7 Ideas to Help Embed Sustainability in Your HR Life Cycle

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Human Resources teams are being called upon to play a pivotal role in the implementation of sustainability in their organizations. Leading companies are integrating sustainability into every aspect of their HR life cycle, helping their companies to achieve their sustainability objectives. The importance of Human Resources in driving sustainability is too often underestimated. That’s why we are sharing some of our favourite resources focused on supporting HR professionals.

What are leading companies doing?

To help meet your sustainability objectives your company will need to invest in empowering your employees to become agents of change.

Leading companies understand that HR is instrumental in embedding sustainability across their operations. They ensure that an authentic commitment to sustainability shines through in their recruitment messaging. They also integrate sustainability into their onboarding processes, often through experiential activities that help employees connect to the organization’s purpose. Leading companies clarify the environmental and social expectations of existing and new roles and understand that employees need training to be able to meet these objectives. Leading companies develop and compensate their leaders in alignment with their sustainability objectives and ensure that all employees are earning a living wage. Equality and inclusion are paramount in leading companies’ promotion practices, and they lead the way in advancing an inclusive workplace.

What can HR teams do to embed sustainability?

Here are some resources that can help HR teams to recruit, develop, compensate, and promote an inclusive, sustainability-driven workforce.

Recruit in line with your values. It’s clear that workers care more and more about employee wellbeing and the world around them. Sharon Houde's article¹ is a brief introduction to integrating sustainability into your recruitment process. As outlined in this Forbes article,² effective recruitment of top sustainability practitioners is dependent on the effective communication of your sustainability messaging to potential recruits.

Embrace shifting jobs and roles. The achievement of sustainability goals often involves the restructuring of roles within your company, particularly for sustainability practitioners. Next-Generation Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Jobs³ guides you through the management of this shift.

Support your employees to create change. McKinsey's introductory chapter⁴ in Elevating Learning and Development sets out a holistic framework for using learning and development (L&D) efforts to attract, retain, and upskill your employees. This can help them become agents of change within the company. Our guide on Being an Effective Change Agent combines academic and practical research to share how employees can influence sustainable decision-making from within the company and help embed sustainability into your business strategy.

Support your leaders to drive sustainability. Your company’s executives are key drivers of change. The CEO in particular plays an important role in shaping your sustainability objectives and actions. Our Guide to Supporting your CEO and their Decision-Making Around Sustainability shares what CEOs found most influential in shaping their thinking.

Pay a fair wage. Paying fair and living wages reduces income inequality and supports environmental and social resilience. You can read more about why all your employees should make a living wage in our blog post. Another practical, process-oriented resource for implementing the living wage in your company is Vancity's guide⁵ to becoming a certified Living Wage Employer.

Think carefully about executive compensation. In addition to ensuring the lowest wages are fair, you will also want to look at the top of your pay scale to understand the difference between the highest and lowest levels of compensation in your organization. As discussed by Stephanie Bertels at the Salzburg Global Corporate Governance Forum,⁶ tying your leaders’ compensation to their implementation and execution of sustainability goals will help keep them focused. This Harvard Business Review⁷ article provides an excellent overview of doing just that, and this article⁸ from Clermont Partners outlines what independent rating providers and investors will be watching for.

Promote consciously and inclusively. Hiring, fostering, and promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce is a challenge that companies are feeling pressure to surmount. One of the keys to unlocking the potential of an inclusive workforce through promotion is by acknowledging and fighting our unconscious biases. This guide⁹ developed by EY and RBC outlines how to do this.

If you are ready to embed sustainability into your HR functions, delve into the above resources as well as those on our website for more free, practical guidance for your HR team.

Image by Fotogrin on Shutterstock.

¹Houde, Shannon. “4 Ways to Attract Top Sustainability Talent.” Sustainable Brands, 14 June 2021, https://sustainablebrands.com/read/leadership/4-ways-to-attract-top-sustainability-talent/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nl_210614.

²ADP Brandvoice. “Is Corporate Social Responsibility Part of Your Recruiting Emphasis.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 8 Sept. 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adp/2016/01/01/is-corporate-social-responsibility-part-of-your-recruiting-emphasis/?sh=44ef692c7f97.

³Strandberg, Coro. Next-Generation Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Jobs. Strandberg Consulting, June 2017, https://corostrandberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/jobs-2point0-dec2017.pdf.

⁴Brassey, Jacqueline, Lisa Christensen, and Nick van Dam. Elevating Learning & Development. Insights and Practical Guidance From the Field. McKinsey, n.d, https://mck.co/3PUzhT0.

⁵Vancity. A Living Wage Road Map for Large Employers. Vancity, n.d, https://www.vancity.com/SharedContent/documents/pdfs/Vancity-LivingWageRoadmap.PDF.

⁶Bertels, Stephanie. Is It Time to Integrate EESG into Executive Compensation? Salzburg Global Seminar, 14 June 2021, https://www.salzburgglobal.org/news/publications/article/stephanie-bertels-is-it-time-to-integrate-eesg-into-executive-compensation.

⁷Burchman, Seymour. How to Tie Executive Compensation to Sustainability. Harvard Business Review, 12 Nov. 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/11/how-to-tie-executive-compensation-to-sustainability.

⁸Boniface, Aileen, and Jeremy Apple. E&S Metrics in Executive Compensation: What Do Investors Really Care about? Clermont Partners, 25 Nov. 2020, https://www.clermontpartners.com/blog/es-metrics-in-executive-compensation-what-do-investors-really-care-about/.

⁹EY Canada and RBC. Outsmarting Our Brains: Overcoming Hidden Biases to Harness Diversity's True Potential. RBC, 2013, https://www.rbc.com/diversity-inclusion/_assets-custom/includes/pdf/Outsmarting_our_brains_Overcoming_hidden_biases.pdf.