HR’s Impact on Long Term Environmental Sustainability

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Introduction

This essay focuses on the role of human resources (HR) in achieving environmental sustainability. It starts by very briefly explaining what environmental sustainability is, and why it is so important for individuals and organisations to contribute to achieving goals and targets related to sustainability. It next briefly explains what is meant by HR.

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Next it considers the ways in which HR managers are likely to be involved in supporting their organisations to reach sustainability targets. A focus on one organisation then allows some ideas to be developed that can form the basis of recommendations for improvement of environmental sustainability key to HR. Environmental sustainability is a component of the sustainable development concept. This concept is described as development “that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987:43). Essentially, it argues that to sustain life – both human and animal – the provision of clean water and air, and energy obtained from renewable resources are vital (Sutton, 2004). Human Resource departments might not seem the natural home of a focus on environmental sustainability, as often the burden of responsibility in an organisation is placed on an operations manager. However, there is definitely a role to play for human resources. In researching this issue, care must be taken to include terms that encompass the HR function – these can include Human Resource Management (HRM), Employment Services (ES), Human Capital, Personnel and others (Abusafia, 2012).

HR Management Support for the Drive Towards Environmental Sustainability

There is a range of HR activities that directly contribute to the environmental sustainability of an organisation. These often revolve around the development of ‘green’ jobs – and the infrastructure, training, personal development planning, performance management, communication, attitude monitoring and other aspects that go along with the creation of new posts, or new components of existing posts (Jackson, 2012). Liebowitz (2010) argues that the role of HR is more fundamental and deep seated than developing processes – he suggests that the HR department has a very significant role to play in the creation of a company’s sustainability culture, as it is professionally trained to change the attitudes and behaviours of employees, from senior executives to the most junior of staff (Liebowitz, 2010). Liebowitz also argues that HR managers are far removed from the old traditional personnel manager. Today, HR staff are likely to know much more about the business, and they use a human capital management approach to underpin the development of staff to achieve environmental objectives (Lebowitz, 2010). Wilkins (2014) identifies the skill to motivate and encourage employees to become engaged with sustainability programmes within an organisation as key to their success (Wilkins, 2014). In fact,

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