Wednesday, December 15, 2010

8 things that work in embedding a CSR culture

This week saw the release of an interesting report on the subject of Embedding Sustainability in Organizational Culture  by the Network for Business Sustainability. As anyone who has read CSR for HR knows, haha, CSR without embedding is like Chunky without Monkey. Yet embedding culture is no small feat and very few companies actually reach the point where it becomes a self-perpetuating feature of the way they do business, despite the fact that more and more CEO's are confirming that sustanability is the only way forward. The folks at NBS couldn't sit back and let this embedding thing get lost behind a wall of good intentions so they commissioned the most comprehensive research done to date on this topic, spanning 179 different studies and over 15 years of research.

The report itself is an academic study of  the embedding of sustainability initiatives and their outcomes based on review of a wide range of research papers. Each separate initiative is classified into its own unique place on a comprehensive framework moving through fostering commitment to clarifying expectations to instilling the capacity for change and building the momentum for change, defining a culture of sustainability as one in which "organizational members hold shared assumptions and beliefs about the importance of balancing economic efficiency, social equity and environmental accountability". The report classifies all the examples of initiatives supporting an embedded culture of sustainability into three classes: those which someone proposed but which have never actually been put into practice, those which have some practical backing as they have been shown to work as part of a broader intiative, and those which are supported by empirical evidence in research.

Unfortunately, most busy HR professionals will not want to crawl through 73 pages of academic analysis,and  the report does not include a handy summary list of all the things that work. So, I did the homework for you :)

Support - make it easier for employees to make choices that favour sustainability. Examples given include providing corporate vans for ride-sharing, or ensuring management support for employees' sustainability activities

Model - enact the roles and behaviours organizational leadership wishes employees to emulate. Well, we all know how important it is to talk and walk the talk, right ? The opposite is also true, according to this report, for example, when a CEO denounced green iniatives at a Christmas party as nonsense, it dampened the greening efforts being undertaken. That was back in 2002. Wonder if he is now a green CEO or an ex-CEO ? 

Allocate - back up the commitment to sustainability with an allocation of time, money, and people. Ah yes, budgets. That's where things always seem to stick.

Create roles - expand existing roles or develop new roles within the organization to capture essential sustainability responsibilities. Hired your Chief Sustainability Officer yet ?

Train - training employees in systems or procedures related to sustainability. Actually, it suprises me that I don't see sustainability as a core element of management training in most companies. I think it's a subject that is important enough to every single role in the organization that it should be as commonplace as safety or quality training.

Frame - construct and present a fact or an issue from a sustainability perspective. Talk about sustainability as quality, or as safety, or as a financial return to the business, or simply as "the right thing to do". Deliver sustainability messages in clear language. That's what the NBS report says. Oh, and I say, hold off on the jargon and the acronyms. IMHO.

Champion - champion  individuals who defend a cause or a course of action supporting sustainability. Internal champions, the evidence shows, seem to be more effective than external. Yep, I'll buy that. Even though I am a consultant.

Experiment - encourage employees to try new things or develop their own solutions. Agree. It's amazing what people come up with when you let go of the leash for a while. This is especially important in fostering a culture of innovation, the sister of sustainability.

All the above, however, are the tip of the iceberg of what you can find in this review. It includes many more interesting aspects of embedding sustainability and  is peppered with specific examples from different companies. In many cases, even if there  no specific proof that the intiatives mentioned actually work, many intuitively sound right. In any event, the range of initiatives covered are surely a great source of ideas and can serve to spark some creativity in your own attempts to develop a sustainability-enabled culture.

My advice:
Take a look and use this review as a reference guide as often as you need it.
Alongside CSR for HR, of course.  

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

1 comment:

Gareth Kane said...

I would add a ninth from my own experience - make it fun, sexy, engaging, easy, compelling etc, etc. To much of a hair shirt approach simply switches people off.

Related Posts with Thumbnails