HR’s Role in Sustainability

Sustainability has been a hot topic the past few years. What not many people know about sustainability, and particularly when it comes to business, is the huge role HR plays. In Workforce’s featured article “HR Not Whining about Winemaker’s Sustainability Rating,” by Susan G. Hauser, vineyard manager Drew Johnson speaks about the point at which he made that realization. It was when he was filling out the application for sustainability certification.

“Most of the questions were for HR,” Johnson recollects.

“There was a chapter in the questionnaire on how we treat employees and another chapter on community relations. They wanted to know about pay and benefits and even about how we lead our grape pickers in stretching and calisthenics before they start to work”

Johnson came to a realization that many businesses across the country and globe have come to. Sustainability isn’t just about environmental practices. A large part of making your business sustainable, is making sure your employees stay as happy and healthy as possible. Without a viable workforce, what is there to sustain?

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development published an article titled “Human Resources and Sustainable Development,” which goes over many of the factors regarding sustainability, that HR pros should be aware of. Perhaps the most compelling and important factor for HR, is the subject of social and ethical responsibility, and how it effects the workforce.  According to WBCSD, people’s expectations for businesses are changing. In fact, 70% of North Americans say they wouldn’t apply with a company who they thought displayed social irresponsibility. How is a business sustainable if it can’t recruit new talent?

Many case studies included in the article, go on to suggest that sustainable and socially responsible practices lead to higher employee engagement and ultimately better business performance. For instance Nordisk instituted a program called TakeAction!,  to institute a sustainable development culture, and way of thinking. It encourages employees to participate in volunteer work, and to be engaged in their mission of sustainability. Novo has an annual survey, eVoice, where employees are asked if environmental and social issues are important for the company. In 2004,  out of a scale of 1-5  (5 being very important) the average score was 4.2. This shows an incredible amount of faith from employees that will no doubt translate into better  employee engagement and productivity, not to mention a positive impact on recruitment.

As peoples priorities evolve, it’s important that organizations take note in order to ensure their longevity. Sustainability doesn’t just mean recycling, and cutting down on power use. It also means keeping employees happy, healthy, and engaged. As it turns out, one way to engage employees, is to institute environmentally and socially responsible practices. So, if sustainability is something your organization wants to focus on, know that you, as an HR pro, should be directly involved.

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Aaron

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