Kimberly-Clark APAC

What is HR’s role in a sustainability strategy?

News   •   Dec 09, 2015 14:52 +08

Is it possible to embed and operationalise a sustainability strategy into the culture of an organisation? Jacquie Fegent-McGeachie, Director of Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability at Kimberly-Clark ANZ believes so, and provides her tips in a HRD article.

Today many organisations in Australia have in place proactive commitments to minimise their impact on the environment and actively give back to the community. Sustainability considerations are increasingly becoming core to the operating philosophies of leading organisations. Research demonstrates that a strong track record and reputation for corporate sustainability can help attract top talent and retain existing employees, as well as achieve cost reductions through efficiency gains and risk minimisation. However, as expectations of corporate Australia increase around what it’s doing to help curb climate change and respond to other pressing social and environmental issues, it can be challenging for organisations to bridge the gap between current performance and desired performance. One challenge many leaders face is embedding and operationalising their sustainability strategy within the fabric of their organisations. This includes securing broad-reaching buy-in from employees.

Building towards a better tomorrow across all levels of the organisation to enable the desired, and then ongoing, performance around sustainability. 

Where to start?

A good starting point is for sustainability practitioners and HR practitioners to form a closer working relationship, as a strong relationship can reap plenty of mutual benefit. Sustainability and corporate social responsibility programs can be a great complement to an organisation’s people strategy when executed well, particularly in terms of showcasing how an organisation’s values are put into practice; contributing to the employee value proposition; and injecting purpose and meaning into employees’ work. In turn, HR practitioners can assist in providing formalised structures to help operationalise sustainability within an organisation – such as by providing staff with training and development; incorporating sustainability into the onboarding process for new employees; offering incentives and recognition for sustainability achievements; and having policies that promote worker cooperation and involvement with the company’s environmental objectives. In fact, there is a new area of academic study focused on green HR management (see box below).

What next?

Here are four tips on integrating sustainability practices into the workplace culture:

1. Secure and showcase support from the top of the organisation

Vocal internal support from the organisation’s leader (and other function leaders) around sustainability is critical, as they send messages into the organisation about what is deemed important and what is valued by employees.

2. Identify and recruit organisational sustainability champions at a range of levels

Champions are individuals who attempt to introduce or create change within an organisation.

3. Champions need to be effective business partners and clear communicators

It’s important to remember that, historically, business management education has not incorporated environmental management or sustainability into business education. Therefore business leaders may need sustainability champions to partner with them to help them understand the issues and provide counsel on how the business might respond. It’s also extremely useful if your sustainability champions are able to set out the business and broader benefits of the sustainability project. Also, critically, champions need to be able to garner support and take people on the journey with them – not alienate or bamboozle people.

4. Apply a tried and tested model for driving organisational change in order to integrate and operationalise sustainability

Corporate sustainability is a relatively new area in business management; however, the area of organisational development and change management has been around for more than a century. A leading thinker in the space, John Kotter, published his seminal work, Leading Change, in which he set out his ‘8 steps to organisational change’.

If businesses are serious about embedding an employee mindset and practices that consider the environment and community impact in everything done across all functions, then why not consider adopting and applying a formal change process?

The more organisations can mobilise and influence change both within and outside their organisations, the brighter the future for all.

Green HR Management

Develop green organisational ability.
This includes ensuring that recruitment and selection of new employees reflects the organisation’s commitments and values around the environment, and putting in place environmental knowledge management systems.

Motivate green employees via performance management and appraisal, and pay and reward systems. For example, incentivise long-term thinking and strategies – particularly those with benefits for the environment and the community more broadly – versus short-term thinking and strategies that put the numbers above all else.

Provide opportunities for employees to develop tacit knowledge around sustainability issues and strategies, and enable employee involvement in these types of initiatives.