When sustainability meets human resources

Talent Show

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.

McIntire also said many workplace issues, metrics and talent management programs are shared in the annual sustainability report, which is due to be released July 30.

According to Elaine Cohen, a veteran HR executive and the author of CSR for HR, HR plays a critical role in its sustainability efforts. In her book, she maintains that “the true role of the HR professional is to help convert the sustainability impacts of an organization on employees into positive sustainability impacts of employees.” Involving employees can have ripple effects given the impact of their work and their multiple daily interactions with internal and external stakeholders. Their work and interactions have the potential to advance an organization's sustainability goals.

The true value of “CSHR,” as Cohen calls it, is harnessing these opportunities through a range of organizational processes.

Of course, the intersection of CSR and human resources encompasses alignment of HR goals with that of the sustainability team, incorporating employees as an important stakeholder group and the HR function as a key player in delivering maximum impact.

Integrating CSR into HR means utilizing employees to have a greater effect on society. So what is the difference between being sustainable and being an employer of choice? Being viewed as sustainable means that you may be the first choice, not only for employees but also for customers, suppliers, and partners. This ambitious statement requires not only employees' buy-in but also their innovation, commitment and diverse ideas. That is where HR professionals can play a significant role.

Bottom line: If sustainability is good business, then for any organization, the sustainability team is the change maker while the HR team is the lever needed to propel the change.