Organizational Change
How HR Is Helping Top Brands Embed Sustainability Throughout Life of Workforce

In part one of our review of Andrew Savitz’s book Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line, we explored why human resource managers should be involved in a brand’s sustainability initiatives. Now, we’ll look at how companies can leverage HR to achieve sustainable growth throughout the entire workforce lifecycle, starting from employee selection all the way to retirement.

Employee Selection

Traditional HR focuses on strengthening the employer’s workplace reputation to attract the most talented and desirable workers and recruiting candidates from every career stage. Sustainable HR includes sustainability-related values as a key element in the employer brand and employee value proposition.

Sustainable HR in Action: Savitz describes how PwC’s recruiting strategy at job fairs facilitates values alignment with potential employees. Instead of giving away branded stress balls, visors or other merchandise, PwC asks job fair participants to identify a favorite charity, to which PwC will then contribute $5. Candidates come to recognize PwC as a firm that gives to causes they care about, instead of generating junk that will pollute the environment. In turn, PwC gains insight into which causes are most popular with potential employees and how to be more strategic in its future philanthropic efforts.

Career Development

In addition to the Traditional HR responsibilities of supporting employees’ career development, Sustainable HR helps employees identify sustainability opportunities in career paths throughout the organization and implements training to improve employee awareness of how environmental and social trends affect the company.

Sustainable HR in Action: Savitz describes how Gap improved the sustainability of its supply chain management by incorporating social responsibility into the product skills courses provided to designers and managers. Gap’s Retail Academy includes coaching for managers to consider how decisions they make upstream can cause unintended impacts on suppliers downstream. When hot sales require a rapid restock, Gap managers are taught to consider whether the manufacturer has the capacity to fulfill the order without instituting excessive overtime, using underage workers or risking unsafe production processes.

Traditional HR sets and implements policies regarding employee behavior and rewards achievements. Sustainable HR includes sustainability in performance appraisals and offers meaningful incentives for achieving sustainability-related goals.

Sustainable HR in Action: Savitz describes how the SC Johnson Greenlist system rates materials used in the company’s products according to their environmental and health impact, and ties the results to employee appraisals. Each raw material receives a rating from “unacceptable” to “best.” When SC Johnson scientists create a new product or reformulation, they must aim to select materials rated “better” or “best” ingredients. Of the 500 top-management, bonus-eligible positions, approximately 25 percent have a bonus objective related to Greenlist. Nearly 48 million pounds of volatile organic compounds have been removed from SC Johnson’s products in the seven years since the system was introduced.

Workforce Planning

In addition to Traditional HR duties of researching and planning for talent trends and demographics, Sustainable HR considers how emerging environmental risks and opportunities require new knowledge, skills and mindsets.

Sustainable HR in Action: Savitz describes how after discovering that the costs of its environmental impacts were €145 million, PUMA created and filled a number of new positions, including an energy-management specialist, a conservation and ecosystem services specialist, humanity and ecology teams, and additional environmental and social auditors.

Early Termination, Retirement and Post-Retirement

Sustainable HR considers the social and economic impact of early termination and retirement.

Sustainable HR in Action: Savitz describes how American Electric Power (AEP) addresses the significant workforce challenge they are facing with the loss of knowledge as aging workers retire. At the same time, the current economy has put financial stress on growing numbers of would-be AEP retirees. To address these twin problems, AEP has created a program that offers flexible post-retirement work opportunities, with health care and other benefits, to older employees.


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