Climate change is exerting its impact on a global scale, manifesting in the form of more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves, heavy rainfall, floods, and landslides. This phenomenon is accompanied by other repercussions of our rapidly shifting climate, such as rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and the loss of biodiversity. To mitigate global warming and maintain it within the safe limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), achieving carbon neutrality by the mid-21st century is imperative.
While the responsibility for safeguarding our planet falls on everyone's shoulders, those in positions of influence, including leaders and HR professionals, have the capacity to make a more significant impact. The question that arises is how and in what ways. To delve deeper into this matter, People Matters reached out to Mr Gaurav Sharma, Chief Human Resources Officer at Balancehero India and True Credits Private Limited, to explore HR's potential in the journey to carbon neutrality.
Before delving into the actions that HR professionals can and should take, let’s establish some fundamental concepts, such as understanding what Net Zero means and how organisations can contribute to achieving Net Zero emissions.
What is Net Zero and its significance?
Net zero refers to achieving a state of equilibrium between the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere and the amount removed from it, with the ultimate goal of sustaining the Earth's temperature. As we work towards net zero, it becomes increasingly critical to devise strategies for quantifying and managing the risks associated with climate change. This involves establishing metrics for both financial and non-financial sectors to monitor progress in attaining net zero.
The concept of net-zero emissions emerged from scientific deliberations concerning the relationship between human-generated emissions and fluctuations in global temperatures. It has long been understood that there is a direct link between the emission of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, and alterations in global surface temperatures.
In simpler terms, “higher emissions lead to more significant warming. To combat climate change resulting from human activities, it is imperative to strike a balance between the greenhouse gases we release and those we remove through methods like carbon capture and storage. To stabilise global temperatures at a specific level, we must reach a point where global greenhouse gas emissions are counteracted by removal efforts, thereby achieving a state of net zero emissions,” explained Gaurav Sharma.
How can the organisation help achieve Net Zero?
Both the Indian government and companies are increasingly highlighting the importance of ESG, which stands for Environment, Society, and Governance. ESG involves responsible and sustainable business practices, encompassing environmental stewardship, addressing social concerns, and maintaining sound corporate governance.
Traditionally, companies focused on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to benefit society and gave priority to environmental issues such as conservation, biodiversity preservation, and water resource protection. While this is vital, to make more positive impact, organisations can start by reducing their own emissions, aiming to decrease direct greenhouse gas production (known as Scope 1 emissions).
Another avenue is “managing indirect emissions (Scope 2 emissions) by using cleaner energy sources and promoting eco-friendly commuting options for employees. Whenever possible, organisations should take action to reduce carbon emissions. In the future, organisations can further collaborate with suppliers and customers to reduce emissions throughout the entire supply chain, addressing indirect emissions (Scope 3 emissions),” stated the CHRO at Balancehero India
How can HRs help achieve Net Zero?
HRs has a significant role in environmental support and advancing ESG objectives. Gaurav Sharma suggested a few ways HR can contribute positively:
1. Foster a culture of sustainability
HR can promote and embed an ESG culture within the organisation. This involves creating awareness and educating employees about the importance of environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and good governance practices. It's important for employees to understand that even seemingly small actions like storing unnecessary files online or keeping old emails in their inbox can contribute to carbon emissions.
Here's why – Firstly, when employees store large amounts of unnecessary files, documents, or emails online, it requires additional data storage. Data centres, where this information is stored, consume a significant amount of energy and often rely on fossil fuels for power. Secondly, Data centres need to be constantly powered, cooled, and maintained to keep stored data accessible. These operations consume substantial amounts of electricity, and the energy generation process may contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
2. Acting as sustainability champion or promoter
HR can champion green initiatives within the workplace. This includes implementing energy-saving measures, reducing paper usage, promoting recycling and waste reduction, and encouraging sustainable practices such as carpooling or using public transportation. HR can organise employee engagement activities focused on environmental conservation. This can involve volunteering for environmental causes, participating in community clean-up drives, or organising educational workshops and campaigns on sustainability topics.
3. Training and development
HR should provide training that raises awareness about climate change and the importance of sustainable practices. It's important to emphasise the role individuals can play in addressing climate change and achieving net zero. Help employees understand that their actions have a direct impact on the environment and contribute to the broader goal.
4. Highlight specific sustainable actions
Discuss actions employees can take in their daily lives to contribute to the net zero goal. This can include avoiding unnecessary air travel, reducing paper usage, conserving water, participating in tree-planting initiatives, and using carpooling or public transportation. Explain the environmental impact of these actions, like reducing carbon emissions and protecting natural resources.
5. Share success stories
Share success stories of individuals or organisations that have made a difference through their sustainable actions. This can inspire and motivate employees to believe in their own capacity to effect change.
6. Provide pragmatic tips
Offer practical tips and strategies that employees can easily implement in their daily lives. These can include setting personal sustainability goals, using electronic communication instead of printing documents, and turning off lights and electronic devices when not in use.
7. Encourage collaboration and sharing
Foster a sense of community and collaboration among employees. Encourage them to share their own sustainability practices and success stories with colleagues. This can create a positive ripple effect and inspire others to take similar actions.
8. Reinforce the importance of individual contribution
Emphasise that all changes start with individual actions. Encourage employees to take responsibility for their own choices and to believe in the collective impact that can be achieved when everyone participates.
By delivering training from this perspective, employees can gain a deeper understanding of their role in achieving net zero. They will recognise the significance of their individual contributions and be motivated to embrace sustainable practices, ultimately making a positive difference for the planet.