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Why should HR care about climate change?

By Shankar Raman and Caroline Mangiardi, ASA | November 10, 2021

As the climate change alarm begins to sound for many organizations, HR is well positioned to answer the call.
Climate|Environmental Risks|Employee Experience|Health and Benefits
Climate Risk and Resilience

The growing impact of climate change poses a real and immediate threat to society. According to some estimates, at least 85% of the world’s population has already been impacted by climate change.

With expected consequences in terms of physical and economic disruption as well as heightened people risk (e.g., risk to health and wellbeing, risk to livelihood, increased inequity, etc.) many employees — and especially those in the next-generation workforce — are closely examining their employers’ role in climate change. But are employers following their lead?

As businesses rethink their ways of working, it’s essential that they begin to transition to a carbon neutral and more sustainable model, not only to comply with increasing community and societal expectations, but also to attract and retain talent who may be influenced by their climate credentials. As Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google said, younger generations will not want to work for companies that pollute.

In Willis Towers Watson’s recent HR Climate Survey of nearly 100 North American employers, we found that most believe it’s important to have environmental and climate strategies embedded in their employee value propositions. The majority also believe that employees have a meaningful role to play in driving their company’s climate agenda.

The majority of employers believe employees should have a clear view of company environmental-climate strategy (95%)
as well as a role to play in delivering the strategy (85%).
Employer views on employee awareness and role to play in environmental strategy

Source: Willis Towers Watson HR and Climate Strategy Survey

But HR’s climate agenda is not only about talent. There are additional reasons for organizations and their HR leaders to take action on climate change:

  • Value creation: Developing a proactive climate change strategy will enable businesses to identify, develop and unlock new sources of value.
  • Regulatory requirements: With more climate-related disclosures becoming mandatory, organizations will need to support reporting with concrete action.

We think HR has an opportunity to lead on climate strategy. Our survey shows that 48% of HR respondents say they are significantly or somewhat involved in delivering their organizations’ environmental and climate goals. From our perspective, HR has a meaningful role to play in the fight against climate change. HR is at the center of how and where work gets done, how employees get rewarded, how communication flows in the organization and how company culture is perceived and lived. It’s within HR’s mandate to drive employee experience and to focus on climate strategies that will engage the entire organization in lowering its carbon footprint.

HR can show its strategic muscle through multiple measures. These include:

  • Purpose: Ensuring that the organization’s climate and sustainability objectives are embedded in its business purpose
  • Future of work: Partnering with the business to rethink how, where and when work gets done to support climate objectives, mitigate risk and reduce the carbon footprint
  • Accountability and collaboration: Setting clear accountabilities for the organization’s climate and environmental, social and governance initiatives, and supporting the development of key organizational capabilities and teams to deliver them
  • Employee value proposition: Integrating climate strategy and objectives into the employee value proposition so that the employee experience is enhanced and employee attraction and retention is improved
  • Attitudes: Listening to employees through surveys and virtual focus groups to understand their attitudes toward climate change and to identify gaps in awareness of key issues
  • Measurement: Incorporating climate-related performance indicators in incentives for executives and key managers
  • Rewards: Incorporating innovative elements into Total Rewards such as “green” benefits and/or HR policy to support climate change initiatives
  • Communication: Enabling employees to understand and champion the organization’s climate strategy through effective communication

As the climate change alarm begins to sound for many organizations it’s time for HR to answer the call. At Willis Towers Watson we will continue to explore how HR can lead in this this key area.


Global Co-Leader Technology Industry
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Associate Director, Health & Benefits | DEI | Climate
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