COP28: Why HR should be seen as a sustainability activist

Written by Tom Lakin  •  ESG for HR  •  20 December 2023

COP28, the annual conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, recently took place in Dubai, and it has important implications for HR leaders. While there was controversy surrounding the conference, with conflicting views on the need to phase out fossil fuels, COP28 remains the most significant event of the year in terms of sustainability. Previous COPs have led to meaningful change, such as the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

One key takeaway for HR leaders is the increased investment in sustainability, which will drive the demand for "green skills." Job postings requiring at least one green skill have grown by 15.2% between February 2022 and February 2023. HR leaders should assess the green skills within their organizations and develop a talent strategy for 2024, which may involve upskilling, reskilling, and external hiring. 

Another important aspect discussed at COP28 is the role of the private sector in achieving environmental commitments. Tokenistic CSR initiatives and offsetting projects are no longer enough, and HR leaders may be tasked with creating teams, new business areas, and auditing employee sustainability propositions. HR leaders should audit their employee sustainability propositions to ensure they align with environmental goals. 
 
HR leaders also need to be aware of "greenwashing," where organisations overstate their environmental credentials. This can negatively impact employees and lead to reputational and business risks. HR leaders should analyse their employer brand messaging and internal communications to ensure accuracy and authenticity. 
 
Additionally, HR leaders need to take ownership of their personal upskilling in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters. CEOs and CFOs have traditionally taken the lead in the ESG agenda, but HR leaders should increase their knowledge to shape and influence ESG in the private sector. Including science-based sustainability and climate learning in the organisation's learning and development programs is a crucial step. 
 
While the headlines about COP28 may fade, HR leaders should not lose sight of the strategic challenges and opportunities that ESG brings. This is an opportunity to elevate the role of HR and drive meaningful change within organisations. 
 
In conclusion, COP28 highlights the importance of HR leaders embracing sustainability and becoming activists for change. From understanding green skills and developing talent strategies to auditing employee sustainability propositions (ESP) and combating greenwashing, HR leaders have a crucial role to play in driving sustainability within organisations. By upskilling themselves and their teams in ESG matters, HR leaders can position themselves as key influencers in the private sector's environmental commitments.

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