Law & Regulation
The Essential Role of HR in Business Sustainability Initiatives by Amanda Finnegan
The Essential Role of HR in Business Sustainability Initiatives
by Amanda Finnegan
Irish employers are more aware than ever of the value of embedding sustainability for long-term business success. A recent study found 94% of Irish SMEs plan to increase or maintain their investment in sustainability. With growing global concerns around carbon emissions, climate change, biodiversity, and fair trade, Irish businesses are increasing their investment in sustainability practices and policies.
Building sustainability into an organisation’s operations can have tangible business benefits. Customers are increasingly looking for sustainable goods and services. Operating costs can be reduced by incorporating sustainability practices that maximise efficiency. From a HR perspective, sustainability is important to employees who want to work in organisations that align with their own values. Employers that can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability will therefore increase their attraction and retention rates.
two people with laptops sitting next to each other and discussing something onscreen
The Impact of Sustainability on Businesses
In 2012 the United Nations published their 17 sustainability goals for the world to reach by 2030. These sustainability goals have impacted all levels – from large governments to corporations, and the everyday citizen. In many companies, they have translated those 17 goals into session-level goals for their business activities. This comes at a time when it is also now mandatory for listed corporations to publish information about their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) behaviours. The EU Directive on Corporate Sustainability Reporting recently introduced mandatory reporting standards for Employers. Ireland and other member states have until mid-2024 to transpose the directive, with a view to mandatory requirements commencing for financial years on or after:

  • 1 January 2024: For public interest entities within the scope of EU non-financial reporting regulations (with more than 500 employees), the implementation date is set for.
  • 1 January 2025: Other larger companies and public interest entities (with more than 250 employees) are scheduled to adopt these rules starting from.
  • 1 January 2026: Listed small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are expected to comply by, although they have the option to defer their adoption until 2028.

Although small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are not publicly listed are not directly targeted by the directive, they might be required to furnish information to larger companies eventually, as part of the overall value chain.

Ambitious Sustainability Targets and Corporate Responsibility
The Government’s Climate Action Plan has also set ambitious goals for the country including the achievement of a reduction of 51 percent in Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2030 (from 2018 levels) and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Many Irish businesses will therefore need to assess their operations and consider what changes they need to make to trade in a low-carbon economy.
How can Human Resources influence the Sustainability Agenda?
Human resource professionals will play an important role in influencing the integration of sustainability into core business strategies. By embedding sustainability into policies and procedures, from performance management to employee engagement, HR is in a perfect position to demonstrate how an organisation benefits from taking environmental measures that help cut costs, increase efficiency, and make the business more attractive to customers and employees.
What HR practices can promote and support sustainability ambitions?
1. Aligning Company Strategy with Sustainability Goals

If there is no ESG strategy in place, HR should facilitate the development of one. This strategy should seek to marry the organisational values with realistic sustainability goals and embed these values into company policies, procedures, and practices. Achievable workplace policies that promote sustainability could include reducing waste, encouraging recycling, supporting sustainable commuting options, and minimising energy use.

Adare HRM Advice: Review current sustainability policies to assess your organisation’s status. Set specific goals to minimize environmental impact, whether quarterly or annually. Identify and act on immediate opportunities to change organisational behaviours, such as eliminating single-use plastics and encouraging digital document viewing over printing. This proactive approach will align company strategy with sustainability goals and demonstrate a commitment to environmental responsibility.

2. Recruitment and Retention

Sustainable policies are becoming increasingly important from a recruitment and retention perspective. This is particularly the case among younger generations who value environmental and social responsibility.

When an organisation demonstrates its genuine commitment to sustainability, it not only enhances its brand image but also helps attract and retain employees who are motivated by working for an organisation that aligns with their own values on environmental stewardship and social responsibility. This alignment often results in a more engaged, productive, and loyal workforce, which is crucial for long-term business success.

Adare HRM Advice: Showcase your organisation’s commitment to sustainability by highlighting three specific examples where this commitment has been demonstrated. Enhance your online presence with visuals on your website and LinkedIn company page that reflect these sustainable practices. Detail the internal committees focused on sustainability and share the time allocated by executives for each team member to contribute to sustainability initiatives annually. This approach not only bolsters your brand image but also attracts and retains employees who value environmental and social responsibility, leading to a more engaged and loyal workforce and valuable Employer Value Proposition.

3. Integrate Sustainability into Performance Management

Where feasible, the reward system could include sustainability-related objectives in employee performance reviews and KPIs. Employees and teams who make significant contributions to sustainability efforts should be recognised and rewarded for their efforts.

Adare HRM Advice: Recognise and reward employees who actively demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. Consider featuring their contributions on your company’s website or LinkedIn page. Encourage employee participation in sustainability committees and track the time allocated for them to invest in sustainability initiatives annually. Integrating these aspects into performance management not only promotes sustainable practices but also fosters a culture of environmental responsibility and acknowledgment within the organisation.

4. Training and Development Initiatives

Training and development are key HR components for organisations aiming to become more sustainable. Integrating sustainability into learning and development programmes will support employee awareness, education, and action. Empowering employees with knowledge and skills in sustainability not only enhances their ability to contribute to the organisation’s environmental goals but also encourages innovation and the adoption of sustainable practices in everyday operations.

Adare HRM Advice: Organise awareness workshops focusing on the United Nations’ 17 sustainability goals and share your organisation’s commitment and plan to meet the 2030 targets. Assist employees in understanding how they can actively contribute to these goals at work, at home, and in their community. Such training initiatives empower employees with the knowledge and skills necessary for sustainability, fostering innovation and the adoption of sustainable practices in everyday operations.

5. Integration of Sustainability Goals into Onboarding

Making sustainability a more prominent part of the onboarding process allows HR to set expectations and emphasise its importance right from the start of the employee’s engagement. As new hires integrate into a company, they should learn how sustainability plays a role in both day-to-day work and long-term planning.

Adare HRM Advice: Encourage new employees to share their personal commitment to sustainability at work, at home, and in their community during the onboarding process. Offer them an opportunity to explore and initially choose one of the internal sustainability committees to join. Additionally, inform them about the support structures and self-help portals available as part of the organisation’s ESG approach, emphasising the importance of sustainability from the outset of their engagement with the company.

6. Empower Employees to Take Action

Promoting sustainability in an organisation also means ensuring the business uses all of its resources effectively — including its human talent. Employees of all levels may have ideas that can prove useful in improving the business’s sustainability. HR should create a space for them to share these ideas. HR should ensure employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions on all issues, including sustainability. If they want to go further, they can implement a recommendation system to give workers a dedicated channel for suggesting sustainable initiatives.

Adare HRM Advice: Encourage your employees to actively participate in sustainability initiatives by setting up a platform for idea sharing and collaboration. Establish ‘Green Teams’ within your organisation to lead environmental projects and engage in community sustainability efforts. Organise regular environmental awareness events to educate and inspire your workforce. By making sustainability a shared responsibility, you foster a culture of innovation and collective action that aligns with your company’s environmental goals.

7. Promote Accountability and Monitor Compliance

In addition to encouraging employees to go above and beyond sustainability policies, HR should keep the company accountable for its goals. Integrating sustainability standards into regular audits lets HR keep the organisation on track. As the scope of ESG reporting laws widens, it will also be important for HR to monitor the organisation’s compliance with green and sustainable legislative updates.

Adare HRM Advice: Regularly audit your company’s sustainability practices ensuring alignment with your set goals and standards. As sustainability reporting requirements evolve, HR should proactively monitor and ensure compliance with the latest green and sustainable legislative updates. Establish clear sustainability standards and integrate them into your internal audit processes. By doing so, you not only promote accountability within your organisation but also demonstrate your commitment to sustainable business practices to stakeholders and the wider community.

Making the Transition
Transitioning to a low-carbon, green economy will be a gradual process. There is an increasing awareness in the business community of further regulation in this area and many organisations are seeking to futureproof their operations by reducing carbon emissions and implementing sustainability measures. There are also growing expectations from employees and customers who want to work with businesses that implement sustainable practices. To keep winning new business and contracts, business leaders along with HR professionals, should therefore be considering how best to align their operations with these evolving market and societal demands.
Investing in sustainability is a good first step towards enhancing the resilience of your organisation. The ability to adapt to evolving market conditions is crucial for long-term success. As the global economy undergoes a transformation towards low carbon practices in the coming decades, preparing for this shift now will help to future-proof your business. Likewise, aligning your organisation’s values with those of your workforce will be necessary to continue attracting and retaining top talent. Sustainable and environmentally conscious employers are more likely to have motivated and engaged staff who will cultivate the necessary skills and knowledge that 21st-century businesses will need to thrive.

Get Expert Support from Adare Human Resource Management

If the sustainability challenges highlighted in this article resonate with your organisation, and you’re seeking support to integrate sustainable practices within your HR strategy effectively, our experts at Adare Human Resource Management are ready to assist.

To learn more, please contact us at 01 561 3594 / 061 363 805 or email

black and white headshot of Amanda Finnegan
Amanda Finnegan