Expanding Sustainability Outside of ESG Investments

Sustainability doesn’t just come from green investments. Plan sponsors can also incorporate sustainable practices in their day-to-day work.

As some participants start to request environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments in their workplace plan’s lineup, more employees are also demanding an emphasis on sustainability in general.

A 2016 report by sustainable research company LightSpeed Solutions found many workers believe sustainability is a crucial practice when selecting an employer. This was especially true for Millennial respondents, 90% of whom stated their support for sustainable practices.

So, as more employees look for sustainability in the workforce, what are some best practices that employers can include to expand their green efforts?

First, consider going paperless, says Ross Bremen, a partner at institutional investing firm NEPC. Swapping paper copies for electronic files or cloud-based alternatives reduces waste while sustaining engagement. Bremen notes that many plan sponsors have already shifted to e-delivery methods.

“As the world has moved to electronic delivery, plan sponsor practices have evolved accordingly,” he says. “Participant communication efforts, for example, have shifted toward electronic messaging and away from paper. We’ve also seen a set of plan sponsors move away from paper more broadly across their primary business lines.”

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have mitigated the use of paper communications, too. Collaborating app usage skyrocketed as more workforces turned to remote environments and virtual conferencing last year. Now, as workforces open up and more employees return to the office, its likely these communication approaches will stay.  

“With so many committee members, staff members, recordkeeper employees and consultants working from home, nearly all meetings have been held virtually, meaning all materials have been shared electronically with no generation of paper for the meetings themselves or many of the outputs,” Bremen says. “It is too early to tell what will happen as more individuals return to the office, but it seems likely that many of these paperless COVID-19 practices will continue in some capacity.”

Retirement planning notifications will likely move to e-delivery too, especially since the Department of Labor (DOL) published its final electronic disclosure rule last year expanding the ability of plan sponsors to distribute retirement plan disclosures online and via email.

If a plan sponsor needs to use paper, purchasing recycled paper and other recycled office equipment, such as toners and inkjets, can minimize carbon footprints, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).  

Other sustainable strategies include applying digital-first elements to plan design, such as by expanding wellness programs to app-based platforms, says Charlie Nelson, vice chairman and chief growth officer at Voya. Similarly to e-delivery, digital engagement discourages the use of paper communications while increasing e-communications. And because an app can be viewed at any time or point through a mobile device, this strategy can raise plan accessibility. 

“Consider how all factors of ESG approaches can be incorporated into a plan,” says Nelson. “Eliminate paper, switch to e-delivery and encourage digital engagement, such as by increasing access to the plan through plan design, and focus on plan governance and including value for the money and administration of the plan.”