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How HR leaders can promote a more sustainable workplace

Dr. Christian Schmeichel
Dr. Christian Schmeichel
Christian Schmeichel is SVP and Chief Future of Work Officer at SAP, where he is responsible for the software company's Future of Work agenda. Being passionate about people and technology, he and his organization create leading-edge people and workplace practices for SAP’s 110,000 employees in 75 countries. Building on 20 years of experience in various senior management roles across the globe, he is considered a thought leader on driving large-scale HR transformation.

Sustainability is a crucial concern for HR leaders because it directly impacts various aspects of the organization, including its reputation, employee engagement and long-term viability. That’s why one of the top trends in our recent SAP Future of Work Trend Report 2024 is “Steering towards a sustainable future of work“. By promoting practices that create a more sustainable workplace, HR leaders can enhance the company’s brand image, attract and retain top talent who are increasingly drawn to environmentally conscious organizations and foster a positive work environment.

For a sustainable workplace, adopt a sustainability mindset

When HR leaders focus on sustainability, they must set realistic—while ambitious—goals to support the business in a sustainable fashion and with a long-term mindset. One can adopt a sustainability mindset by integrating environmental and social responsibility principles into all aspects of HR practices, from recruitment and talent development to employee engagement and organizational culture. This involves aligning HR strategies with sustainability goals, promoting eco-friendly workplace initiatives and fostering a culture of environmental stewardship and social impact.

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Equally important, HR leaders should lead by example by championing sustainability initiatives, encouraging employee involvement in environmental and community projects, and integrating sustainability criteria into performance evaluations and recognition programs. By embedding sustainability into HR practices, leaders can contribute to creating a more socially responsible and environmentally conscious workforce, driving positive change within the organization and beyond.

Expand your employee benefits

Companies can elevate their employee benefits to support their sustainability goals, such as a car policy that promotes zero emissions. HR leaders can encourage eco-friendly commuting options—such as biking, walking, carpooling or using public transportation—which are becoming increasingly popular. Also, HR can consider offering subsidies for public transportation, providing bike storage facilities or implementing carpooling programs—tactical measures that drive tangible impact.

Encourage sustainable workforce planning and talent development

Sustainability in the people space goes beyond “Green HR.” Making a company future-ready as a prerequisite for sustainable business success supports a holistic people sustainability approach. When employees align with the organization’s values, culture and sustainability goals, they are more likely to be engaged, productive and committed to driving positive change.

By selecting candidates who demonstrate a passion for sustainability and a commitment to environmental and social responsibility, organizations can create a workforce that is motivated to contribute to sustainability initiatives and make a meaningful impact. Needless to say, as a byproduct, if you will, hiring employees who are a good cultural fit will foster a supportive work environment where collaboration, communication and innovation thrive, leading to increased employee satisfaction, retention and long-term success.

Encourage safety, mindfulness and wellbeing

In times of unprecedented change and uncertainty, HR leaders can make a difference by promoting a healthy work/life balance, providing access to wellness programs and resources, and fostering a supportive work environment that prioritizes mental and physical health. Investing in employee wellbeing not only enhances productivity and engagement but also contributes to long-term sustainability by reducing absenteeism and turnover.

Acknowledging that sustainable people practices play a key role in long-term business success, the goal should be to ensure employees are treated ethically and fairly across the value chain. Prioritizing the health, safety and professional growth of employees is not only ethical but also contributes to the long-term success of the company by ensuring a skilled and motivated workforce capable of adapting to changing business needs and challenges.

Leverage modern technologies

AI and VR can create a more sustainable workforce by enabling remote collaboration in state-of-the-art hybrid working models, reducing the need for travel and commuting every day, and optimizing resource utilization. VR technology allows employees to participate in virtual meetings, training sessions and collaborative projects from anywhere in the world, reducing the environmental impact associated with business travel and commuting.

AI-powered algorithms can analyze data to identify opportunities for energy efficiency, waste reduction and process optimization, helping organizations minimize their environmental footprint and operate more sustainably. By harnessing the power of VR and AI, organizations can foster a culture of innovation, collaboration and sustainability that enables employees to work smarter, more efficiently and with minimal environmental impact.

Create a sustainable workforce model

At SAP, we have over 25,000 alumni whom we continue to engage, thus creating a sustainable talent system. Alumni often possess valuable skills, experiences and knowledge gained during their tenure with the company. By maintaining a strong relationship with former employees through an alumni group, a company can tap into this talent pool for potential rehires, freelance opportunities or referrals for new hires. This access to a pre-vetted talent pool reduces recruitment costs, accelerates onboarding and fosters a sense of continuity within the workforce.

Promote your employer brand as a sustainable workplace

Once you have a sustainable work environment, employer branding can focus on positioning the organization as a sustainable place to work. In today’s competitive job market, job seekers—particularly millennials and Gen Z—are increasingly prioritizing environmental and social responsibility when evaluating potential employers. By promoting your organization as a sustainable place to work, you can attract top talent who share your values and are passionate about making a positive impact on the world.

Looking into the future

By integrating sustainability principles into HR practices, such as recruitment, training and employee engagement initiatives, HR leaders can equip employees with the knowledge, skills and mindset needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world. This includes promoting continuous learning around sustainability topics, empowering employees to become sustainability champions and implementing green workplace initiatives that reduce the organization’s environmental footprint. By prioritizing sustainability, HR leaders can create a workforce that is not only better prepared to navigate future challenges but also more engaged, motivated and committed to driving positive change within the organization and beyond. In the end, this is what a successful future of work is all about.