Sustainable development involves not only a broad view of social, environmental and economic outcomes but a long-term perspective concerned with the interests and rights of future generations – it is a trade-off between the present and the future. Sustainability predicates an inclusive approach to action that recognizes the need for all people to be involved in the decisions that impact their lives.
Sustainable development is too wide and too pervasive to be left to environmental specialists or select functions. It needs to draw support and contribution from across the organization. In a business context, sustainability needs to address how business can contribute to some of the most significant challenges facing the world today – climate change, degradation of biodiversity, working conditions, health; work life balance and social justice. Business activities need to be conducted responsibly throughout the value chain.
It is in this milieu that we seek to explore how HR can contribute to sustainability. Can HR be the master-weaver that can spin sustainability into the familiar fabric of recruitment, reward and renewal? Can HR test the role and relevance of sustainable development in everyday work, measure its impact on strategic goals and index individual and team performance in this area?
The latest trend is for businesses to adopt proactive, strategic tools such as ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001, Green Marketing, Eco-labeling and their like to gain competitive advantage. Enlightened corporates have started moving beyond compliance towards environmental excellence by developing more eco-friendly and greener services so as to institutionalize a sustainable business model for the long haul. Here HR can play a crucial role in articulating and implementing corporate mission and values, codes of conduct, environmental training, employee empowerment and a sustainability oriented work logic and work culture.
HR can directly influence sustainability in a variety of ways such as:
•Provide leadership for sustainability initiatives across various levels •Design and structure work so as to support sustainability •Create organization-wide awareness programs
•Encourage and reward creative solutions to sustainability issues •Demonstrate commitment by integrating sustainability with business plan and performance management
The entire hiring process can be made to reflect the organization’s emphasis on green and sustainable behavior. Job descriptions and person specifications should inter alia incorporate knowledge/skills in sustainability, e.g., a purchasing role should outline ‘green buying’ capability. Even recruitment ads can be designed to attract ‘green eyes’ and stir ‘green hearts’. Assessment Centre processes structured to the measuring of leadership competencies can be redesigned to evaluate sustainability oriented behavior.
Fit and alignment evaluation will factor knowledge, skills, experience and aptitude to conceptualize and execute sustainability strategies, positively influencing a sustainability culture and ability to add value to sustainability efforts.
While it is routine to identify adverse or potentially hazardous environmental factors that impact working conditions and provide adequate protection towards the same, a sustainability approach will bring in a new rigor and vigor to ensure safe technologies and work processes, waste elimination, energy conservation and employee well-being. This needs to be a conscious exercise and carried out across the organization touching all contact points between the employee and the organization.
HR which is active in the ‘Employee Wellness’ space can provide additional fillip to programs with a green impact, e.g. Walk and Talk; Health Marathon, Cycling for Life, Defensive Driving, etc.,
Organizations with a sustainability bias should as a...