past decade has seen increased discussion of sustainable business
and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Still the
discussion has, for the time being, outpaced the solution to business-relevant
environmental problems. Progress made thus far has been through
gradual steps by business, civil society and citizens working together
toward a common goal of a profitable, sustainable economic system
in a healthy environment.
This article presents one more opportunity for businesses to achieve
profitability through sustainability. It focuses not on technology,
but rather on the people who manage risk, spark innovation and solve
Sustainability in the HR Department
The worldwide conversation on sustainable business has, for the
most part, focused on the physical side of product life cycles.
The people who conceive and implement sustainable strategies do
not get as much attention.
For a company seeking industry leadership and enhanced profitability
through CSR strategies, it is critical that increased emphasis be
placed on the development of an energetic, innovative and dedicated
staff. Human resource programs that educate, train, energize and
inspire staff can be as critical as the impact-reducing physical
systems they enable. Doing so will create a staff that is firmly
committed to both their employers bottom line and its social
and environmental goals.
Furthermore, as a business tool for sustainability, human resource
programs should be sustainable in and of themselves, both for the
sake of environmental protection and for the propagation of staff
ingenuity and innovation. Otherwise, they self-contradicti.e.,
teaching, but not practicing, sustainability.
Combining HR and CSR Goals
Mitsubishi International Corp. (MIC) has worked with Earthwatch
Institute for several years, annually selecting and sponsoring employees
to grow personally and professionally by acting as field assistants
on research expeditions. Recently, MIC staff members have worked
in Kenya with researchers studying medicinal plants, in Washington
state helping scientists understand captive chimpanzee behavior,
in Costa Rica helping preserve leatherback sea turtle populations,
to name only a few.
By giving staff members the opportunity to support science related
to its business, MIC has also given its staff an understanding of
the environmental issues that affect their workarguably a
key risk-management tool. In addition, the program provides participants
with valuable cross-cultural, team building, leadership and communication
skills that are difficult to come by in an office setting.
Most importantly, MIC gives its staff the opportunity to make a
direct and meaningful contribution to society. For an overwhelming
majority of participants, this makes the experience tremendously
positive. MIC has fostered a corporate culture of inspiration and
innovation, and at the same time actively protected the environment
through the promotion of scientific understanding.
Bottom Line Benefit
CSR programs must benefit the financial bottom line. Be it directly
through increased sales, or indirectly through risk management,
value addition or staff development aspects, the program must be
profitable. If not, managers will quicklyand correctlychop
money-loosing initiatives from the agenda. CSR-focused human resource
programs are not, and should not be, an exception.
Like many social and environmental business programs, the need to
demonstrate financial value is often a sticking point. It can be
difficult to establish a definitive link between profit and CSR
initiatives. However, the recruitment and retention of a well-educated,
inspired and innovative staff does have a proven link to profit.
Therefore, a HR program that creates this type of work environment
and has an effective CSR focus can add significant value to the
company and its shareowners.
If business and civil society are to successfully collaborate and
develop practical sustainable business strategies, then people must
be prioritized. The provision of an innovative and inspirational
work environment makes good business sense. Regardless of whether
you look from a financial, human resource or sustainability standpoint,
a positive work environment is something a company must have if
it is interested in providing long-term value to its shareowners.
In so doing, the people of the business world will be empowered,
inspired and effective agents of long-term profitability through