Fostering sustainability in the workplace

This article was co-authored by Victoria Pryor, Trainee Solicitor

According to research by The Policy Institute at King’s College London and New Scientist magazine, “66% of Gen Z and 57% of Millennials agree environmental concerns should take priority over economic growth….”[1]. In light of this, and with the Economist recently reporting that “76% of US Gen Zers consider climate change to be one of their biggest concerns [2], it is becoming increasingly imperative for employees to incorporate sustainable business practices in the work place, not least to ensure that they can attract and retain the best talent within their industry sectors, but to also protect their corporate brand and reputation.

We consider how organisations can introduce meaningful, ‘green’ clauses into their employment contracts, company handbooks and policies as part of their overall long-term sustainability strategy. 

Employment contracts

Given heightened scrutiny of senior leaders and holding them to account for reducing business’ carbon footprint, environmental-related objectives will be increasingly commonplace in employees’ contracts of employment and policies and procedures. Examples include targets to reduce the use of paper / printing, walk or cycle to work schemes and a contractual obligation to attend sustainability training provided by the employer as part of its commitment to achieving its sustainability / Net Zero targets.

However, hand in hand with this, employers should also be alive to the concerns around ‘greenwashing’ – dictionary-defined as “the act or practice of making a product, policy, activity, etc. appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is”[3]. Sustainability should not be a cosmetic, tick box exercise, but one which is at the heart of the values of an employer. Greenwashing claims are likely to have significant negative effects on employers’ reputation, and subsequently profits.

Benefits packages

If they have not done so already, employers may wish to consider offering ‘greener’ benefits packages for their employees.

Some examples of these include:

  • Cycle to work schemes;
  • Electric vehicle salary sacrifice schemes;
  • Paid time off to complete environmental work (potentially in partnership with local organisations);
  • Encouraging carpooling;
  • Promoting paperless offices;
  • Reducing food waste;
  • Using green cleaning products;
  • Encouraging more sustainable energy use at the office (i.e. lights off when nobody is in);
  • Remote working (for recent changes in Ireland, please read our update on the new Working Code of Practice which explicitly recognises the positive environmental benefits of remote working).

These benefits should be incorporated into employees’ employment contracts in accordance with section 1 Employment Rights Act (“ERA”) 1996.

Company policies


UK law protects a worker who makes a “protected disclosure” or “blows the whistle” about wrongdoing in the workplace, including when “the environment has been, is being or is likely to be damaged”. What amounts to environmental damage in this context is undefined, but certainly matters such as environmentally unfriendly travel policies or company car schemes could qualify.

Employers will need to be ready to deal with a more environmentally conscious workforce calling into question and challenging poor environmental practices, in the same way that they would be expected to raise concerns about fraudulent activities or health and safety issues.

This is undoubtedly a developing area and we are likely to see case law dealing with issues such as when the inevitable environmental impact of doing business crosses the line into environmental “damage”.

Disciplinary rules

Employers’ disciplinary rules could also be updated to include environmental misconduct. This would ensure that employees should be in no doubt as to the potential consequences of failing to act sustainably in the workplace - for example, failing to comply with reduced printing guidelines without good reason or refusing to make travel choices in accordance with carbon footprint targets.

Treating such matters as potential disciplinary issues demonstrates an employer’s commitment to creating a more sustainable and environmentally conscious workplace.


Where possible, employers may also consider encouraging employees to volunteer for sustainable causes, with time off granted during the working day or including credit for socially responsible activities in appraisal processes.

Pension schemes

Make my Money Matter have said that “UK pension schemes invest £88 billion in fossil fuel companies (£3,000 per pension holder in some businesses)” - a statistic which some may find surprising. Similarly, according to Make my Money Matter “for every £10 you put into your pension, £2 is linked to deforestation”. They further state that “pensions have the potential to invest £1 trillion in climate solutions like renewable energy by 2035”. 

Providing employees with sustainable options for their pension provider is likely to become increasingly important in the coming years and organisations should undertake due diligence and seek specialist advice regarding the schemes and policies offered to their employees.

Case law

Climate change as a protected belief

The leading case in this area is Grainger Plc v Nicholson [2010] in which the EAT held that a genuinely held belief in man-made climate change and the moral obligation to act was capable of being a philosophical belief for the purposes of discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010. 

The importance of incorporating sustainability concepts in an organisations’ company policies was also considered in Costa v The League against Cruel Sports [2020]. In Costa, the court held that “ethical veganism” amounts to a protected philosophical belief.

Employers must be alive to the fact that some employees’ beliefs may satisfy the test of what amounts to a philosophical belief that is capable of protection as a protected characteristic. Employers must ensure that they act in accordance with their responsibility to manage conflicting views and opinions on climate change and sustainability in the workplace, and that they themselves act in a non-discriminatory way.


There are an increasing number of areas in which employers can champion sustainability within the workplace. 

At Kennedys, we are committed to improving our environmental performance. Benefits such as our cycle to work scheme and our hybrid and flexible working policies not only provide societal benefits for our employees but also play a part in reducing our carbon footprint. 

More broadly, our employees also have the opportunity to participate in a learning programme that educates them about their role in sustainable development and how Kennedys operates as a responsible business. We also provide for external training opportunities, such as the UN Global Compact Academy Platform, where employees can further enhance their sustainability awareness.


Read other items in Commercial Brief - March 2024