An organization can be “green” in many ways. For example, the R&D department can research and find ways to develop environmentally friendly goods or services. The finance department can make investment decisions that consider the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors of a project or an economic activity. The sales department can develop ways to establish green marketing in the company. But all these efforts from different departments to increase business sustainability bring a question to mind:
What can the HR department do to help promote green sustainability strategies?
What does “green HR” actually mean?
The term “green HR” was coined by Walter Wehrmeyer when he attempted to connect the fields of environmental management and human resource management. Green HR encompasses HR policies that help protect and preserve natural resources. Examples of these policies include preserving knowledge assets, minimizing paperwork, and creating awareness of eco-friendly practices. These things help organizations operate in an environmentally sustainable fashion.
The aim of green HR is to increase environmental awareness and promote the social and economic well-being of an organization and its employees. Green HR policies play an essential role in designing an organization’s sustainability.
Let’s get the basics right. What is the difference between corporate responsibility and corporate sustainability?
The terms corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate sustainability are often used synonymously without clarity and without knowing what these terms mean. The biggest challenge that can derail leaders from achieving sustainability goals is if they do not understand what it means to be sustainable. Though CSR encompasses sustainability, corporate social responsibility and corporate sustainability are different.
Corporate social responsibility focuses on an organization’s impact on the population and the world, just like sustainability, and incorporates ethical issues not related to the environment. For example, when Johnson & Johnson received complaints about Extra-Strength Tylenol, they removed all units of this product from shelves nationwide. Not only were they fulfilling their corporate social responsibility; but they also ended up creating an industry standard of tamper-proof packaging. This is a clear example of the separation of CSR from sustainability.
On the other hand, corporate sustainability is a comprehensive approach to business management that works to maximize long-term economic, social, and environmental value. Sustainability aims to increase the life span of systems in order to keep them working for a long period of time. For example, deforestation and burning fossil fuels harm environmental systems, preventing future generations from obtaining equal environmental value as compared to the current generation. This is not sustainable.
Corporate sustainability emphasizes science-based principles for corporate action. It focuses on the fairness of resource availability, whereas corporate responsibility only focuses on present issues.
Benefits of incorporating green HR
Building a sustainable organization with green HR practices is beneficial in several contexts:
- Promotes green values: Improving employees’ knowledge and understanding of environmental values leads to more sustainable lifestyles.
- Instils green behavior: Employees can learn eco-friendly habits in the office or factory environment, such as saving paper and energy resources
- Increases green commitment: Employees who feel a high level of responsibility for preserving the environment are committed to implementing the company’s green business concept and following measures to increase efficiency, save electricity, reduce waste, and fulfill their environmental responsibilities.
- Creates positive company image: Employees feel proud to join a company committed to the environment that is not only growing economically but also fulfilling its sustainability responsibilities.
- Attracts job candidates: People like to be associated with a business that is respectful of the environment and its employees, meaning such a business attracts more candidates.
Benefits of implementing green HR for an organisation
A recent study by Deloitte shows a dramatic shift in the workforce mindset towards environmental issues. People are concerned about climate change, and they want to act now.
Working in a green culture increases employees’ satisfaction and commitment. Here are the key benefits of green HR for an organization:
A common question that arises when we think of a business going “green” is “What is in it for them?”
The below examples show how fulfilling corporate sustainability can lead to billions of dollars in cost reductions for businesses.
- By maximizing sustainability throughout the supply chain, right from concepts and development, all the way to production and distribution, Nestle increased their revenue by almost 20 percent and cut supply chain costs by 16 percent in 2015.
- By using lighter paper for their in-flight magazine, United Airlines saved almost $300,000 a year on fuel. They have worked to eliminate any extra weight in the plane.
- Clarion Hotels reduced energy costs by up to 25 percent by asking their guests to hang up towels to dry and forgo daily sheet changes. They further cut water consumption by reducing the flow through toilets, faucets, and showerheads.
As people become aware of environmental damage, the business world can no longer ignore their corporate sustainability responsibilities. For example, the Volkswagen emissions scandal led the EPA to fine Volkswagen about 18 billion dollars for breaching standards. In addition, businesses now know that the cost of not being sustainable is high. Apart from penalties, fines, and litigation costs, unsustainable practices lead to resource waste, environmental remediation, etc.
Providing green solutions at the workplace, like reducing the use of chemicals, paper, and energy can help employees use business resources more efficiently and account for significant savings.
According to research by Totaljobs, 28 percent of British workers said they would consider quitting their current role and transitioning into one offered by a more environmentally responsible company.
Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors is another excellent example of a business gaining a competitive advantage through sustainable practices. They’re still top-of-mind when it comes to electric cars of all ranges, including sports cars. What’s more, companies with an image of corporate sustainability and standards increase their chances of attracting the best talents.
Practices green HR can embrace to support the integration of corporate sustainability
Training and development
Green training and development aim to improve employees’ knowledge of how they can use available resources sustainably. Gamify the training process by asking employees to suggest innovative ways to complete a task with the best possible use of resources.
Below are some actionable tips on how HR leaders can train employees in sustainability concepts at the workplace.
- Communicate goals to create buzz and anticipation. Clearly communicated green HR goals will also prepare employees to use the sustainable-friendly knowledge they gain, promoting a high level of adoption and use of green practices.
- Guide employees through the sustainability process step by step. Instead of overwhelming them with a massive amount of information, offer small amounts of information at a time. This makes it easier for employees to comprehend the steps they can slowly take to adopt green and sustainable practices.
- Conduct group interviews and offer sustainability scenarios wherein employees have to offer solutions. This provides an opportunity to learn through trial and error.
- Reward people for their contributions and establish the highest impact areas where employees and departments can become more sustainable.
Check our article about gamification in the workplace and actionable implementation tips.
Performance management and appraisal
Performance management is one of the key HR practices for promoting environmentally conscious behavior and corporate sustainability. Green performance appraisal focuses on employee appraisal to ascertain how well they are adopting green environment practices in the workplace. can play a key role in increasing the perceived value of sustainability strategies. When an employee’s behavior is measured in any aspect, they tend to put in more effort to put their aspirations forward as they know that their positive performance will be supported by positive feedback and appraisal.
Tips for performance management and appraisal:
- Inform employees of sustainability topics that will be up for discussion in advance to set a constructive tone for the review meeting. Failing to do so makes the employee apprehensive about what the review is about and how it will impact their future with the organization.
- Emphasize that the goal of each review is to solve problems and identify ways to help both the employee and the company grow. This constructive approach will help the employee confidently come up with solutions.
- Discuss the challenges employees face in following sustainability procedures. Also, ask employees to identify ways the organization can be more sustainable and what can be improved.
Compensation and reward system
Rewards and compensation can be tools for supporting environmental activities in organizations. Develop reward systems to encourage eco-friendly initiatives. For example, Bank of America offers a $3,000 reimbursement incentive for employees who buy a hybrid, compressed natural gas, or “highway-capable” electric vehicle. When employees know that their efforts will be rewarded, it automatically motivates them to participate in eco-friendly causes.
Involve employees to collect feedback from other employees to improve existing practices. When employees feel they have a say in such broader moral decisions as that of social responsibility of the organization, they take advantage of the potential to make a difference. For example, Ben & Jerry’s values its focus on social and economic justice, human rights and dignity, and environmental protection. Those values are visible at all levels, so employees can connect to them and work towards fulfilling their commitments together.
By adding internal sustainability values to an organization, the HR department can help the entire team achieve common goals. For example, implementing waste reduction policies can help employees feel good about doing their bit for the environment. The company further gains from cost reduction, and externally the company is known for playing a role in saving the planet.