The Council of Parties to the United Nations’ climate convention, known as COP26, which is currently underway in Glasgow has put climate change on the global stage and top of mind for many employers and employees.
There are many elements an employer can take into consideration when crafting a benefits strategy — competitiveness in the market, demographic composition of the employee population, the needs and wants of recruitment targets, the organization’s business goals and strategy, as well as the behaviours it wants to incentivize, total cost, geographic differences of where employees are located — the list goes on. However, intentional and thoughtful design also takes into consideration the values and culture of an organization.
With a greater emphasis being placed on fighting climate change, sustainability is a key consideration for many employer’s business planning and reporting to stakeholders. At the same time, many employees are likely trying to incorporate greener ways of living into their daily lives. Organizations may also be looking at ways to connect with, attract and retain millennials and generation Z workers. These two younger cohorts, in particular, are looking to work with organizations that align with their values.
To that end, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd.’s 2021 global survey of millennials and gen Z cites climate change and protecting the environment as the top concern for the gen Z cohort and the third-highest ranked concern for millennials behind health care/disease prevention and unemployment. Further, 60 per cent of the survey’s respondents fear that business will deprioritize combatting climate change in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
While these cohorts are making consumer relationship decisions with companies based on their treatment of the environment, these generations are also leaning into their values when making career decisions. Almost half of millennials (44 per cent) and of gen-Zers (49 per cent) indicated they’ve made decisions about the type of work and the organizations for which they’re willing to work based on their personal ethics.
Ordinarily, when benefits consultants like me talk about sustainability in the context of employee benefits plans, we’re generally referring to controlling costs for both the plan sponsor and participating employees so the plan remains financially viable into the future. While that concept is a very important tenet of benefits plan management, sustainability for the purposes of the discussion in this article means environmental sustainability, conservation of resources and the protection of ecosystems.
So while employers continue to implement greener practices in terms of big things like more environmentally responsible manufacturing processes, reducing carbon footprints and linking environmental, social and governance metrics to executive compensation programs, there’s also smaller things employers can do, such as thinking about how to stock coffee stations or make workplace composting available alongside recycling. Organizations can also echo commitment to a value of environmental sustainability in benefits plan design.
Here are a few ways employers can incorporate values around sustainability into their benefits plans:
1. Choose partners and vendors with strong sustainability mandates and metrics
When marketing employee benefits program or choosing a new vendor partner for any aspect of employee benefits offerings, employers can ask potential partners to include their environmental or sustainability statement and look for a commitment by the organization to sustainable business practices with reported metrics.
2. Include elements of digital health
Aspects of a robust employee benefits program like telemedicine and virtual mental-health support services can align with values of environmental sustainability as they reduce the need for transport to in-person visits and the associated carbon emissions.
While the technology associated with digital health care requires devices for access as well as information technology infrastructure, both of which consume energy and create electronic waste, these impacts would need to be weighed against the positive benefits of their inclusion in an overall strategy.
3. Offer green transport benefits that incentivize public and active transportation
As many organizations contemplate implementing remote or hybrid work arrangements post-pandemic, for employees who’ll work onsite some or all of the time, employers can look at offering subsidies on transit and commuter rail passes, for bike purchases and maintenance or footwear for walkers. Organization can also frame a wellness or lifestyle account for green transport purposes.
To encourage the use of active transportation, employers should make sure employees have access to secure bike storage while they’re onsite and include amenities like onsite shower and change-room facilities as well. Employers could also offer to facilitate carpool matches for interested employees.
In addition, organizations with onsite parking for employees could also reconsider the mechanics of how they charge employees for parking — changing from a monthly reserved arrangement to daily pricing for scramble spots allows employees to explore alternatives to bringing a car every day at least some of the time without having to trade off the cost and convenience of onsite parking.
4. Provide onsite charging stations for electric vehicles and e-bikes
While there are a number of incentive programs both federally and provincially for Canadians to purchase fully electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and e-bikes, employers can help their employees make greener vehicle purchasing decisions by providing charging stations onsite so that employees can plug their vehicles in while at work. Organizations can also access a variety of grants in order to offset personal installation costs at home or the purchase of electric vehicles or e-bikes.
5. Creating opportunities for green volunteerism
If an organization supports volunteerism through programs like paid time off, managers can choose to create volunteer opportunities that support environmental causes. This could include gathering a team of colleagues together to clean up a river or creek area, helping to plant a garden for a non-profit or weed a community garden or farm. Volunteering activities like these get people outside, build teams and contribute to community and the environment at the same time.
6. Incorporate ESG funds into retirement savings programs
While this seems obvious, employers can offer an ESG fund option in the retirement savings program for those interested in greener investing.
Including design elements that align with a value of environmental sustainability doesn’t need to be arduous or add significant cost or administration for employers. But even it there’s some costs in terms of time and money, incorporating changes like these signal an organization’s commitment to a greener future and contributes to a corporate culture that promotes sustainability and responsibility for the environment.