7 ways for HR to boost environmental sustainability

5 min read  |   15 May, 2023   By Laura Sands

a man working on a laptop with a go green website screen

From record UK temperatures in summer 2022 to footage of plastic junk filling our oceans, there’s no doubt that we need to do more to protect our planet.

We’re seeing countless red flags which are encouraging everyone to think more sustainably. And it’s not something that we should limit to our personal lives. SMEs have a huge role to play.

However, it’s not always clear how the people within a business can have an impact. In this article, we share seven ways that an HR team can encourage and implement organisational sustainability, and make eco-friendly changes within the workplace.


7 ways for HR to boost environmental sustainability

1. Create a green business plan

If your business has agreed to an eco-friendly strategy, HR are perfectly positioned to filter this into green initiatives, employee objectives and day-to-day work.

Creating a business plan that incentivises and encourages eco-friendly efforts will help reduce your environmental impact, will please employees with a strong belief in environmentalism and may even influence your other employees’ behaviour for the better.

A few examples of what this might look like include:

  • Using local suppliers to reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance deliveries
  • Incentivising employees to commute using public transport or car shares
  • Starting a meat-free Monday in your workplace canteen (if you have one)
  • Choosing organic milk for the office fridge
  • Banning takeaway coffee cups
  • Publishing your environmental stance on your website so that stakeholders can see your commitment
  • Start offsetting carbon using a recognised scheme – at Breathe we’re growing a forest with Ecologi
  • Providing a water fountain and reusable glasses, so that employees don’t need to use bottled water

2. Make HR policies more sustainable

HR are uniquely placed to ensure sustainability goals are embedded into the business using company policies. Greener changes can be written into business procedures and guidelines for positive, climate-friendly changes. For example, could you change your company travel policy for business meetings and reduce the number of flights or long car journeys that your employees take?


3. Shift from paper admin to digital systems

Going paper-free has huge benefits for the environment. By helping SMEs cut back on paper, Breathe saves 3.8 million sheets of paper each year – that equates to a massive 477 trees saved each year.


Storing documents in secure, cloud-based software rather printing them out and locking them in filing cabinets means you can think of all the trees you’re saving whilst you access your documents at the click of a button. (Much quicker and easier than rooting through stacks of paperwork to find that one document.)

And it’s not just documents – using online payslips saves paper and benefits your employees by saving them the job of filing extra paperwork.


4. Set up an employee action group

Did you know that one in two people want their employers to demonstrate a commitment to more sustainable practices? You can empower your employees and achieve more by setting up an environmentally focused employee action group. This is something we have done at Breathe – it’s motivating for the people involved and is delivering some amazing results.

An aerial view of a forest is shown, with bodies of water forming arrows pointing round in a circle

5. Ditch the plastic

We all know that single-use plastic is the enemy of sustainability. As well as discouraging plastic water bottles and cups, think about the other ways in which you can reduce the use of single use plastics. From sticky tape and bubble wrap to plastic cutlery and envelope windows in the letters you send, there are a host of ways to reduce plastic use. The Marine Conservation Society have some ideas for helping identify and prevent unnecessary plastic use.


6. Support green behaviour

There are a range of things you can do to support your employees to make more ecologically friendly choices. Breathe HQ has installed a plastic recycling point where certain plastics and wrappers that aren’t suitable for home recycling can be brought in and deposited (before being taken to larger recycling centres). The whole team makes a concerted effort to recycle plastic that might otherwise go into landfill.

Cycle to work schemes are another way to help your employees reduce their carbon footprint while also boosting their wellbeing.


7. Think about smaller changes that make a big difference

Do you really need to send all team members a card on their birthday? As kind as the gesture is, thinking twice about what is necessary can help make decisions the planet will thank you for.

Instead of sending an annual birthday card to all staff, Breathe’s HR team decided to donate to the National Trust’s tree-planting scheme instead. Now, every team member receives e-certification that a tree has been planted on their birthday. What better gift is there than knowing you’re protecting the natural world?


Keeping sustainability top of the priority list

HR teams are uniquely advantaged to place eco-friendly policy at the forefront of employee’s minds, and influence behaviour by ensuring workplaces are as environmentally sustainable as they can be.

Make an environmentally positive change today and switch to a digital HR system like Breathe. With your employee data secure, centralised, and accessible at the touch of a button, you’ll never look back – certainly not to that filing cabinet.


Author: Laura Sands

Laura is a writer who enjoys getting into the detail of subjects and sharing that knowledge with snappy, interesting content. When not typing away, she enjoys walks in the woods and curling up with a good book and mug of something hot.

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