Organizational Change
Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line:
Andrew Savitz on the Sustainability-HR Nexus

Once considered strange bedfellows, sustainability and human resource management are being increasingly recognized as an ideal match. Andrew Savitz’s book Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line: How Companies Can Leverage Human Resources to Achieve Sustainable Growth compellingly demonstrates why HR leaders are uniquely well-positioned to aid in sustainability efforts and why they need to be included in any brand’s successful transition to embedded sustainability. Here are a few of Savitz’s reasons why:

  • Sustainability begins at home. An overwhelming number of customers links treatment of employees with a brand’s sustainability … and a core HR function is employee advocacy. The 2011 Do Well Do Good Public Opinion Survey showed average Americans considered treatment of employees more important than any other sustainability responsibility. GlobalScan Radar 2010 survey asked participants to name the “most important thing a company can do to be seen as socially responsible” and the most popular response was “treat employees well.” HR plays an obvious role in protecting employees, advocating for fair treatment, and designing favorable compensation and benefits.

  • Many companies are being flooded with job applicants who expect to find sustainability-related opportunities at work. Research by Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and Reputation Institute (2009) found that 2/3 of people polled in 25 countries prefer to work for a company known for its social responsibility. A poll of Monster Worldwide job website users found 80% want a job with a positive impact on the environment and 92% want to work for an environmentally friendly organization while 8 out of 10 Ipsos MORI [a British market research company] poll respondents want to work for an “environmentally ethical” organization. Savitz describes an interview with a hiring manager who said, “If I don’t mention ‘sustainability’ in the first five minutes, I run the risk of losing the candidate.”

  • Virtually every organization will need to add environmental responsibilities to existing jobs in the years to come — even companies that once assumed that such challenges were foreign to them. In a 2011 survey and report by the Society for Human Resource Management, HR professionals reported a series of environmentally driven changes to their workforces. 80% said their companies had added new environmental duties to existing positions at their organization, and 23% reported creating completely new green positions or specifying green duties as part of newly created jobs.

  • Almost 1/3 of GRI indicators (26 out of 84) are directly relevant to HR, including employee wellness, privacy, human rights, labor issues, wages and benefits, training and career development, and diversity.

  • **Alternative working conditions are becoming increasingly popular.**Working from home and office hoteling offer triple bottom line benefits in the form of lower carbon emissions from not commuting, better work-life balance for employees, and savings in infrastructure. HR plays an important role in setting guidelines so that these new working conditions will work effectively.

    Example: At Family Mutual Health and Life Insurance, the VP of HR and the VP of the claims adjustment department worked together to create clearly defined work-from-home guidelines. Cost of implementing program: $991,680. Benefits in improved productivity, office expense, and employee turnover reduction: almost $4 million.

  • **Human Resource leaders are change agents.**HR can encourage a company culture that supports sustainability by embracing stakeholder engagement, supporting the development of long-term thinking, and fostering interdependent thinking.
    Andrew Savitz, keynote speaker at Sustainable Brands 2014 San DiegoThey can also facilitate innovation programs by promoting a shared language for sustainability, creating mechanisms to encourage innovation, and providing tools to measure results. The HR role is also a natural choice for facilitating collaboration across silos, helping to select the right people from cross-functional groups to focus on a specific sustainability initiative.

  • Sustainability is not a skill that can be mastered or knowledge that can be codified. Sustainability is a complex collection of ideas and practices that needs to be constantly upgraded, modernized and developed as circumstances evolve. Thus individual employees, working teams, and entire organizations need to be prepared to learn unceasingly. HR plays an important role in hiring good learners and upgrading learning capability of current leaders.

  • Behavior from HR sets the tone and helps the company “walk the walk.” More and more brands are listing sustainability as a priority, but only 9% have built it into mandatory training programs. When HR leaders design policies rewarding sustainability-related behavior and penalizing non-compliant behavior, they show employees that the brand’s commitment to sustainability is not just lip service.

According to Savitz, the profound transformation companies must undergo to meet the demands of the age of sustainability require specific skills to reshape business cultures, values, systems, policies and processes — specific skills that HR leaders have. Sustainability managers should take note that HRM can be vital allies and HR managers can look forward to emerging trends in sustainability dramatically reshaping and expanding HR’s role in a company in exciting new ways.

In Part 2, I will examine Savitz’s ideas about what Sustainable HR looks like, using specific examples from top brands whose Human Resource teams are integrating sustainability throughout the entire workforce life cycle.

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