Human Resources for Sustainability


Human resource managers are well positioned to play an instrumental role in helping their organization achieve its goals of becoming a socially and environmentally responsible firm – one which reduces its negative and enhances its positive impacts on society and the environment.  Further, human resource (HR) professionals in organizations that perceive successful corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a key driver of their financial performance, can be influential in realizing on that objective.  While there is considerable guidance to firms who wish to be the best place to work and for firms who seek to manage their employee relationships in a socially responsible way, there is a dearth of information for the HR manager who sees the importance of embedding their firm’s CSR values throughout the organization, who wish to assist the executive team in integrating CSR into the company’s DNA.  And as high profile corporate failures such as Enron make all too clear, organizations that pay lip-service to CSR while neglecting to foster a CSR culture run the risk of damaging their corporate reputation if not their demise.  Indeed, HR's mandate to communicate and implement ideas, policies, and cultural and behavioural change in organizations makes it central to fulfilling an organization’s objectives to “integrate CSR in all that we do.”  That said, it is important to understand that employee engagement is not simply the mandate of HR.  Indeed people leadership rests with all departmental managers.  HR can facilitate the development of processes and systems; however, employee engagement is ultimately a shared responsibility.  The more the HR practitioner can understand their leverage with respect to CSR, the greater their ability to pass these insights along to their business partners towards the organization’s objectives in integrating CSR throughout their operations and business model.

As human resources influences many of the key systems and business processes underpinning effective delivery, it is well positioned to foster a CSR ethic and achieve a high performance CSR culture.  Human resource management can play a significant role so that CSR can become “the way we do things around here”.  HR can be the key organizational partner to ensure that what the organization is saying publicly aligns with how people are treated within the organization.  HR is in the enviable position of being able to provide the tools and framework for the executive team and CEO to embed CSR ethic and culture into the brand and the strategic framework of the organization.  It is the only function that influences across the entire enterprise for the entire ‘lifecycle’ of the employees who work there – thus it has considerable influence if handled correctly.  HR is poised for this lead role as it is adept at working horizontally and vertically across and within the organization, so important for successful CSR delivery.

Of course, for effective CSR deployment, it needs to become a Board and C-suite imperative first.  Should such an organizational gap exist, the senior HR leader can champion, lead and help drive a CSR approach if necessary.  In the coming years as CSR increasingly becomes part of the business agenda and the fabric of responsible corporations, it will become a natural agenda for the HR practitioner.

The following is an overview of the key trends and business drivers for fostering this CSR-HR connection, followed by a proposed roadmap or pathway for human resource leaders seeking to make a substantial contribution to sustainability, CSR and their firm’s business goals.  A companion CSR-HR Checklist is available which summarizes the roadmap at a glance.

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