Time to Act: Overcoming the Sustainability Hurdles for HR in APAC

Written by Malvi Goyal

In recent years, HR leaders have seen a significant shift in their priorities due to events such as the Covid pandemic, advancements in digital transformation, and the increase in remote and hybrid working. These developments have radically altered the landscape of employee management and engagement. Now, the climate crisis we’re facing requires an even greater transformation – larger even than the industrial revolution. In response, the HR function will become more important than ever before as it takes a leading role in a business’ push for sustainability transition.

Around the world, HR leaders will need to respond to different challenges. For example, in Asia Pacific, it is estimated that more than a third of the workforce is employed in industries that are vulnerable to climate extremes.  

However, there is also a huge opportunity: by committing to decarbonisation, it’s estimated that around 180 million jobs can be created in APAC by 2050. As sustainability practices become intrinsically baked into every discipline, all jobs within a business today will be “green jobs” tomorrow. This will also help employees to see the differences they can make as individuals in the workplace, which can inspire them to drive change in the wider world.

When viewed through this lens, the importance of the role of HR in this next period of change becomes a lot clearer. However, there are four key challenges which HR leaders in APAC must overcome in order to succeed.

1- The impact of climate change on working conditions

With extreme weather events expected to become increasingly common, HR leaders will need to consider how their business may be directly impacted. Floods, wildfires, rainfalls and cyclones impact the workplace and may see massive displacement of residents in the aftermath of these severe weather events, which could impact the availability of overall talent.

It’s also important to consider the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace itself. The agriculture and construction industries have many workers who spend their days outside, which could be dangerous in extremely hot or cold conditions. Research also shows that from 2030, the global cost of reduced productivity due to extreme heat could exceed two trillion US dollars. Therefore, the safety of employees must be factored into any sustainability plan in order to protect both lives and the business.

Climate change can also have a toll on mental health, especially on those entering the workplace for the first time. It’s important to consider this when building a sustainable HR strategy, and plan how to support employees with their mental well-being.


2- Regulatory requirements and ethical demands to reduce the carbon output of their organisations

HR leaders are well-placed to steer organisational change, thanks to their holistic view of the business. Collaboration will be key in identifying any existing work practices which are carbon intensive, and in the short term, highlighting any HR-specific activities which may need adjusting in line with regulatory requirements or the company’s green policies.

For example, HR teams can make relatively fast changes to certain processes to reduce carbon emissions and minimise waste. Switching from paper to electronic payslips and amending travel policies to reduce international travel are just two ways HR can make a quick difference.

After identifying processes which need changing, the next priority must be to create and instil a pro-environment culture within the entire organisation, more details of how to do this can be found in our ebook. However, it must begin during the hiring process, with job descriptions reflecting the company’s green priorities and similarly, by checking that the company and candidates’ environmental values are matched.


3- Secure employee buy-in

In order to drive measurable change, the entire organisation must be bought in to the process. Firstly, consulting employees from the start of the change programme will help foster a healthy dialogue, and show you can listen to their feedback and concerns.

Secondly, sharing continuous updates about the company’s journey to a more sustainable future will help keep employees engaged, while the development of educational resources will aid their own transition to greener practices.

Finally, supporting and incentivising workers will help reinforce good habits. For example, adjusting KPIs to include ESG goals and carbon reduction targets, and removing single use plastics can be first step towards it.


4- Prepare to upskill and reskill

This is where HR needs to lead by example. Research by ANDRH found that 90% of HR departments believe they need to integrate more ESG actions into their practices, so there is scope to train the people management team and eventually the complete workforce in order to build a more sustainable culture at the heart of the business. There are resources online to help leaders succeed, such as the training available from Climate School, that educates employees on climate change and empowers them to take action in their day-to-day lives.

HR leaders must also turn one eye to the future. Considering what tomorrow’s needs will be is important when creating an environmental HR strategy. Being able to forecast what skills or jobs will be needed in the future can help a company plot a path to Net Zero and beyond. Also, just as with digital transformation, climate-specific skills will soon be sought after and be much harder to recruit. Recognising, attracting, and retaining talent must be a priority.

It’s in everyone’s interest

A study found that 75% of employees want their company to implement stronger, pro-environment policies, giving HR leaders a clear mandate to drive change. A successful green transition relies on galvanising the entire workforce, meaning that HR must operate at the crossroads of the organisation.

HR will need to establish and nurture cross-functional relationships to ensure the business moves in the same direction as one entity. Failure to do so may mean a disparate approach, which could lead to a worrying future for both the business and the planet.

To learn more about how HR leaders can meet these challenges with clear action points, along with information about the studies referenced above, check out this eBook below.

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