HR and sustainability: An odd couple?

This Q-and-A with Andrew Savitz explores how the human resources department can be a powerful tool for corporate sustainablity programs.

Savitz is the author of a new book called "Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line: How Companies Can Leverage Human Resources to Achieve Sustainable Growth" (Wiley 2013).

As you can guess from the title, Savitz argues that employees are the key to creating sustainable companies, but that they -- and their colleagues in human resources -- are often overlooked when companies embark on environmental programs. I think he's on to something. I've long thought that the single biggest business driver of corporate sustainability initiatives is the way they help better companies attract better people and motivate the ones they have.

Savitz has spent his career working with companies on social and environmental issues. A lawyer by training (and before that a Rhodes scholar at Oxford), Savitz has been a congressional staffer, the general counsel for the Massachusetts Office of Environmental Affairs and head of the environmental advisory practice at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Since 2005, he has led a consultancy called Sustainable Business Strategies.

Here's our online conversation:

Marc Gunther: You say that you've written the book "in large measure to bridge the gap between sustainability and HR." HR? Really? Why do we need human resources people to get involved with sustainability? They don't know anything about carbon emissions, say, or LED lighting, do they?

Andy Savitz: Well, they might if they use LED lighting at home.

Since you mention lighting, Marc, 95 percent of people shut the lights out when they leave home, yet only 45 percent of employees do so when leaving work. HR professionals know how to motivate employees and empower more sustainable behaviors. In turn, sustainability can be a powerful engine for increasing employee engagement, attracting and retaining top talent, or improving employee health and well-being, all of which are on HR's "to-do" list.

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