What sustainability means for businesses this year – and beyond

HP's Debbie Irish talks sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion

Sustainability is a growing practice in business life; moreover, good and proven sustainability is fast becoming an expectation, with talent, including Gen Zs, more likely to want to work for a business with such a sustainability record.

However, sustainability is about more than environmental impact, says Debbie Irish, Head of HR for HP Inc UK & Ireland, who breaks down the meanings of the word, its ties with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and how companies can achieve it today.

What’s your working definition of a sustainable business?

When we talk about sustainability, often we think exclusively of the environment. But when we discuss sustainable impact at HP, and in terms of an HR agenda, it becomes a much broader term.

As current and future employees become increasingly concerned with social and environmental issues, a proactive approach to sustainable impact is something people now actively seek out in their workplace. Not only must organisations become stewards of the environment, but they must also strive to encourage sustainable practices in terms of societal equity, workplace inclusion, economic prosperity, and diversity.

Last year, HP set a goal to become the world’s most sustainable and just technology company. Over the next decade, we’re continuing to work towards meeting that goal through a sustainable impact agenda that addresses three key pillars: human rights, digital equity, and climate change.
What major things can a business do today to limit its impact on the environment?

A great way to start is to make your business zero-landfill. Be mindful and consider an end-of-life strategy when purchasing office equipment and consumables. What happens to your ink cartridges when they’re spent? What about the printer or PC itself? By examining the end-to-end process, you can massively boost your environmental credentials and work towards making your business zero-landfill. HP provides more environmentally responsible recycling solutions than any other IT company. Our Planet Partners take-back programme operates in over 68 countries and has recycled over 875 million HP ink and toner cartridges to date.

Secondly, neutralise your carbon footprint. You can start neutralising your business’s carbon footprint by signing up for initiatives such as tree-planting schemes and ensuring you only choose suppliers with a proven track record in sustainability.

You do not need to do everything yourself; use the expertise of your partners to fast-track your journey towards a more sustainable future. Choosing partners who participate in voluntary sustainability programmes such as HP Amplify Impact makes it easier to monitor how these partners respond to issues around climate change, social justice, and the digital divide.  

Finally, engaging employees in sustainability efforts is extremely important. For the past two years, Sustainable Impact targets, including diversity, equity, and inclusion, have been part of the annual performance evaluation for our leadership team. Now, for the first time, every HP employee is actively encouraged to set a sustainable impact goal as part of their goal-setting process. This means employees worldwide have a personal stake in the success of our Sustainable Impact strategy regardless of their role or title. 

Are there any new sustainability goals large employers should be reaching today?

Sustainability is an evolving term, and any goals set should not only refer exclusively to the environment but also take into consideration sustainability through human and societal lenses. 

The measures HP is driving, as part of our ambition to become the world’s most sustainable and just technology company, build on the strength of our complete list of climate action goals, which are among the most inclusive climate actions in the technology sector and align with relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals.  

On climate change, we want to drive towards a net-zero carbon, full regenerative economy through ocean conservation and forest restoration, and we plan to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across HP’s value chain by 2040.

On human rights, we’re committed to achieving 50/50 gender equality in HP’s leadership team by 2030 and at least 30% of our engineering tech roles to be taken up by women. On digital equity, our goal is to accelerate digital equity for 150 million people by 2030.  

In what core ways can a firm’s sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion goals intersect?

Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In addition to protecting our planet, we also need to empower and uplift the people within it. Sustainability is not just environmentalism; embedded in most definitions of sustainability, we also find a great need to ensure we’re driving towards social equity and a better world.  We believe these are no longer “nice to have” aspirations but are now imperatives for all organisations, large and small.

Can you outline your firm’s “three-fold sustainable impact strategy” and its effectiveness?

The measure of success for every company today is tied to empowering progress for the planet and its people – if you are not acting as a pioneer right now, you will be passed by very quickly. In everything we do as a company, we look to see how it can affect the planet, people (internally and externally) and profit. HP’s commitment to Sustainable Impact has become a difference-maker for the business, driving more than $1 billion in new sales for the second year in a row and becoming a competitive advantage in our goal to be the most sustainable and just technology company by 2030. 

How can firms ensure their sustainability practices aren’t ‘add-on’ or tokenistic? 

It’s all about gathering data, setting ambitious public targets, and creating accountability. Goals also need to be meaningful to the specific organisation, or else they risk being tokenistic. 

While there are methods of increasing talent pools and improving the diversity of candidates, such as creating more inclusive job adverts or removing data from CVs, it is important for companies to realise they can’t hire their way out of a ‘lack of diversity’ crisis.

Many companies want to address DE&I by hastily ticking boxes, but more important is to ensure the culture is right. We can achieve this by using data to understand where the pain points are and where the problems lie. Most importantly, this is followed by a recognition that every one of us plays a part in the solution, everyday decisions, behaviours, and actions. 

At HP, we survey all workers and encourage openness in responses – and within our questionnaires, we deliberately ask questions that help us understand how people are feeling. Off the back of this data and ongoing insights, we can set up targeted impact networks to ensure employees are as engaged in our sustainability efforts as we are. HP has a pride network, a women’s impact network, a next-generation network, a multicultural network, and a DEI Executive Board that meets quarterly. 

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