82% of workers want more sustainability training—Salesforce says it starts with HR

Employees want sustainability-focused education. Some companies are stepping up to the plate.
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Imagine an alternate universe where Captain Planet is not only real, but one of his superpowers is making businesses eco-friendly. Well, some companies, including Salesforce, Schneider Electric, and Deloitte, aren’t far off. They’re educating and reskilling employees with an eye toward sustainability.

While sustainability may strike some as being beyond the people function, consider this: 82% of global workers want to help their organizations become more sustainable, and three in five want to incorporate sustainability into their current role, a Salesforce survey found. As such, some HR leaders say that sustainability efforts have become inextricably linked to their job.

HR’s role. HR leaders can play a vital role in preparing employees for positions with a sustainability slant by understanding “the critical role that corporate values and culture and employee engagement play in driving business value,” Sunya Norman, VP of ESG strategy and engagement at Salesforce, explained.

At Salesforce, Norman has done this through co-founding Earthforce, a sustainability-focused employee resource group with over 7,000 members, and developing and deploying the company’s library of sustainability learning courses. Called Trailhead, it houses coursework on various sustainability skills, including sustainable product design and how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

“HR has been a key partner in integrating sustainability in the entire employee lifecycle,” she said. “We have sustainability information in our onboarding…We have now brought in sustainability as a part of our executive compensation and that was a partnership with HR and the compensation team.”

While most businesses do not have as many resources or employees as Salesforce, Norman insisted that HR can still prioritize sustainability by making it a core value and taking steps toward figuring out how their organization can make moves.

She also recommended that HR leaders weave sustainability into every role. For example, she said, a CFO could be “thinking about sustainable finance and different tools like sustainability bonds, or investing in different types of funds that are more oriented towards renewable energy.”

Leading by example. As demand for more sustainability education grows, HR and learning and development teams are finding that reskilling is not only good for the environment, it’s good for retention. For example, Deloitte recently released a global sustainability learning program to educate its 415,000 global employees on how sustainability plays a role in their jobs, and how they can advise clients on becoming more sustainable. Meanwhile, Citi is expanding its efforts. As its chief sustainability officer, Val Smith, said at a recent Insider event, “We have a huge amount of employee demand and a huge amount of employees who need to get the training..”

When HR teams up with employees eager for change, the Captain may appear.—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.