Were you aware that it was World Environment Day this week?

Instigated by the United Nations Environment Programme, this awareness day has been held annually on 5th June since 1973, making World Environment Day 50 years old!

It is one of the largest global platforms for environmental concerns and is used to highlight the imperative of global environmental pressures, which affects the wellbeing and economic development of people throughout the world.

Encouragingly, more and more organisations are demonstrating that meaningful environmental and socially responsible initiatives can have significant business advantages, particularly in terms of attracting and retaining talent in very competitive recruitment markets. There has also been a shift in attitude from many customers and clients, now considering the environmental and social impact of products and services prior to purchasing, even when faced with higher costs of living, inflation and other monetary pressures. Prospective clients and investors are also asking for details around an organisation’s sustainability credentials and policies as part of procurement processes or when deciding where to invest their money.

HR has not always been at the vanguard of the sustainability movement, yet it is a discipline that traverses all aspects of business and has shown itself in recent years to be key in both supporting companies through major crises and catalysing fast-paced changes in the workplace. As well as being the expert on ethical employment practices, HR is well-placed to advocate and develop organisational culture and values that embed corporate environment and social responsibility, as well as ask awkward questions and challenge the way organisations operate! I think HR has a pivotal role to play in championing the triple bottom line – ‘people, planet and profit’ (ie the business concept that shifts the myopic focus from just financial performance to also include the measurement of social and environmental impact).

But, what should Sustainable HR include?

This is going to be an evolving and expanding subject, but initial research suggests that the following areas will all be relevant:

Long-term orientation – sustainability incorporated into business and HR strategy; adopting suitable sustainability/corporate responsibility framework or model; workforce planning for future business needs; people metrics and data analysis; sustainability clauses embedded in senior executive agreements; investment in values-based leadership; and sustainability promoted throughout the business and its supply chains.

Care and development of employees – ensuring fairness, equality and respect; health, safety and wellbeing; work-life balance, flexible working; employee voice and participation; job enrichment/rotation; skills development and retraining; and secondments outside the organisation.

Care of environment – promoting sustainable and energy-saving practices from recycling to renewable power sources; digital systems and electronic signatures; green employee benefits; ethical pensions; carbon offsetting; eco-friendly travel and commuting options; and environmental disposal of old equipment.

Care of community – social enterprise partnering projects; additional leave for volunteering; supporting environmental initiatives; sharing workspace with community projects; and supporting local schools and colleges.

These are not quick fixes but longer term initiatives and investments to embed sustainability and corporate responsibility into the very core of businesses. Business owners and leaders must have overall accountability, but the HR function will be an instrumental catalyst.

Watch this space for more ideas …

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