Employment and pensions

'Green jobs' and 'green HR': the decarbonisation transition from a workforce perspective

Published on 12th Jan 2022

Businesses will have a key part to play in driving forwards the UK government's sustainability agenda

In the aftermath of COP26, attention has turned to how employers can help meet the UK's ambitious environmental net zero commitments from a workforce perspective, through the transition to "green jobs" and "green HR".  But what is green HR and how can it help drive the green job transition?


What are 'green jobs'?

When we talk about green jobs we typically mean jobs that directly contribute to tackling climate change. That is, those that focus on either reducing carbon emissions, restoring nature or making similar environmental improvements: roles in renewable energy, manufacturing of electric vehicles and other low carbon technology, horticulture and nature conservation, environmental and land management, home energy and property retrofit and waste management.

This shift to green jobs is already underway with the UK government having committed to the creation of two million green jobs by 2030 (an increase from the current number of 410,000 green jobs). In November 2020, the government Green Jobs Taskforce was launched to set this direction for the job market and to boost the transition to a high-skill, low carbon economy.

There is, though, a wider meaning to the term green jobs and it is one that will impact on all employers as, increasingly, all jobs will need to indirectly support the fight against climate change. In order to help achieve the government's, as well as businesses', own net zero targets, every job must become a green job. This will involve every employee contributing to working in a more sustainable way in that:

  • employers will look to engage environmentally friendly workforce processes, practices and systems;
  • every worker will need to have a good understanding of climate change and the impact their work has on the environment; and
  • the business and workforce will need to work together in taking necessary steps to reduce that impact.


The green jobs transition

The transition to every job being a green job will involve employers creating new roles as active agents of change within businesses, such as sustainability managers, recycling operatives and green transport officers.

Where demand and skills shortages increase, the transition will also involve the upskilling or reskilling of existing roles such as operations, facilities, business development managers, data consultants, software developers and maintenance engineers. This "green talent development" will be as much about developing and adapting existing talent as it is creating new green jobs.

In terms of both creating new roles and upskilling/reskilling existing roles, employers will need to ensure their workforce possess "green skills", as opposed to focusing on more traditional role requirements such as degrees. Green skills include, for example, abilities or knowledge to help prevent, monitor, or clean up pollution and optimise conservation of natural resources. In addition to the focus on green skills, employers will need to ensure they have employees with system skills, who can operate and assess systems against environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance indicators.

Finally, employers will need to take their workforce with them on the decarbonisation transition by improving workers' environmental awareness through specialist training.


'Green HR'

In addition to green skills, green HR has a major role to play in driving the transition to green jobs because of its involvement in policies and procedures and its unique access to people.

There are four main areas where HR will have a key part to play in driving forwards the sustainability agenda. We have listed some possible actions (there are many more):

  • Recruitment and selection: ensuring job or person specifications incorporate sustainability practices and knowledge, providing flexible work opportunities to limit impact of vehicle emissions, and using green credentials and environmentally friendly recruitment and selection methods.
  • Performance management: assessing against sustainability objectives and targets in the appraisal process, and linking sustainability values to the reward, pay and benefits strategy.
  • Learning and development: including information about sustainability performance and employee requirements in the induction process, training all employees in environmental issues relevant to their role, and integrating sustainability into the content of learning and development programmes.
  • Leadership and engagement "ethical leadership": introducing sustainability role models at senior leadership level, ensuring accountability throughout all levels of the business, and incorporating environmental considerations in organisational values.


Osborne Clarke comment

A number of legal issues can arise in relation to the green job transition. In particular, we have assisted businesses with:

  • the re-designation of job specifications;
  • updating terms and conditions of employment (with a particular focus on redefining roles and compensation strategies);
  • restructuring and accommodating for new roles within a business (including advising on job loss and job creations);
  • the transition to the use of new technologies, markets and regulations (including replacing certain human processes with the use of artificial intelligence to help reduce waste, reduce CO2 emissions);
  • providing impact assessment documentation;
  • how to conduct employee consultation and engagement with their workforces to ensure collaboration throughout the transition; and
  • how to transition to green jobs while retaining diversity in their workforces.

For further information on how we can assist your business with a smooth transition to green jobs and green HR of the future, ensuring that your workforce possess the skills needed for the low carbon economy of the future, please contact Olivia Sinfield, Paul Matthews, Phil Chivers or your usual OC contact.



* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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