Employees are an important aspect of sustainability program success. People – your employees and the community in which you operate – are an essential aspect of the “People, Planet, Profit” paradigm of sustainability. Managing human resources effectively means going beyond communication to seek out staff ideas, and solicit their time and energy to help implement initiatives. Engaging your employees taps into a wealth of knowledge about your business and ideas to innovate, reduce costs and rework processes and products to reduce environmental and social impacts. And the more engaged employees are, results show (See Business Case), the more motivated, loyal and productive they are as well, driving further overall benefits to your business.
Communicating the organization’s goals for new sustainability initiatives or programs is essential to build a shared understanding of where the business is headed and how everyone can help. If done well, this provides a clear roadmap for the company’s efforts and outlines how employees can play their part. Sharing this information builds employee buy-in as staff come to understand the context and the rationale for change.
Involve and Empower Employees
Getting employees engaged in any kind of workplace innovation or change is essential. Human resource practices can help embed environmental and social responsibility values in a business, ensuring employee buy-in. Employees who are encouraged and empowered to participate in sustainability programs benefit the business’ bottom line with their front-line ideas of ways to reduce waste and retool processes to meet the company’s goals.
For example, 3M started an employee program to engage employees to reduce its environmental impact. The program has generated more than 3,000 projects, mostly from employee ideas, that reduced emissions by over 1 billion pounds and saved approximately $500 million since 1975 (for more information see Harvard Business). There is no substitute for shop floor knowledge and enthusiasm.
Reward Innovative Ideas and Hard Work
Celebrating success and rewarding achievement are an important factor in managing human resources to implement environmental goals. A pat on the back, award, internal newsletter article or contribution to an employee’s favorite social or environmental charity will help spread interest and engagement in your programs. You may also want to consider how your employees are financially compensated because if all your performance targets and financial incentives are focused on your financial goals, you may find it a challenge to motivate your employees to consider other factors in their work. Think, too, abut whether you would like to put sustainability objectives into employee job descriptions or annual performance contracts. This can have a positive effect as well.
Innovation and sustainability require change, and with change comes fear and uncertainty. To manage human resources well, and help support your staff through this process, it’s important to create an open climate for discussion. This means creating a culture where it’s OK to disagree and share opinions. By providing opportunities for feedback you’ll get positive and negative feelings out in the open and understand the source of concern. See Leadership (Culture) for more information.
Incorporate your Sustainability Commitment Into Employee Recruiting Programs
Increasingly employees prefer to work for organizations that are aligned with their social and environmental values. Leading companies are incorporating sustainability messaging into their recruitment programs. Check the job ads sometime for evidence of this – it might give you a few ideas for how to take your recruitment to the next level, increasing your chances of attracting the best and the brightest.
- Industry Canada: Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Resources Management
- Industry Canada: Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Resources checklist
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