By Judhajit Das
The pandemic has amplified the need for urgent action on climate change and addressing sustainability concerns. While the implications of global warming and reduction in carbon footprint have been part of the collective discourse for many years, it has received enormous attention in the corporate sector in the post-pandemic world. This has come along with a clarion call for strengthening and enhancing the standards of corporate governance, as well as customer and employee-centric practices and initiatives.
In fact, employee health, safety and well-being became the number one business priority with the onset of the pandemic. It also led to stepping up of initiatives to promote digital learning and a greater focus on diversity and inclusion at the work place. There have been unequivocal demands for enhanced customer data privacy, with acceleration in digital transactions and, of course, calls for responsible investments and superior standards of risk management.
All of this portends well for a sustainable future. Integrating sustainability with the business model Organisations have responded with enhanced disclosures and initiatives to demonstrate adherence to principles as articulated in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) framework as part of their commitment to sustainability.
This comprehensive sustainability framework helps organisations think through their priorities & ESG goals and, thereby, focus on value-creation for people, planet and society. By integrating ESG as part of their overall business strategy, companies are able to build sustainable products and services, reduce costs, and positively impact their profits while taking care of people and the planet. At the same time, investors are increasingly assessing and analysing ESG standards to screen potential investments, which has given an impetus to companies to put in place focused initiatives to measure, track and demonstrate superior performance on ESG parameters.
The focus is on human capital People are at the heart of every business and key to successful execution of strategy. The pandemic amply demonstrated how employees went above and beyond their call of duty to serve the needs of customers. In essential services like healthcare, municipal services, banking, insurance and logistics, employees exemplified the values of selfless service to society.
A skilled, motivated and engaged workforce is the source of competitive advantage, and responsible companies demonstrated their commitment to their workforce by leaving no stone unturned to support them in their time of need. It is not only the right thing to do but it also reaffirms the true social persona of the organisation, and burnishes its employer brand. Organisational commitment to sustainability depends on how the values of sustainability are role-modelled by the leadership and practised by each and every employee. Culture gets set from the top and it’s hence incumbent on the leadership to demonstrate commitment to responsible and ethical conduct.
All studies on ‘change management’ highlight that leaders often ignore the importance of building employee commitment for the change effort, which often leads to setbacks. For companies to truly transform and adopt sustainability as a core value, leaders have to demonstrate their commitment beyond the ESG rating and walk the talk for the right culture to flourish. The HR function is expected to be the enabler of the cultural change agenda.
HR systems and practices can be effectively re-configured to catalyse and reinforce positive behaviours that promote sustainability. However, it’s not just the leaders and HR that can make this change happen. Sustainability is the collective responsibility of all employees and it goes beyond profits to encompass people, planet and purpose. When each employee takes a vow to behave responsibly, sustainability becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a source of pride, engagement, and purpose for all stakeholders alike.
The author is CHRO, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company.
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