PTHR is a consultancy offering services in HR, OD and L&D. It currently has 10 members of staff, and is a certified B Corporation.

The aim

Sustainability is deeply embedded in the DNA of PTHR and how it does business, says chief futures officer Kirsten Buck. It is a certified B Corporation – after going through a rigorous and lengthy process – meaning it meets high sustainable and ethical standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency.

“Our first principle is ‘more than profit,’” Buck says, explaining why sustainability has become integral to business as usual. When sustainability became part of Buck’s job, she introduced the organisation’s Pledge to the Planet, which reads: “We at PTHR solemnly swear to do all we can in our working lives and personal lives where we consciously choose to restore the damage done to our planet and protect it for future generations.” 

Everything relating to environmental sustainability comes under the heading of ‘Terrain’ at PTHR. (Social responsibility is referred to as ‘Tribe’. “I think language is really important,” says Buck.) While a smaller business – particularly one that works remote-first and offers business-to-business services rather than directly producing anything – will naturally have a smaller carbon footprint, that’s no reason to be complacent.

How was change achieved?

The first step PTHR took was to start measuring its carbon emissions. Team members measure them individually, for example travelling to work with clients, and share the information in a public channel for sustainability on Slack. The information is then captured in a spreadsheet, which Buck sense-checks every six months. To figure out ‘what that actually means’, Buck partners with Ecologi, which provides free carbon footprinting measuring and offsetting tools to small and medium-sized businesses: “They help you really understand the emissions you are making.” 

PTHR is aiming to be not just carbon-neutral, but carbon-positive, going beyond achieving net zero to add positive contributions to the environment. One small example of contributing to biodiversity is adopting a beehive. “And we actually get the honey,” smiles Buck.

While being remote-first contributes to a smaller environmental impact, Buck has been examining PTHR’s digital footprint, getting smarter around the emissions that technology devices, tools and platforms produce. “When we were redesigning our website, we looked at things like hosting providers and how many videos and images we needed to use,” she explains. “How much bandwidth are you taking up?” It can get as granular as thinking about email signatures: “As a company, when we are responding to emails, do we need to have our lovely email signature in it? Or could it just be in the first email? All that makes a difference.” 

PTHR is signed up to the SME Climate Hub, something Buck wholeheartedly recommends. By publicly committing to the UN Race to Net Zero campaign and sharing your progress, SMEs can unlock access to resources and incentives. All new starters receive resources on sustainability and climate change from the hub. 

How has change affected the organisation?

While much change is down to what can be done in a business (such as PTHR’s ‘cleaner commutes’ policy, whereby staff don’t take taxis when working in London but instead use public transport), Buck feels that there is a role for people professionals in giving people the information they need to make greener choices in their personal lives. “We all have a responsibility and, as part of onboarding, HR should give people the information to make their own decisions,” she says. “Limiting single-use plastic, for instance, has to be a personal choice. People who have joined us have said: ‘I didn’t know this about sustainability until I came to PTHR’; for example, things like changing their energy provider.” A fun, impactful example was inviting staff to get involved with the ‘No new clothes’ challenge, committing to a year without buying any new clothes (second-hand or vintage is allowed). “We found that really changed behaviour,” says Buck.

When it comes to working with clients, PTHR operates a remote-first delivery principle. Clients can request face-to-face delivery, but it is more expensive. “We can’t force clients to do that, but often when we deliver remotely, they think: “Why would we do this in person when you can emulate the same impact but have less negative effect on the planet?” says Buck. Clients are also interested in PTHR’s B Corp accreditation (which can lead to business from other B Corps) and in finding out more about how to genuinely embed sustainability, beyond greenwashing. 

Off the back of that interest, Buck introduced a quarterly ‘sustainability spotlight’ for staff, co-created by herself and other ‘sustainability activists’, which looks at the issues of climate change on a macro level, offers examples of inspirational practice from other organisations, and highlights PTHR’s own sustainability initiatives and what it has done to meet them over the last quarter. “That’s a nice way of talking about sustainability regularly, even though it’s not generating profit for us,” she says.

PTHR has a client manifesto and a supplier manifesto, and carries out due diligence for every client project, in part looking at sustainability. “If HR can understand their supply chain, we can then trickle down to understand scope 3 emissions, which has the most damaging environmental impact,” Buck feels. The company will also decline to work with clients that support the fracking industry, use fur in their product line, or where child or forced labour of any kind is known or strongly suspected. “That’s called doing the right thing and being ethical,” says Buck. 

Top tips

  • Make sustainability integral to your purpose and ways of doing business.
  • As a small business, take advantage of external experts and the tools and networks available. 
  • Co-create solutions and share widely to inspire others.

As Buck says: “If all organisations do this, the organisations that aren’t purpose-led will cease to exist. SMEs shouldn’t sit on their hands and think they can’t make an impact.”

The full series

Embedding environmental sustainability initiatives in
your organisation

How companies are implementing strategies from the top-down and engaging the whole workforce

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