Companies failing to recognise role of HR in delivering sustainability

Human resources departments could act as a valuable lever in driving forward employee engagement on corporate sustainability issues but they often remain sidelined, one CSR expert has said.

Speaking at a conference in San Diego, US, yesterday, Andy Savitz – a former lead partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ sustainability consulting practice – said that it was concerning how little HR professionals are involved with helping to deliver their company’s sustainability strategy.

“I have talked to many HR professionals over the years … in some cases, they remain hidden from the sustainability agenda. Over the past few years, this has started to change, but not quickly enough,” he told delegates.

He added that HR departments can play a critical role – both as a supporter and catalyst. “Sustainability is core to HR function as an advocate for employees, there is a saying ‘CSR without HR is simply PR’.”

Savitz pointed to the fact that more than one-third of the metrics comprising the triple bottom line (an accounting framework used for corporate sustainability) lie in the HR domain. These include measurements around employee welfare, diversity and social value.

“The single most important driver of reputation and corporate responsibility is how companies treat employees,” he maintained. “It sends a powerful signal to people about whether or not your company is responsible. If companies want to embed sustainability into daily operations, it is crucial they [consider] the employee lifecycle.”

As businesses begin to shift their focus onto employees as agents for change, Savitz said there must be a culture change whereby staff feel they can bring their own personal values to work and share them with the company.

“Employees are looking for purpose and not just a paycheck,” he told delegates. “This hunger for purpose means that employees expect to have opportunities to work on their values such as volunteering days … if you don’t build sustainability into the work day, others will.”

He added that this level of employee engagement was now replacing job satisfaction as a useful metric as it can directly drive business results through greater productivity, flexibility, and ultimately retention.

Maxine Perella

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