Employers painting workplace green: Survey

Awareness training, green events popular

Green has been a popular colour when it comes to corporate social responsibility. Organizations are keen to show they care about the environment and sustainability, and many have implemented policies and practices designed to save energy, reduce waste and increase recycling.

But how are organizations doing when it comes to greening the workplace? Canadian HR Reporter and the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) conducted a Pulse Survey to gauge how employers are doing and find out who owns the green agenda.

Employers painting workplace green: Survey

HR supports, but doesn’t own, green agenda

Employers painting workplace green: Survey

By Amanda Silliker

In 2010, Hydro Ottawa implemented a five-year environmental sustainability strategy focusing on three sectors for greening the workplace: the carbon footprint (reducing vehicle emissions and making buildings more energy efficient), procurement and the supply chain (buying local, eco-friendly products) and employee engagement (getting full staff support).

“We decided our environmental initiatives needed to be formalized and focused,” said Lyne Parent-Garvey, the organization’s chief HR officer. “We wanted to improve the company’s environmental performance and reduce the impact of our own operations on the environment and the communities we serve.”

Like Hydro Ottawa, saving energy, reducing waste and increasing recycling — or greening the workplace — is important to many organizations, according to the latest Pulse Survey. Forty per cent of respondents said greening the workplace is very important at their organization and 36.4 per cent said it is somewhat important, according to the survey of 394 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

Many organizations are interested in increasing their environmental sustainability. Thirty-two per cent of respondents said their organization is very interested in greening the workplace and 35.2 per cent said it is somewhat interested.

However, 8.5 per cent of survey respondents said their organization is not at all committed to greening the workplace, including Sarah Anthony, a staff relations specialist at the government of Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John’s, N.L.

“I’m hoping it’s going to change soon but right now I don’t think it’s a primary focus,” she said. “There are so many opportunities for being less wasteful and taking care of the environment… and I think we’re so behind the times.”

At homebuilding supplies store Rona, environmental sustainability is an integral part of the company culture, said Julie Miles, an HR advisor for the Windsor and Leamington, Ont., stores. The organization has many different green initiatives in place — such as the recycling of paint, batteries and electronics — and hosts several green events throughout the year, including picking up garbage on Earth Day and tree planting, said Miles.

Similar to Miles, 50.9 per cent of survey respondents said their organization hosts green events and initiatives.

The 600 employees at Hydro Ottawa are offered non-monetary incentives to be more energy efficient, such as preferred parking spots when they carpool. The organization is also looking into programs for rewarding employees who bike to work or drive a hybrid vehicle. And 23.5 per cent of survey respondents also offer incentives for green behaviour.

Awareness training around green practices is very important for many organizations, found the survey, with 76.8 per cent of respondents offering training around reducing waste or increasing recycling.

“We offer training sessions to let employees know about our procurement policies, what kind of green products we offer and our recycling programs,” said Miles at Rona, whose organization has 950 stores and 30,000 employees across Canada. “All employees go through some computerized training programs for all of this, so they are aware of it.”

To accommodate the environmental sustainability strategy at Hydro Ottawa, Parent-Garvey had to reconfigure some job responsibilities to free up time to devote to this initiative. The organization now has a manager specifically responsible for environment and business continuity which it did not have before, she said.

However, only 13.1 per cent of survey respondents said they have green jobs at their organization.

Measurement is a key component to any successful company initiative and this is what helped gain executive support for the strategy at Hydro Ottawa.

“We looked at our baseline information and we positioned our environmental profile like an assets and liabilities, like a balance sheet, and that went over really well with our executives, especially our chief financial officer, because now we’re talking finance language,” said Parent-Garvey.

Her HR team picked initiatives based on cost-benefit analysis so it could determine how quickly improvements could expect to be seen. In the first year of the strategy, there was already a significant decrease in the company’s carbon footprint through reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a waste-diversion rate of 95 per cent, said Parent-Garvey.

More than one-third (39.4 per cent) of survey respondents said they also measure green objectives at their organization.

And in many organizations, HR participates in greening the workplace but doesn’t own the agenda, according to 43.1 per cent of survey respondents. HR has an important role in the education piece surrounding greening the workplace, said Anthony.

“(HR could help) in terms of the whole change management side and providing that learning of why it’s a benefit and helping people change their ways that might be set from being there for a couple of decades,” she said.

At the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, which has 6,000 employees, HR could help facilitate more discussion around green initiatives and help employees see their importance, said Anthony.

At Hydro Ottawa, Parent-Garvey is the executive responsible for environmental sustainability and her team oversees and manages the entire strategy. Six per cent of respondents said HR owns the greening the workplace agenda at their organization.

At Rona, Miles’ role in greening the workplace is fairly limited, similar to 28 per cent of respondents who said HR is only slightly involved. Although greening isn’t in her job description, this doesn’t stop Miles from supporting the initiatives as much as possible, she said, including mentioning them in her HR newsletter.

“Anything they ask, I’m there to help out,” said Miles. “I try to be a role model in terms of reminding employees to recycle and reminding everybody this is an important thing to the company.”

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HR supports, but doesn’t own, green agenda

By Claude Balthazard

Greening the workplace can refer to efforts to grow the green sector of the economy or it can refer to activities carried out across all industries to reduce the environmental footprint of economic activity.

Almost one-third (31.7 per cent) of the total workforce works in green industries (companies that provide a service or produce a product that increases energy efficiency, produce renewable energy, prevent, reduce or mitigate environmental degradation, clean up and restore the natural environment or provide education, consulting, policy promotion, accreditation, trading and offsets or similar services), according to the Statistics Canada 2006 Census.

Similarly, 29.1 per cent of respondents to the latest Pulse Survey indicated they work for green companies.

Greening the workplace and HR’s role differ significantly in green sector companies compared to other companies. Overall, 40.4 per cent of respondents said greening the workplace is very important to their organization.

This proportion is vastly different for green sector companies — 70.2 per cent — compared to 28.1 per cent for other companies. Similarly, 32.2 per cent indicated their organizations were quite committed to greening the workplace but, again, this proportion is vastly different for green companies — 67.5 per cent — compared to 15.5 per cent for other companies.

Not surprisingly, when the business of a company is green, this company is much more likely to give importance to, and demonstrate a genuine interest in, greening the workplace.

Interestingly enough, the proportion of respondents that indicated they worked for green companies seemed unrelated to the size of the company. Similarly, there did not seem to be any relation between the importance given to greening the workplace and company size.

With respect to what organizations are doing to green the workplace, 76.8 per cent are conducting awareness training for saving energy, reducing waste or increasing recycling; 50.9 per cent are putting on green events and initiatives; 39.4 per cent are measuring the degree to which green objectives have been achieved; 32.2 per cent are training employees in the use of green technologies; 23.5 per cent are implementing incentive systems for green behaviour; and 13.1 per cent are creating green jobs.

On average, companies in the green sector are doing 2.8 of the six activities listed whereas non-green companies are doing 1.1 of the six activities listed. Only 3.5 per cent of green sector companies reported doing none of the six listed activities whereas 42.7 per cent of other companies reported doing none of the six listed activities.

Only six per cent of respondents see the HR function as owning the greening the workplace agenda — this proportion is not much different in green sector companies (seven per cent) than other companies (5.2 per cent).

Many respondents noted, in their industry, greening the workplace is a matter of changing production methods and is owned by operations. Other respondents said initiatives of this kind can only be successful when the HR function does not own the initiative.

The HR function supports, but does not own, the greening the workplace agenda in 43.1 per cent of the organizations represented by survey respondents — but there were big differences between green sector companies and other companies.

In green sector companies, 61.4 per cent of respondents indicated the HR function participates in greening the workplace whereas in other companies, only 34.3 per cent of the HR function does so. The fact the HR function has a greater participation in greening the workplace at green sector companies follows from the fact these companies are more committed to greening the workplace.

It can be estimated, based on the data, 6.3 per cent of the work of survey respondents is related to greening the workplace activities. Again, this number differs significantly between green and other companies.

It can be estimated, in green sector companies, 12.2 per cent of the work of survey respondents is related to greening the workplace activities, compared to 4.6 per cent in other companies.

Claude Balthazard is vice-president of regulatory affairs and registrar at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto.

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