Green and ethical benefits: Part 1 – the importance of choice.

What do green and ethical employee benefits mean? At PES, we’ve been asking the question for some time.

We have a growing number of clients whose business is either in the sustainable energy sector, or whose ethical values and principles are core to what they do.

We’re really committed to exploring this topic, so we were very excited to bring some of these organisations together in May 2018 for a round-table discussion. The conversation ranged from pensions to online shopping, from education to communications and choice.

One thing became absolutely clear – this is a complex area that needs carefully crafted solutions.

Here’s what we covered in the first part of our conversation.

The importance of choice

Offering benefits in line with organisational values is fine in principle, but employers don’t want to push people into making certain choices. Benefits are about giving employees a better experience so they shouldn’t feel pressurised.

For example, an ethical pension fund might appeal to some people, but the outcomes may be different from other funds. Should all employees be expected to have this kind of pension simply because it aligns with their employer’s values?

Similarly, with discounted online shopping, choice has to be a watchword. Part of the appeal is the wide variety of brands available. Shopping portals can certainly promote retailers with greener credentials, but some ‘green’ retailers may be expensive, even with discounts.

Not all employees have the same levels of disposable income, so is it fair to favour a particular ‘green’ supermarket, for example, when it’s known to be one of the pricier brands? Employees should be allowed to weigh up the cost of following their conscience for themselves.

Making choice simple

The ultimate decision needs to lie with the employee and it should be relatively easy, otherwise choosing benefits could become a moral maze.

For example, an ethical pension could be offered as one of two default funds. The green and ethical credentials of each provider and their respective products would be made clear, along with the projected returns. Each employee could then make an informed decision. One way of making this easy would be to provide a simple ‘swipe and select’ function via an app.

Some ethically-focused discounted online shopping sites have a traffic light system to highlight which suppliers have better green and ethical credentials than others. It’s not always clear cut though what’s meant by green and ethical shopping – the company or the product, or both?

For example, promoting cheap train travel is greener than car leasing perhaps, but what about the ethical credentials of the train company itself? Perhaps the car company has electric vehicles available? Holiday discounts are generally a popular benefit, but how green is the airline, or the hotel?

Again, it’s really important to allow employees to make their own decisions by ensuring that the site offers plenty of choice. But employers can help by signposting at the point of purchase which businesses are clearly committed to running an ethical business.

Next week we’ll publish the second part of our discussion on raising awareness among employees.

What do green and ethical employee benefits mean? Download paper.

About PES

Delivering a great employee experience is a challenge for growing organisations. At PES, it’s what we do. Our online employee benefits platform, HR support and workplace wellbeing services bring out the best in your employees – enabling your business to thrive.

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