Carbon emissions: What role does HR have to play in reducing company carbon emissions?

It seems as if hardly a week goes by without a report being published on carbon emissions, but one such report published last week introduces the idea of HR taking sole ownership of the issue within a company.

Software provider Vizual’s white paper, The Role of HR in Managing CO2 Emissions, says HR is best placed to organise emissions reductions and influence employee behaviour.

Frank Beechinor, group chief executive of OneClickHR, the company that owns Vizual, says: “It makes sense for HR to own carbon emissions reductions targets. They can hold data on who drives to and from work, for example. And they can promote the idea internally.”

The white paper says as “custodians of the workforce data”, HR is best placed to communicate strategy, influence and change behaviour and to put effective systems in place to collect and collate emissions data.

Beechinor denies it would increase HR’s workload: “It’s only an incremental piece of work. It’s not so big a deal if they already have the data on travel and expenses. Web-based solutions and self-service HR mean people can fill in forms on line asking them about their car travel, without it being a huge burden.”

Making the case

Vizual makes the case for emissions reductions: not only does it improve the company’s reputation, but can result in huge reductions in energy bills. “It does manifest into real cost savings, which then become about key performance indicators, and that’s good for HR’s standing in the company” says Beechinor. “Also, a lot of policies like flexible working and videoconferencing where possible can be introduced by HR on the coat-tails of this.”

Hugh Jones, senior account manager at government agency the Carbon Trust, says they prefer to be flexible about asking a particular department to take ownership. “In general, anything a business can do to take responsibility for emissions is good. In some organisations HR can influence behaviour and a portal owned by HR could be the ideal place for this information.

“Other companies might have a ‘command and control’ style of doing things, in which case operational managers take ownership. We have a pragmatic approach.”

Vizual says that HR should find the emissions strategy that is right for the business and stick to it. It advises clear decision making, and not setting targets too high so employees become discouraged. It also says, as well as behavioural changes such as switching off the PC at night, HR can introduce corporate carbon offsetting strategies such as tree planting.

Everyone is responsible

Richard Ellis, head of corporate social responsibility at Boots, says carbon emissions are everyone’s responsibility. “It should not be just one department. It’s reasonable for HR to give leadership, but all departments have to decide how to deal with it. It the idea is embedded in the company as everyone’s responsibility, then everyone will know what they can do.”

Ellis points out that companies differ in size and nature, and carbon can be a very technical issue, meaning that some things are better left to engineers.

The white paper makes interesting points about HR and carbon strategy, and Beechinor’s hope is that HR can de-mystify carbon for employees. But HR alone might not be the best department to take full ownership on an issue that has such far-reaching implications.

by Zoe Grainge

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