When sustainability meets human resources

For many, the nexus between sustainability and human resources is an intangible one. As a sustainability recruiter, I live at this intersection -- and witness it being tested every time I begin a candidate search. 

For the HR professional, being an "employer of choice" is synonymous with sustainability. After all, one of the main tenets of sustainability is maximizing the positive benefits of a business' operations for all stakeholders.

For sustainability professionals, the HR team primarily represents employees as a stakeholder group, playing a critical part in forming “green teams” and encouraging employee engagement on environmental and other issues.

The potential of the sustainability-HR nexus comes from the HR professionals who sit on their companies' sustainability steering committees, said Lynnette McIntire, a member of the UPS Sustainability Working Committee and editor of UPS’s sustainability report. HR representatives are deeply involved in the development of the workplace component of the company’s sustainability report and are responsible for collecting the data necessary for meeting reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative. The HR group also guides goals directly related to their function, such as employee turnover, workplace safety, and employee satisfaction.

McIntire provided five examples of how sustainability intersects with the human resource function at UPS:

  1. Training: UPS has incorporated sustainability education in its employee training process, which encourages employee engagement in sustainability at home and supports widespread United Way campaigns, which have raised more than $1 billion.
  2. Engagement: HR plays a key role in involving employees in workplace initiatives such as recycling, energy efficiency, and reducing waste.
  3. Employee Communications: HR facilitates discussions between departments and hierarchies, thereby becoming the buffer for potential friction by promoting the formation of committees or informal groups that look for ways to improve company sustainability. HR also communicates frequently to the entire employee base about UPS’s sustainability goals and progress.
  4. Sustainability-focused Volunteering: UPS cumulatively delivers 1.6 million hours of community service per year, said McIntire. Volunteer initiatives like tree plantings and support for humanitarian relief logistics are a highly encouraged (and measured) category at UPS.
  5. Reducing Waste in the Talent Acquisition process: UPS has eliminated all paper from its talent acquisition process, including pamphlets, brochures, forms, company information, reports, etc., and the hiring process is entirely electronic.

Next page: Ripple effects