 76 young people. ‘We have a responsibility as an employer,’ says Whittaker. ‘We have roles which can provide a great stepping-stone for people who might have been out of work for a long time. We strongly believe in bringing people into the business and giving them an opportunity. We teach them about routine and the importance of turning up on time – things that so many take for granted.’

In 2020, Veolia granted £5.6 million to fund 112 community projects, such as the construction of woodland playgrounds. It also hosts open days where local residents can find out ‘what really happens to their recycling’ and engages with schoolchildren across the UK through an educational outreach programme, teaching them about environmental and sustainability issues.

Role of the people profession

As a company focused on building a circular economy, being holistically sustainable is core to Veolia’s culture. Many of the community initiatives have a direct link to the people function, focusing on inclusive recruitment and outreach.

The people team is seen as an enabler of responsible business in its broadest sense. 'Our aim in HR is to bring purpose, people and performance together in the pursuit of human progress,’ says Whittaker. ‘It’s brought the team together and they see it as their own purpose. Veolia’s approach to ESG will be a key part of future HR strategy and we can be even more progressive and even more ambitious about what we go after.'

Everything we do is in service of the environment, in service of our communities and all our stakeholders. It's about long-term sustainability rather than quick ones.

Beth Whittaker, Chief Human Resources Officer, Veolia

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