The impact of climate change and potential for reputational risk has increased the need for organisations to address environmental sustainability. HR professionals can play a key role in driving this work and collaborating with all stakeholders to demonstrate commitment to pro-environmental actions. 

Climate change is a serious global issue that poses many risks to environmental and human systems. How great the impact will depend upon our success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.  

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a growing priority for governments worldwide as the urgency of the situation becomes clearer. The Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, aims to limit global warming increases to below 2° Celsius and preferably 1.5° Celsius from pre-industrial levels. This was adopted by 196 state parties at COP 21 in Paris on 12 December 2015 and came into force on 4 November 2016. Since then, 125 countries have committed to achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest.  

Human activity is cited as the main cause of climate change, but organisations also contribute significantly, for example, in the UK, businesses were responsible for 17% of the greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. While averting a humanitarian and planetary crisis is reason enough to act with urgency, there is also a business case for doing so. The cost of solar and other renewable energy sources has gone down, so organisations can save money and reduce energy uncertainty. Climate action also enables organisations to show that their brands are meaningful and relevant to today’s customers and employees.  

This guide looks at the practical steps HR professionals can take to apply environmental sustainability in their organisation to tackle the climate crisis. 

Risks and benefits

Getting started

Recruitment and selection

Performance management and reward

Learning and development

Leadership and engagement

Ikea has environmental sustainability as one of its eight values: ‘Caring for people and planet’

We want to be a force for positive change. We have the possibility to make a significant and lasting impact – today and for the generations to come.

The four key enablers of employee engagement 

  • Leadership that gives a ‘strong strategic narrative about the organisation’ and demonstrates the desire to tackle the climate crisis
  • Managers who motivate, empower and support their employees to achieve their roles and responsibilities in achieving the organisation’s sustainability aims
  • Employee voice throughout the organisation, to involve employees in decision-making around what tasks and behaviours should be prioritised to achieve net zero
  • Organisational integrity that stated values are reflected in the actual organisational culture; what we say is what we do.

Practically, this can be evident in: 

  • ongoing standards for each employee, team and the organisation as a whole to meet 
  • a matrix of sustainability projects, or task and finish groups, in which people can participate 
  • projects to engage with the wider community as part of corporate sustainability. 

Purposeful leadership is linked to employees’ job satisfaction, whether they find meaning in their work, their willingness to ‘go the extra mile’, their intention to quit and lower levels of cynicism towards the organisation. 

Build environmental sustainability into organisation culture 

If the values of the organisation include environmental sustainability, the culture of the organisation is formed when these values are put into action. For HR practitioners, this means the integration of environmental sustainability throughout all of their policies, procedures and practices, and then clearly articulating this to all stakeholders. 


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