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Taking Care of Business

Sep 10, 2007 - Joel Makower - GreenBuzz

I've long maintained that human resource managers are the real drivers of sustainability inside mainstream companies. Every time I see how-to advice on greening a company that includes the suggestion to "get top-management buy-in," I think, "Sure, but what about everyone else?"

The potential of human resource professionals -- whose dominion includes hiring and training, among other things -- is significant, and largely untapped, in helping to make sustainability a strategic activity inside companies. With a growing number of companies competing to be seen as an employer of choice, and with sustainability and corporate responsibility looming increasingly larger in some sectors, the ability for HR folks to attract, hire, and retain green-minded job seekers can play a huge role in the success of a company's long-term sustainability goals.

Sometimes, motivating employees starts with teaching them "how to fish" -- that is, helping them be more aware and engaged in sustainability in their personal lives. That's what Wal-Mart is doing in helping its 1.3 million employees engage in Personal Sustainability Projects. As Judah Schiller, whose company developed the concept for Wal-Mart, explains this week, "Just as sustainability is being used more frequently from an operational perspective to improve internal processes, reduce costs and create efficiencies, personal sustainability can also be used as a powerful tool to improve upon a range of HR issues: commitment, attrition, education, health & wellness, motivation, and engagement."

The Wal-Mart experiment is -- well, an experiment. We don't yet know whether and how sustainability will "stick" with the company's employees. But it's an intriguing notion: by demonstrating the benefits of sustainability -- from improved health and well-being to creating a more eco-conscious community -- in their personal lives, employees just might help their employer be similarly less wasteful, more resourceful, and more engaged in the local community.

And that makes human resources a critical link in the quest to make sustainabiilty a part of everyone's job.