How L&D professionals can help the environment

by John Hilton08 Feb 2016
Climate change is only going to become a bigger issue for companies in terms of their L&D strategies, according to Christopher Wright, Professor of Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School, and author of the book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-destruction.

In fact, in a sense we are in a state of collective denial politically and in business about this issue - which is wishing it will go away, he said.

“Unfortunately, it won’t. And the physical manifestations of climate change will only amplify over the next decade and further,” he said.

“As extreme weather events roll out and have impacts on supply chains and business operations, I think we will see a gradual rationing up of this as a business issue.”

Wright told L&D Professional that we have just had the Paris climate summit, so that agreement will lead to various business strategies and practices which will flow through to impacts on employees.

“It might impact recruitment selection, it might impact the training and development side, and it will probably impact on communications and culture within the organisation,” he said.

Wright added that a lot of companies that take a leading role on climate change in their communications externally will have employees internally who critique those organisations.

One example is if the employees come to the conclusion that the company claims to be green, while at the same time it is investing in a new coal fired power station.

“Since employees internally can be strong critics of the practices and the strategies that businesses engage in, companies need to respond to those concerns because they want to engage employees and can’t be seen as duplicitous,” he said.

So what else can L&D professionals do?

For a start, they need to be working very closely with the sustainability function in the organisation, said Wright.

He added that in some organisations sustainability will be in a senior position, and possibly have close links to the HR function. However, others are quite separate, and not really communicating.

Since sustainability broadly defines social and environment sustainability, it has huge HR implications, he said. This is because it is looking at how you engage employees in the organisation and to link basic strategic drivers to the business operations.

“So HR functions and learning and development people seek that strategic place at the table and so sustainability issues like climate change, which is probably the ultimate sustainability issue, will have a huge impact,” he said.

“So the skill for the L&D person would be looking at what are the strategic drivers of the business into the future. If climate change is one of them, how does that affect my specific business? (Am I in the food industry? Am I in manufacturing?) Do I have extended supply chains? Am I exposed reputationally? How does that link to how we train, manage, recruit and reward people in the organisation?”

“But the problem of course is that everyday short-term drive to deal with whatever is going on and not thinking long term and strategic.”  

Related: How climate change is impacting L&D