Only 16% of employees say their organisation currently has the knowledge, mindset, and behaviours needed for a strong culture of sustainability, says Gartner, adding that this is despite 67% of employees rating sustainability-related issues as highly important.

A June 2023 Gartner survey of nearly 3 500 employees found that only 31% say their organisation provides resources to support environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. However, if organisations get it right, a strong culture of sustainability can improve employee engagement by up to 43%.

Speaking at the Gartner ReimagineHR Conference in Sydney, Aaron McEwan, vice-president, advisory in the Gartner HR practice, says: “There is currently a huge opportunity for HR leaders to build a stronger culture of sustainability and realise these engagement benefits.”

Gartner recommends HR leaders work with managers to align with employees on what sustainability is and why it matters to the organisation, then build connectedness so they feel that sense of care and belonging.

Drive employee alignment

According to Gartner’s 3Q23 Global Talent Monitor (GTM) data, only 9,2% of Australian employees believe their organisation has taken action or made a statement on environmental, political, social, or humanitarian issues.

“To build a culture of sustainability and reap the benefits of engaging with the workforce, HR leaders must ensure all employees have a clear understanding of the organisation’s sustainability goals – as well as how they can contribute,” says McEwan. “Involving employees in co-defining what sustainability means for the organisation is critical, as well as in prioritising initiatives that meet corporate goals.”


Once defined, Gartner recommends HR leaders share any sustainability definitions and goals more widely within the organisation so individuals know what the culture is, believe it is right for the organisation, and know how they can get involved.

Build employee connectedness

The June 2023 survey also revealed only 39% of employees agree that their manager cares about their professional goals related to ESG issues. Personal connection is vital if organisations want to increase employee involvement in creating a culture of sustainability.

“Managers are creating a bottleneck which in many cases unintentionally limits employee engagement and ultimately strains the sustainability culture,” says McEwan. “The good news is that managers already have the skills and experience to support and engage employees – they just need to apply it to the company’s sustainability goals and initiatives.”

Gartner recommends HR leaders support managers to identify the individual sustainability goals and interests of their employees; use the team environment to support skills development to advance capabilities beyond just individuals; and drive belonging by connecting employees to wider organisational sustainability efforts.

“The more people employees connect to, the greater the likelihood they will find opportunities to contribute meaningfully and increase their connection to the sustainability culture,” says McEwan. “It also decreases the pressure on managers to be the single point of contact, and potential bottleneck, for employees to engage with.

“When employees can see, understand, and contribute to their organisation’s sustainability objectives, HR leaders and managers reap the benefits of increased engagement – and organisations will get closer to achieving their goals,” McEwan adds.