Friday, November 16, 2012

Viennese Sustainable HRM

This week I had the great honor and pleasure of attending and presenting at a Praxiskolloquium (=  Practical Colloquium, according to Google Translate) on the subject of Sustainable Human Resources Management, hosted by the Vienna University of Economics and Business Institute for Human Resources Management in the wonderful city of Vienna. The day was entitled: "Sustainable HRM: Fashion or Future?" and was well attended by both academics and Human Resources practitioners from Austrian industry.
Of course, it's hard to say that Sustainable HRM is a fashion, as it is hardly being practiced in a meaningful way by most companies (thought there are, of course, some isolated examples of enlightened practice in different companies around the world and, as we heard this week, also in Austria). For something to be fashionable, lots of people have to be doing it and lots more want to be doing it. Drinking McCafe Latte from a designer-made reusable FSC-certified coffee cup is fashionable. Sustainable HRM is not even at first base. Which is why we need to spread the word. Which is why the sort of event that took place in Vienna, in between bites of Viener Schnitzel and Apfel Strudel, was quite momentous.
The day opened with an enlightening lecture from Professor Sully Taylor, one of the most accomplished academics in the field of Human Resources Management with a sustainability tilt. Sully Taylor holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and is Professor of International Management and Human Resource Management at Portland State University, School of Business Administration, and Director of International Programs for the School of Business.   Dr. Taylor teaches courses in Leadership, Global Human Resource Management, International Management, and Sustainable Enterprise. 
Sully Taylor, Ph.D
Sully gave an overview of how research into Sustainable HRM can provide a basis for developing good practice, although research in this field is not extensive. Sully presented research from several sources that indicates that positive corporate sustainability image has a positive effect on recruitment and retention because people identify with their companies. An environmental stance can be even more important than pay or layoff potential for some job candidates, according to research.
Sully also referred to the taxonomy of green behaviours developed by Dilchert and Ones as a way to both understand and predict behaviors in recruitment and selection, aid motivation and support performance evaluation and training, tools which can be highly useful for any HR department.
Reproduced from Chapter 5, by Dilchert and Ones, in 
Managing Human Resources for Environmental Sustainability
by Jackson, Ones and Dilchert (2012)

Another interesting point made by Sully is that, when candidates have been recruited on a platform of sustainability, it is important that what they find in the organization matches the expectations set at recruitment time. Otherwise, disappointment sets in and performance and retention suffer. Similarly, on-boarding is critical in order to communicate sustainability from the outset, and in general, employees' immediate supervisors play a very important role in ensuring alignment. If immediate supervisors personally exhibit sustainability commitment and behaviors, this is likely to motivate employees and support retention more effectively than a general company sustainability orientation.
Sully Taylor addressed a whole lot more in her fascinating talk, and made a great case for expanding and broadening the scope and depth of research about how sustainability works in organizations and the role of the Human Resources function. For example, most research to date has been done in relation to business students (MBA), but very little about other professions. More research is required into the social aspects of how sustainability is embedded in organizations, rather than the green-employee environmental focus.
Sully's session was followed by breakout sessions - I attended the one about Sustainable HRM and Human Rights, led by the fabulous Eva Szigetvari, who  is a Project Manager at the Vienna University HR Management Institute. Eva presented the case for greater attention to Human Rights issues by Human Resources Managers and some of the challenges involved, highlighting examples of best and worst practice in actions relating to Human Rights, and also, the way Human Rights issues are (inadequately) reported in Sustainability Reports (more about that on the CSR Reporting Blog - coming soon - watch that space for interesting insights).
My presentation was about the business imperative for Sustainable HRM. Yes, there is one. As usual, my experience is more practical than academic, and I shared reapplicable and scalable ways that the HR function can support business sustainability as a full and equal partner while performing core HR roles in a more sustainable manner. The HR function has stakeholders, says me, and these are more than just management and employees. The HR function must realize the impact of its decisions on society and use this understanding to inform HR policy in a more complete way. Case in point about how not to do it: Didier Lombard, former France Telecom CEO, now indicted for his part in leading a toxic culture in which 35 people committed suicide in 2008 and 2009. 
The afternoon sessions included fascinating discussions about how sustainable practices are currently implemented in Austrian organizations and insights for ways forward. In one discussion, for example, we talked about wellness programs, which tend to be better supported at the HQ of most organizations and less well developed in other locations. In the case of a supermarket chain, for example, where there are extensive wellness and wellbeing options in the Austrian HQ offices, the company is having difficulty ensuring the same frameworks for and engagement of employees who work in stores, where the nature of the work is different and the locations are smaller. These are the good problems. The tougher problems for most organizations are how to get started and where to assign priority. I presented our roadmap (published in the SHRM Foundation's Effective Practice Guidelines on Sustainable HRM, which I co-wrote with Professors Sully Taylor and Michael Mueller-Camen) and offered suggestions as to how to measure HRM impacts and ensure more of a strategic presence for the HR voice at the sustainability decision-making table.
The day was flavored with wonderful Austrian organic and social-enterprise sourced food, and to my great surprise and delight, I was presented at the end of the day with my favorite food of all ... you guessed it: ice cream!
Yes, I did eat it all in one go!
Here's looking forward to hearing more of great Austrian businesses and Sustainable HRM practices!
And a big personal thank you to Professor Michael Mueller-Camen, of the Institute of HR Management at Vienna University, who is both a distinguished academic and a perfect collaborator, host and gentleman.
Oh, and as for fashion or future, I think we all agreed on future.

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

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mom-friendly workplaces. But how friendly?

This caught my eye today: "Unilever Named as Working Mother 100 Best Company For Leadership on Creating Family-Friendly Policy & Culture". This got me wondering what the Working Mother Best Company actually measures. The article cites: "commitment to progressive workplace programs, including child care, flexibility, advancement and paid family leave."
Sumeet Salwan, Unilever's Vice President, Human Resources, Unilever North America is quoted as saying: "It is our job to create a workplace of choice for our employees and to celebrate role models who can inspire the next generation of leaders - those who can successfully manage both their personal and professional lives rolled into one."
The methodology for this ranking as described on is as follows: The 2012 Working Mother 100 best Companies application includes more than 500 questions on workforce representation, child care, flexibility programs, leave policies and more. It surveys the availability, usage and tracking of programs, as well as the accountability of managers who oversee them. For this year’s Working Mother 100 Best, we gave particular weight to child care, flexible scheduling options and advancement programs.
A workplace is not mother-friendly because it has great policies, the workplace is mother-friendly when it implements great policies and programs and delivers results. 
The Unilever North America Profile shows that 44% of hires were women in 2011 and 37% of execs are women, while 48% of women take advantage of flexible working policies. There are also courses in tai chi, yoga and meditation which "have added calm to busy days". This kind of profile is not significantly different from peer companies such as Procter and Gamble, General Mills, Kraft Foods and others. They all cite high levels of women hires, and high levels of execs. However, as a woman, getting a foot in the door and reaching a first-line management position is not all that difficult. Most women are able to do that before they become Moms, probably even before they get married. What would truly worth studying is how many of new hires are Moms, how many execs are Moms and how many Senior Managers and Leadership Execs are Moms.

The Off-Ramps and On-Ramps study by Sylvia Ann Hewitt, President of the Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP) published in HBR in 2005 remains completely relevant today. This authoritative study showed that 37% of highly qualified women were “off-ramping”—that is, voluntarily leaving their jobs for extended time periods despite the fact that 93% want to return to work. Only 74% succeed in rejoining the workforce and only 40% returned to full-time jobs. 95% of off-rampers would not consider going back to their previous employers. The 2009 review of this trend showed similar results. Apparently, as soon as women become Moms, the workplace is not so attractive. Childcare and family issues are not the only reason for women to leave the workforce, though it is the main one (44%). Maybe another key issue highlighted by the 2004 study is that women who return to the workforce after time out earn significantly less than their peers who remained in work -  37% lower pay after a three year absence.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for 2011 tells a candid story: "Our gender mix is not what we want it to be. Although we have three female Non-Executive Directors on the Board, there is only one woman on the ULE. We are tackling the issue through a diversity board chaired by the CEO and by a requirement that the shortlist for each senior job should contain a woman. Since 2007, the proportion of women in senior positions has risen from 23% to 28%. More than 50% of our graduate recruits are women. In principle, the pipeline is being filled, but our task is to ensure many more reach the top levels." This is both honest and realistic, and shows that Unilever understands its task, but frankly, a 5% improvement of women in senior positions over 5 years, to a mere 28%, shows that Unilever has still to find the right formula to enable women to advance, not only because it's good for women, but because it's good for business. While childcare policies and flexible working - and maybe even yoga and tai chi - may help, this is clearly not the whole story.

And now for a personal anecdote: I first started to work with Unilever in 1997 as a consultant. After a few months, Unilever asked me to join as a  full time employee (VP Human Resources). The very week we signed an employment contract, I realized I was pregnant! I went to my boss, the Chairman of Unilever Israel at the time, and gave him the news. While confirming that I would remain committed to my role, I offered him an "out" suggesting we annul the contract, in case, had he known, he wouldn't have chosen to hire me at that very time. His response was : "Congratulations! Pregnancy is not a sickness. There is no reason to annul our contract. Do whatever you need during your pregnancy - we will be supportive." I continued, of course, in my role, worked till my last week of pregnancy, had my daughter and returned to work after maternity leave.  My boss's response, at that time, was completely reassuring and encouraging, and to this day, that continues to impress me. I off-ramped about 8 years later, and became an independent consultant focusing on CSR, but that's another story.

While I have a personal connection to Unilever and a specific positive experience, and believe that Unilever, in general, is well deserving of a top ranking in the Best Workplace for Moms list, I also think that there is still a long way to go to create truly gender-equal workplaces and that this ranking does not quite reflect the issues involved. Off-ramping is a serious talent drain and a big cost to business. The company that manages to break through the blockers to off-ramping will surely reap the rewards, best list or no best list.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Monday, September 10, 2012

HR : Time to Walk the CSR talk

Maybe the message is getting around. There has been a veritably flurry of articles about the HR function and CSR in the past week of so.

Rue Stanley, of EcoBusiness Exchange, says HR should board the bus before it's too late, saying that "HR can help with some of the major challenges that face organizations wishing to develop their sustainability programs."

Brian Kreissl, of Consult Carswell, says that "HR should care about corporate responsibility". He makes the point: "The HR profession’s desire to be taken seriously as a strategic business partner is also important because CSR is one of those areas where HR professionals can move out of their comfort zones and play a more strategic role."

China Gorman, top HR thought-leader, refers to the Effective Practice Guidelines paper on Sustainable HRM that I co-wrote, and talks to the importance of recognizing HR Stakeholders. She notes the range of HR stakeholders we identified and adds: "It was a good reminder of the breadth of the stakeholders that HR needs to factor into all of its work – whether it’s CSR, talent acquisition, talent management, benefits administration, strategic planning, learning and development – or yes, even the planning of the annual company picnic."
In the meantime, the situation is still an uphill challenge for HR.

A recent article in HR Magazine, UK, one of the best HR publications which always maintains an eye on CSR, notes that "HR decision-makers in the UK are paying lip service to diversity strategy, but they are not following this through with strategic action." This follows a survey of HR Managers in the UK.

Check out this data: "Looking specifically at the strands of diversity, although 82% said diversity and equality were either core to their business, a top priority or important to them, 16% are doing nothing to address age equality, 46% are ignoring sexual orientation, 37% are not addressing ethnic origin, 18% are not implementing gender equality measures, 19% do not have any disability initiatives in place and a massive 70% are not addressing diversity and inclusion dependent on nationality."

Knowing that something is important is not enough. Believing that something is right is not enough. If HR Managers want to be a credible and influential part of any organization, they have to walk the talk. If you want to discriminate, then say so. At least that's honest. Because everything you do that perpetuates a non-diverse culture is discriminatory. Complicity in allowing inequalities to exist in business and lack of encouragement for true equal opportunity means that discrimination and abuse of human rights is acceptable in your organization.

How many HR Managers see it that way? Not many, I suspect.  This is because, in part, they are not accepting accountability for the broader impacts of their role. This brings us back to HR Stakeholders. HR must look beyond employees and managers and also consider the impacts on society of HR decisions.
Yes, it's time for HR to walk the talk, board the bus and wake up to CSR! 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Are HR Managers asleep?

No? Maybe they should be! An article published by the Good Company Newsletter of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP) reports that there are hidden workplace costs to employee health, happiness and productivity. People who engage in unhealthy sleeping habits are putting not only their own sustainability at risk, but also that of their organization. This could be one explanation for the lack of productivity of HR Managers in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility. Perhaps, with a little more sleep, they may become more enlightened, more productive and more prepared to consider adopting practices which will enable their workplaces to thrive over the long-term.

Lack of healthy sleep takes its toll in several areas, according to the PHWP. Here are just some of the downsides noted in the article by Dr Larissa Barber.  

  • decreasing level  of involvement at work, hindering job performance
  • poorer decision making
  • lower concentration on complex tasks which require analytical ability etc
  • making errors
  • negatively impacting team performance
  • strained relationships
  • lower retention of learned information
  • lower cognitive performance which negatively affect safety practices
  • poor work-life balance
  • increased stress

If you are an HR Manager (and assuming you are not suffering from sleep deprivation), and you know your employees are hindering your organization's performance because they are not engaging in healthy sleep habits, wouldn't you be tempted to make a plan to understand the effect of poor-sleep stress in your organization and consider how to assist employees which suffer from this problem? Wouldn't you be interested to know if there is something about your organization's work culture which might be contributing to the problem? Or would you take the ostrich approach and leave employees to work out their sleep schedules for themselves?

How many times do you see "lack of sleep" on an organizational risk matrix? Probably not ever. And yet, this could be one significant, silent, unidentified drag on your productivity and profitability. Of course, it's impossible to overtake the personal lives and health habits of each and every one of your employees. People are not robots and cannot be expected to adopt every single health practice in all aspects of their lifestyles whether this relates to sport, nutrition, non-smoking, weight-control, ergonomic seating and more. But different people are prone to different influences. Some things affect some people more than others. By ignoring the effects of sleep deprivation, HR Managers may be missing an opportunity to help employees, contribute to the wider quality of life in our society and also, improve business results.

Raising awareness of sleep deprivation and unhealthy sleeping habits and offering simple tools to help employees understand their own circumstances and take action where necessary could be a simple way to identify potential for productivity improvement and reduced conflict in the organization. 

Is this CSR? Of course it is.
Not by coincidence, then, that I have been saying that HR Managers should WAKE UP to CSR.
Now, this can be understood both literally as well as metaphorically.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Engouraging HR to wake up to CSR

Today I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to a group of global and regional Chief Sustainability Officers representing nine globally-active companies, all are names that you would all recognize, most of them report on sustainability and have well-developed sustainability programs and a string of achievements to date.

I presented on one of my favorite subjects - CSR for HR - but with a specific slant towards CSR and Employee Engagement and how Human Resources Management can contribute to a culture of sustainability, how CSR can drive employee engagement and how CSR can be leveraged for competency and leadership development. Interesting questions which are crucial for companies interested in making CSR and Sustainability a true part of the business rather than just a set of afterthought projects. I will elaborate on the perspectives and solutions I presented in a future post.

After my presentation, we had some discussion which centered around, primarily, how to get HR people engaged in the objective of creating a sustainable organizational culture. Before the discussion drew to a close, the group host invited me to ask them some questions.

I responded something like this: You are all leading, highly-reputable companies in your respective fields, you all have sustainability programs and achievements, you all communicate on sustainability in some way and many of you have sustainability targets which are quite ambitious. It would seem that employee engagement in sustainability should already be on your radar. Therefore, I was wondering what prompted the discussion about employee engagement and why this is an important area for discussion at this time.

The collective reply went something like this: We are all frustrated with the lack of response from the HR function. They are not getting on board. Instead of embracing a sustainability approach, they don't see it as their job, they are too busy, they are not interested and they are impenetrable. We want to work out how we get HR to the table and have HR become a partner and even leader in sustainability and employee engagement.

So there you have it. Even in the best of companies with the best of programs, the HR function is holding the organization back, instead of realizing that CSR is the key to making a much fuller and more sustainable contribution. Guess what I replied? It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

But I also said that it takes two to tango. I advised this group of accomplished Sustainability Leaders to treat HR as customers, as valued stakeholders, as a group without whom they will not be able to deliver optimal results. This means that if CSR wants HR to wake up, it has to do the waking. As CSO, one of the first partnerships you should be working to develop is with your HR counterpart. If you wait for HR to come to you, you will wait a long time. If you wait for HR to see the light, it may not happen. As CSO, you can both help HR to understand the context and the need, while driving HR to step up to the mark by offering them an opportunity to be involved in developing solutions to sustainable business problems. This is as much a part of the CSO job as pursuing a low-carbon strategy. If, as CSO, you believe your HR function is not on the sustainability track, then make it your job to bring them around. It's a win-win. If you treat them as (equal) partners, maybe they will become (equal) partners. 

Enter Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe who said:  “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

CSR for HR: Getting the message through

It's easy to assume things. It's easy to assume that, if you have a policy in place, and you have communicated it, or even posted it on an employee portal somewhere, that employees will notice it. Such assumptions rarely turn out to be true, and in the case of Human Resources, it's rather a lazy and irresponsible basis for performing the HRM role. As employees are core stakeholders in any business, HR should not underestimate the need for a proactive process to ensure employees are aware of their rights, entitlements, the policies which affect their working lives and also, of course, their duties and obligations. This is simply good HR. But it's also good CSR.

It is not enough to get the message across.
You have to get the message THROUGH.

A recent article in People Management reports that:  "Nearly half of all employees are not aware of their company’s HR policy ... In a poll of 1,000 workers, only 53 per cent claimed to have knowledge of their employer’s HR guidelines and even fewer (43 per cent) were aware of their company’s structure. Less than a quarter (23 per cent) of those canvassed understood their firm’s corporate social responsibility policy and only 27 per cent knew of their employer’s service guidelines...."

This is squarely in the Human Resources professional camp and should be regarded as a core HR-CSR responsibility of HR Managers.

This responsibility is two-fold:

first, deliver a process in which HR Managers proactively ensure employees are provided with the relevant information and have the opportunity to ask questions

second, design a process for ensuring that HR gets positive confirmation that this is implemented in practice.

Pushing out policies is not the value that HR adds. Getting the message through and engaging the minds and hearts of employees to deliver outcomes which support the business, is the value.

HR Managers: Wake up to CSR!
Wake up to your unique role in your business and to your responsibilities. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Friday, June 15, 2012

Two CSR for HR resources for serious HRMers

I came across this interesting well-written paper entitled "Corporate Social Responsibility - Implications for Human Resources and Talent Engagement", a research paper by Winnie Kwan and Emily Tuuk coming out of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies at Cornell University. The research addresses 4 questions:
  • To what extent do early career employees consider CSR strategy in their evaluation of employers?
  • How do organizations and HR leadership integrate CSR initiatives into their employee value proposition?
  • What are some of the priorities/challenges in leveraging CSR as a way to recruit and retain talent?
  • What type of role does HR currently play in this process and how could it be further developed?
First, the paper looks at motivators of Generation Y employees for joining a company. As usual with these surveys, potential recruits confirm that they consider CSR as a factor in choosing an employer. Interestingly, this study makes the distinction between companies which are seen to adopt some CSR initiatives and companies which have CSR as their core, integrative business approach. In the former case, Gen Y has a preference. In the second, they will take a lower paying job. However, as with all surveys of this nature, no-one researches what Gen Yers actually do - only what they think they might do. To what extent attitude is a predictor of behavior is unclear to me.

The other interesting thing about this research it the discussion of the HR Role. The paper proposes an HR-CSR Integration Matrix:

Reproduced without permission (sorry!) from above-mentioned research paper.
The paper discusses the ways HR can be involved in supporting and even leading CSR efforts.

"The organizational structures outlined earlier can more effectively position HR to take on a stronger leadership-oriented or consultation-oriented type of role in designing and executing these CSR initiatives. But specific organizational cultures determine the level to which such structures become enablers or constraints on HR’s deep involvement with CSR strategy. As a result of the interplay between organizational structure and culture, HR can adopt a functional or proactive role within this space, though both are not mutually exclusive. HR acting in a functional capacity emerges through the implementation and management of CSR programs within the talent population. Such a role also includes the assessment of employee feedback and offering consultation to strategy devisers based on such data. A proactive stance features HR in the role of co-developing the company’s strategic direction for CSR matters. It also reflects a strong HR priority on building a culture of responsible leadership through fostering and coaching CSR champions among its client groups."

This is spot on, and clearly, the more proactive the HR function is in co-creation of strategy, the more effective the organization will be at delivering its business and CSR objectives.

The conclusion reads:
"Organizations need to enable HR to serve as a steward of human assets within their operational frameworks. To enact real change within global communities, organizations will need to strengthen HR’s capacity to help employees become more proactive and integrated into their cultures of responsible leadership."

This is very clear. Not only does HR need to wake up to CSR but organizations need to enable HR to perform effectively in this new role.

For those HR managers who want to get serious about CSR and Sustainable HRM, I recommend a resource recently published by the SHRM Foundation, called "HRM's Role in Corporate Social and Environmental Sustainability" and authored by two illustrious professors:  Sully Taylor, Professor of International Management and former Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at the School of Business Administration, Portland State University. and Michael Muller-Camen,  Chair in HRM at WU Vienna University of Economics and Business and is Associate Professor of International HRM at Middlesex University Business School in London - and myself!  Read what the amazing China Gorman, former COO of the SHRM, has to say about this paper on her blog here. The paper is designed to be a resource for HR Managers and this is what it's about:

"This report aids human resource management (HRM) practitioners in understanding sustainability in an organizational context. It can be used as a guide for the HR function to support sustainable business and perform HRM sustainably. Divided into two main sections, this report begins by examining the critical role HRM plays in sustainability and the HRM tools available to embed sustainability strategy in the organization. The second section introduces a roadmap to sustainable HRM. It outlines global business approaches to sustainability, labor standards and specific aspects of sustainable practice such as employee volunteering, employer branding and green HRM. Finally, the report explores the new HR skills required for practicing sustainable HRM and the applicability of sustainable HRM in different types of organizations.

Happy reading and CSHR-ing!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Friday, May 11, 2012

Employee Engagement in Sustainability at Microsoft

This is not the blog in which I usually talk about corporate CSR transparency and sustainability communications. I have another blog for that - the CSR Reporting Blog. But in this case I will make an exception for the recently published Environmental Report White Paper from Microsoft entitled "Becoming Carbon Neutral: How Microsoft is becoming Lean, Green and Accountable" 

This is a fascinating document, and one of the most interesting corporate communications on sustainability  I have seen in a while. It's short: only 16 pages, but it gets the message through impressively. Microsoft has pledged to become a carbon neutral company starting in FY 13 for data centers, software development labs, offices, and employee air travel. There are three core strategies:

Be lean. We are setting targets to drive more efficiency with the energy that we consume in our data centers, labs, and offices as well as to reduce our use of air travel. Technology will play an important role in both how we achieve those targets and how we measure our progress along the way.

Be green. We are purchasing more renewable energy and establishing goals to reduce our waste and water use.

Be accountable. We are quantifying the carbon impact of our operations and driving responsible business decisions around energy use and air travel by setting an internal price on carbon, measuring our emissions, and charging a carbon fee to the teams responsible for those emissions. We are also working to reduce the carbon impact of our supply chain.

Now why is this relevant for the CSR for HR blog?
I suspect that there should not be many HR Managers at Microsoft who do not know what carbon neutral means and its relevance to the sustainability of Microsoft's business and the planet. Here's why.

Another quote from the white paper:

Engaging employees through environmental sustainability programs
To successfully establish a culture of environmentally sustainable operations and achieve our commitment to carbon neutrality, it is critical that we have the support and participation of our employees. Today at Microsoft, we have a number of programs designed to increase our employees’ awareness of environmental issues and engage them directly in sustainability work. A few examples include:

Environmental Sustainability Leads. We have a global community of environmental leaders who help to manage Microsoft’s sustainability work in their country or region. Environmental Sustainability Leads focus primarily on reducing employee travel, driving energy efficiency improvements in their local offices, engaging with customers and partners on the role of technology in environmental sustainability, and connecting with local policymakers to help advance the use of IT in enabling a low-carbon economy.

Sustainability Champions. Employees who volunteer as Sustainability Champions play an active role in reducing our energy consumption, conserving water, and diverting waste from landfills. They encourage their colleagues to make environmentally conscious choices and educate them on sustainable practices (such as turning off lights and computers and recycling waste). The goal of the program is to reduce controllable energy consumption by 3–10 percent per building at the plug level.

MS Green. As part of a grassroots community group, members of MS Green focus on increasing the environmental awareness of employees and educating them about programs such as mass transit, energy conservation, organic farming, and other local resources.

Environmental Action Award. Each quarter, we recognize a team or individual employee who has made a significant contribution to reducing the environmental impact of Microsoft or our products. Winners of the quarterly award receive a $1,000 donation to the environmental charity of their choice.

Read about these initiatives in  more detail in a post on the Microsoft blog.

As is often the case when I read about how companies are engaging employes in sustainability programs, I often wonder: what role has Human Resources played in supporting this? Are HR on the map?

To check this out, I had a chat with Josh Henretig, Director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft, who is responsible for global environmental sustainability strategy, with focus on communications and outreach and internal employee engagement and programs and more. Josh is a prolific writer on the Microsoft environmental citizenship blog, Software Enabled Earth. I quizzed Josh about the involvement of the Human Resources function in advancing employee environmental initiatives at Microsoft.

Josh was quick to point out that Microsoft that citizenship is "not one person's responsibility - it is a shared responsibility". Processes are driven at the different points of responsibility within the organization. Not everything that requires the involvement of employees is channeled through HR.

Makes sense. Healthy Approach. But what, then, is the role of HR?

Josh confirmed that Human Resources is a key stakeholder in the development of environmental employee engagement programs and partners with the Sustainability Office and other groups in the phases of idea, program and policy development. It's an "inclusive framework of good governance" of organizational management. HR is  in there as things get developed. The implementation and embedding of the programs ultimately rests with the teams that are responsible for delivering results in the different parts of the organization.

This approach clearly works for Microsoft and ensures that all relevant contributions to engaging employees in environmental sustainability are captured and combined for the best possible outcome. This also may be the approach which enables Microsoft to make bold commitments to becoming carbon neutral.

HR leaders take note. Waking up to CSR dos not mean being on the frontline all the time. It means being at the table. At the right time.

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability 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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

CSR, HR and Human Trafficking

When did you last see a Human Resources Manager's professional job description which explicitly includes responsibility for ensuring a human-trafficking-free supply chain? When did you last catch a Human Resources professional asking the Purchasing Manager about employment practices prevalent in supplier organizations and safeguards in place to prevent to human trafficking? How many Human Resources Managers do you know who have attended a supplier audit of outsourcing vendors? Or even an audit of their own remote facilities? How many Human Resources Managers have put their own jobs on the line to stand up and speak out for elimination of human trafficking risks throughout their extended business? I would venture to suggest that not many Human Resources Managers, especially in developed economies, have even considered that human trafficking may have any remote relationship to the job they were hired to do. It just doesn't hit their radar.

And yet:

"More than 27 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, which is estimated to be a $32 billion industry, according to a 2011 State Department report. It's the fastest-growing criminal activity after drugs and weapons trafficking. Immigrants, especially those who are poor, desperate for work or fleeing violence, remain particularly vulnerable. Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 130 types of goods in 71 countries were produced with forced labor, child labor or both."

This is a paragraph from an article, in which I am quoted, published yesterday in HR Magazine, the mouthpiece of the Society for Human Resources Management, entitled Modern Day Slavery, authored by Dori Meinert. There are still many companies engaged in many different types of modern day slavery, and many who are complicit through purchasing the good that they manufacture. Many of these companies, the active and the passive, have Human Resources Managers.

Human Rights has been one of the most significant areas of focus in the sustainability agenda for the past few years, reaching new heights with the Protect, Respect, Remedy framework delivered by John Ruggie and ratified by the UN. Protect. Isn't it interesting that people have to be "protected" from companies, exploiting them in so many creative although rather repulsive ways? Apparently, 27 million people do need to be protected. Human rights abuses are now considered to be one of the most significant business, reputation and legal risks that corporations can face.

If you are a (good) Human Resources Manager, you should be appraised of the risks your business is facing and defining the ways in which you can add value in safeguarding these risks through the organization's people. If you happen to be in California, for example, you may actually be required to comply with legislation that requires transparency in your supply chain, including full disclosure on labor practices within your supply chain and monitoring practices. In you are in the State of Washington, which claims to have the toughest anti-trafficking laws in the U.S., you can urge your company to sign the Washington BEST (Businesses ending Slavery and Trafficking) Principles, and read how local businesses, including SME's,  have been disclosed and punished  for human rights abuses as well as read about some of the great initiatives advanced by some companies to raise awareness and preventive action.

As a (good) HR Manager, what do you do? How can you guarantee a climate and culture in your business which are respectful to all employees working in the supply chain and ensure that no violations of human rights are taking place, including trafficking, whatever industry you are in ? How do you ensure that the employees who interface with your supply chain know what to look for and what to avoid, and work from the basis of the organization's values? 

Well, it's simple.
One: Write  a Human Rights policy and have it approved by your Execs.
Two: Perform Human Rights "due diligence" to identify human rights risks in your supply chain
Three: Audit, monitor, share findings and more importantly, sit down and have a discussion with your key suppliers about opportunities for improvement.
Four: Train your people on human rights policies.

That's easy enough. Either HR will lead this process or it will partner the process.


None of the above works unless HR Manager does not first work to embed an internal culture which respects human rights, first and foremost in her own business. How can employees uphold human rights if they themselves do not feel they are working for a company which respects their rights as employees?  From the creation of a  harassment and discrimination free workplace, to equal opportunity, to diversity and inclusion, to paying a living wage and more, HR Managers must lead a process which makes human rights a subject of which all employees are aware and which is embedded as a core value and practice in the business. HR must ensure that a framework exists in which the Human Rights of employees are respected and upheld, and also in which employees can recognize Human Rights risks and ensure they act to prevent issues. This is about process, communications and HR structures (such as performance standards and perhaps even compensation). This is what HR does well.  


If you are a (good) HR Manager, you should read Dori Meinert's article on Modern Day Slavery. You should familiarize yourself with the Human Rights issues that could have an impact on your business. You should recognize that, just as companies can no longer externalize the issues created in extended supply chains, and must consider their responsibility as part of this value chain, so HR Managers must consider their reponsibilities relating to the impacts of employee decisions and actions (or inaction) in the supply chain, as well as in own business facilities.

It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning Sustainability 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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why HR Managers don't do it

As a follow-up to my post about the World HRD Congress in Mumbai in February, here you can see me in action, at the start of my presentation on CSR for HR:

And while we are on the subject, you might want to take a look (it's ok if you might not!) at this interview I did with Ellen Weinreb, the Sustainability Recruitment Guru and leading light on all matters relating to sustainable jobs.  Her piece is called:   The real friction between human resources and CSR and speaks to the issues that prevent Human Resources from truly embracing CSR as a prism through which they manage the HR function.

What are the top reasons that HR Managers do not embrace CSR ?

  • We are already doing it.
  • No-one is telling us to do it.
  • We don't have the time to do it.
  • We don't get paid to do it.
 Of course, you don't hear too many HR Managers saying:
  • We don't know how to do it.
or even:
  • We are still asleep.

It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

1. Start where you are
2. Use what you have
3. Do what you can

This is great advice for HR Managers. I would add just one more point : Read CSR for HR :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Friday, March 9, 2012


For those of you who speak Dutch, you will probably know what MVO VOOR HR means. For those of you who don't, CSR for HR might be more familiar. In just a few weeks, I will be in The Netherlands to deliver two exciting sessions on CSR for HR, organized and hosted by MVO Nederland.

MVO Nederland (CSR Netherlands) is the national knowledge centre and the national network organisation for Corporate Social Responsibility: the place to start for any entrepreneurs wishing to make their commercial operations sustainable. It's the "CSR Magnet" in The Netherlands. One interesting aspect of the MVO network is the Large Companies Network which now numbers 62 Dutch companies with over 500 employees. MVO launched their Education and Training Academy just this year, and have already hosted a range of fabulous speakers including Wayne Visser on CSR 2.0 and Veronika Scheubel on Corporate Community Involvement. I am delighted and honored to be a part of the MVO Academy's program this year.  

My sessions are as follows:

The Masterclass will cover the business case for the CSR-HR partnership and the way managers of both professions can and should work together to deliver sustainable business strategy, with examination of risks, the opportunities and benefits of the CSR-HR partnership. We will relate this to the role of business in society and the platform this creates for CSR -HR collaboration. Then, we will zoom in on a few case studies that demonstrate these benefits, illustrating the shared roles of CSR and HR. Finally, we will discuss the CSR-HR Roadmap, Metrics and Scorecard, and how these fit into a sustainable organization's reporting strategy, with some practical tools to take away for implementation back in the workplace. Of course, culture, values and leadership will be part of this discussion.

3rd April : An Interactive  Masterclass for HR Professionals, in collaboration with the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Personeelsmanagement & Organisatieontwikkeling aka the Dutch Association for Personnel Management and Organization Development, starting at 9:30 am in Utrecht.

In this meeting, we will cover similar ground, this time working through the minds of Human Resources leaders. We will explain why CSR is now the way business gets done, the implications for the HR Profession, the risks and opportunities. We will review case studies that deliver benefit for the business, employees, other internal and external stakeholders and for HR Professionals themselves. In the second part of the session, we will break into groups to discuss some core issues and share experiences, challenges and best practices. We will focus on practical implementation of HR tools and processes, with a CSR mindset.  

Despite the fact that I do now understand what MVO VOOR HR means, both sessions will be conducted in English :) If, however, you want to read a little more in Dutch, you can see this article posted on the MVO website.

I am looking forward to some very stimulating discussion and the opportunity to enjoy the company of  friends in The Netherlands. I hope to see some of you there!

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

Friday, March 2, 2012

Employee engagement in CSR- it's gone viral!

Wherever you look these days and whatever you read, getting employees on board with sustainability efforts is one of the key areas that everyone seems to be (yawn! at long last) acknowledging is the key to making it all come right. No list of top sustainability trends for 2012 was complete without employee engagement taking a star role. In a world of work where only 31% of employees are actively engaged in their jobs, we can only hope that we are in the range of rock-bottom and that things will get better. Sustainability is not only an outcome of employee engagement, it is a driver. HR Managers around the world, this is your time to wake up to CSR!

James Epstein Reeves' recent post on - Six Reasons Companies Should Embrace CSR - features employee engagement (albeit in sixth place - ahem - but who's counting), saying: "..... if your own employees don’t know what’s going on within your organization, you’re missing an opportunity. Companies like Sara Lee created a cross-functional, global Sustainability Working Team to help create a strategy for sustainability. At a more grass roots level, the Solo Cup Company created the Sustainability Action Network to activate employees in community service focused on the company’s CSR priorities."

Addison's Six Sustainability Trends to Watch in 2012 includes employee engagement in sustainability, saying that "an increasing number of companies are realizing that introducing innovative employee volunteer programs as part of an integrated environmental, social and governance (ESG) platform can enhance their “employment brand.”

Tim Mohin of AMD included employee engagement in his top ten CSR trends of 2012, explaining "The connection between CSR and engaged employees continues to grow. A Hewitt & Associates study looked at 230 workplaces with more than 100,000 employees and found that the more a company actively pursues worthy environmental and social efforts, the more engaged its employees are. The Society for Human Resources Management compared companies that have strong sustainability programs with companies that have poor ones and found that in the former morale was 55% better, business process were 43% more efficient, public image was 43% stronger, and employee loyalty was 38% better."

Susan McPherson, the CSR Dynamo at Fenton, also ranked employee engagement highly in her list of 12 predictions for CSR in 2012. And there are more. How can all these expert professionals be wrong? Of course they can't.

And here is some proof.

Trend 3 in a new report hot-off-the-press-just-published by Ernst and Young in cooperation with Greenbiz Group, creatively entitled "Six Growing trends in Corporate Sustainability" is guess what, employee engagement. Employees are seen as a key audience for Sustainability Reports. The story E&Y tells about this trend goes like this:  "While the tools and techniques for employee engagement vary widely, the benefits are consistently described by these companies. Most importantly, they enhance employee attraction and retention, improve operational efficiencies, strengthen customer relations, increase innovation and strengthen community ties. Moreover, companies that distribute their sustainability reports broadly among employees find that they often share this information with their families, friends and neighbors, as well as with customers and suppliers. Employees can become a powerful voice in support of company sustainability messages."

Powerful stuff, right? Employee engagement in CSR has gone viral!

Who is going to tell HR?

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Making a difference

This is a story from an associate of mine from across cyberspace. His name is Unnikrishnan Meladi and he is a consultant in People Management and Learning in India.

Born in 1964 in West Hill, Kerala, Unnikrishnan is a passionate student of human behaviour and people management. He has seen the turbulence of high seas with the Indian Navy as a Chief Petty Officer till 1998. Thereafter, he closely worked with few Governors of Indian States as an Officer till 2005. He voluntarily left government services and joined various market leaders in automotive industry in Karnataka as their HR Head. He recently authored “LEAD” –‘Successful Lessons for People Managers’. The book is the result of his people management thoughts and essentially on human relations and integrates CSR themes. You can contact Unni by email.

Here is his story:
"Somewhere in 2004, my friend Raju Gowda who was running a computer institute asked if I could conduct few English training classes for the teachers in a nearby Kannada medium village school. I was busy working with an automotive industry as their HR manager located near a village bordering Karnataka.

Initially I was hesitant because of my busy work schedule with the industry. But when Mr. Raju told me that these teachers are from a Kannada medium school and their proficiency in English is average, it stirred my social instinct of doing something for the society around our industry. It was rather a brutal execution of my commitment towards the society from where I earn my bread and butter. So, why not spend some time for these teachers from the rural areas of the state? I have always held teachers and doctors in high esteem because to two factors. It is my strong belief that the teachers are the people who shape up the future of our children and the doctors are the life savers after the juggernaut. Even though, these days, we hear a lot about degradation of these values in their noble professions my high regard has not altered.

Somehow, I agreed to conduct a 30 days program with a 45 hours syllabus absolutely free of cost. The sessions were held mostly on Saturday evenings and Sundays. Before I go on with the training sessions, I shall delve in to the benefits I derived from these teachers. I realised, with great pleasure, their social psyche and attitudinal behaviour towards their profession and the English language in particular. One thing common with all of these female teachers was that most of them were from the remote and agricultural belts located near Chickamaglur and Shimoga of Karnataka state.

In my first session, I realised that they never got an opportunity to sharpen their language skills after their formal education. I could see a wide gap between the education and training as in HR parlance. Another reason was most of them were housewives and the bread winners of the family trying to their meet domestic and professional challenges together. They needed a thorough repainting (not brushing) of their grammar and vocabulary as it was quite ‘average’."

Unnikrishnan's contribution has made a great different to the lives of many people. This just goes to show how simple acts of selflessness and volunteering in a work context can be immensely rewarding and also help build communities.

Thank you to Unnikrishnan for sending me his story!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Friday, February 24, 2012

CSR for HR can prevent employees getting a fat ass!

Almost a week after returning from the World HRD Congress and World CSR Day in Mumbai, I am still smiling at the wonderful experience of  three days of great discussion, interaction with fascinating people from all over the world, insights about Human Resources practices and advances in CSR, and, occasionally, the link between the two. This was a congress like no other congress. It was more fun than most other conferences I have attended. Ever. Close to 1,000 visitors each day, it still felt like a family gathering. Global, inspiring speakers shared interesting perspectives and got us drumming with DrumCafe, exercising with Marcel Daane, thinking about trust with the Reinas and leadership with Cy Wakeman, and applauding wildly at the evening Awards sessions. I was presented with the Strategic Leadership Award, and was proud to receive this honor.
Proudly displaying my trophy - yes, it weighs a ton - I had to ask for excess baggage allowance on my flight home!

Conference themes circled around engagement and talent, two of the most acute pressure points on HR leadership in every country these days, and there were also some interesting references to the need for greater workforce diversity and inclusive culture and practice.  I was therefore pleased to present my views on Sustainable HRM: A strategic imperative, and despite winning the lottery for the session immediately after lunch, I found that there were a few people who stayed awake and were interested in this new approach to HR, which fits very well with the challenges facing the function.

I shared my session with Ashanthi Fernando, the Head of Group HR Operations at Brandix Lanka, Sri Lanka's largest apparel exporter, working for companies such as Gap Inc, Victoria's Secret and more. Ashanthi talked about the context of the War for Talent, referencing "Talentism as the new Capitalism" and the "Rise of the Human Age",  an approach presented by Manpower at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2010, and other influences on the job market - recession, employee disengagement, work-life balance issues and research that places non-financial benefits higher than financial benefits for employees,  concluding that each company should ask itself : Why would a talented person want to work in our organization? and that we as employees should ask ourselves: What makes us come to work today?

Great questions. Truly relevant to the CSHR discussion. Ashanthi went on to describe the entire "ecosystem" that Brandix tries to create for its people, referencing the Google culture as the Gold Standard, and the fact that even in large companies, maintaining that small-company feel is all important. The Brandix culture is based on creating a "journey in learning for life", strong team working, entrepreneurial spirit, humility and transparency. Line Managers are the pivot in making the connection between employees and the company. Importance is placed on engagement at a personal level with family celebrations and a treasure hunt on Fun Fridays. The Brandix People Agenda is designed to support this approach.

Another fascinating and entertaining talk was given by Marcel Daane - a fitness freak who has made the connection between employee vitality and productivity in the workplace. His explanation of the neuroscience of performance was not too technical - even I was able to understand the role of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex in impacting our ability to perform (!) - and Marcel introduced some great data around why HR Managers should understand this as well. Absenteeism costs the economy $120 billion per year, Presenteeism costs $180 billion per year,  Obesity $120 million, Stress, $300 million and Sleep Deprivation has a price tag of $1,967 in productivity loss per employee per year.  By improving employees' understanding  and practice of good health habits, organizations can reap massive benefits. Marcel showed some MRI shots of a fat person and a thin person. Fat accumulation in the brain, for example, causes the brain to shrink. As Marcel put it: "Obesity does more than give you a fat ass" (Note to self: Get back on that diet). HR Managers would do well to consider the whole body and mind health of employees and develop programs to assist improved wellbeing. This is not about being nice to employees. It's about making a real economic return on investment. And being nice to employees :).

Marcel finished up with this highly inspirational video showing the power of determination and stamina, supported by good diet, exercise, drinking water and the right amount of sleep. Just think what your employees could do with even half the amount of that which is demonstrated by Dick Hoyt in this video. Watch it. It is truly inspiring!

The other outstanding speaker I want to highlight (I attended both of her sessions) is Cy Wakeman. Cy is a trainer of people in organizations, and helps them achieve great results and build leaders and teams. She has developed both a language and an approach to leading people that is all her own, pulled together in her recent book, Reality-Based Leadership (watch out for a review coming soon on CSR-Books).

The key to Cy's proposition is that "holding people accountable is the best process for producing sustainable outcomes." Now, this may not sound all that revolutionary, but the insight I gained while listening to Cy Wakeman (twice!) is that the ability to hold people accountable, truly hold people accountable, is lacking in so many organizations. Cy maintains that, in the U.S., people in organizations spend more time managing than leading, and many leaders seek to sympathize rather than empathize, which leads to the assumption that buy-in is optional. Leaders should pay less attention to trying to be liked and more attention to building teamwork, because it is through effective teams that loyalty is created. Instead of letting people drive their BMW's to work (which in Cy jargon means: belly-aching, moaning and whining), leaders should seek to stop the drama, focus on results, favor employees who are flexible, adaptable and have a can-do attitude, and deal promptly with those who don't. Engagement without accountability creates entitlement. Research about engagement, says Cy, is that it has not delivered results. It has created entitlement.  

Actually, Cy says, helping human beings to get to healthy independence in organizations was actually the opposite of what she was asked to do by the HR Function as a leader in organizations she worked for. Cy believes in turning up the volume of the more highly accountable people in the organization and helping them see that reality is not the stories they tell themselves about what they are entitled to or otherwise, but the facts as they stand. By facing reality, people can eliminate the excuses and entitlement-based attitudes and become truly accountable for their own performance in organizations. Leaders who build the capabilities of their teams are the ones who create sustainable organizations. Like all great theories, this sounds a lot like common sense - but think about it - think about the organizations you know and the people who lead and are led. Couldn't they do with a little more accountability? And a lot more reality? Cy Wakeman articulates this skillfully and I am enjoying reading Reality-Based Leadership, the book. This is CSR for HR at its crux.

There were many more wonderful presentations at the World HRD Congress but this is probably enough for one post. However, I cannot finish up without a major vote of thanks and expression of my admiration for the mastermind behind it all, Dr. R. L. Bhatia. Leading an organization called "Fun and Joy at Work" probably gives you an insight into this guy's mindset. We certainly saw evidence of fun and joy in the way he artfully directed this 20th Anniversary World HRD Congress and brought the entire place to life for a full three days. Kudos in buckets is what he deserves for a memorable event.

And now, time for ice cream (which, by the way, in Mumbai, tasted delicious!).

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CSR for HR: not yet at the tipping point

Jonathon Porritt, CBE,  is an impressive figure. Some of you may know him as the co-founder of  the not-for-profit Forum for the Future which has been at the forefront of the sustainability debate, working on such game-changing programs as the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and Marks and Spencer's Plan A and many others. Others may know him as the Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, until last year when the commission ceased its activity. Others may know him as a proliferate speaker and writer and may even have read the powerful Capitalism as if the World Matters.  

I had the opportunity to meet Jonathon and hear him deliver an opening keynote at the CIPD CR for HR Professionals Conference which I chaired in London last week. Being familiar with much of Jonathon's work, I was looking forward to hear him talk. What was interesting for me was how in tune Jonathon is regarding the need for embedding of corporate responsibility practices at all levels of the workforce and the importance of the CR-HR partnership in making this happen. Although he has not yet read CSR for HR :)), he promised he would!

Johathon Porritt's keynote opened with a review of global sustainability and some of the key themes that many of us are familiar with. He reminded us that the planet will have to hold (and feed) nine billion people in 2050, and that the "hedonic treadmill" we are all trapped in is unlikely to stop driving consumer aspirations and consumption levels. But, Jonathon said, "We are not going to achieve a better world by keeping half of the global population in poverty". Instead, we have to continue to create wealth and value by remaining within certain defined ecological boundaries which determine the sustainability of our future. Apparently, we have until the year 2016 to achieve this transformation. After then, the damage to the global ecosystem will be irreversible and .. well... as Jonathon says... "we are facing some unbelievable horror stories!".

But all is not doom and gloom. Jonathon gave examples of some companies which are starting to change the game in decoupling economic growth from environmental impacts and incorporate sustainable practice into everything they do. But he also said that of all the companies he and Forum for the Future have been working with over the past few years, it is noticeable that the aspect of employee engagement in sustainability and sustainable Human Resources practices are not really moving forward. "There are not really that many brilliant examples of HR advancing sustainability". He said that HR has a critical strategic role because HR owns organizational culture and people management functions and HR works horizontally across any company. He said that CSR for HR, or Sustainable Human Resources Management (HRM), which we agree is a more appropriate term, is both a strategic challenge and a strategic opportunity for the function. And of course, we agree, don't we ?!

After Jonathon's both scary and moderately optimistic opening, we heard a fascinating collection of presentations from a range of companies who gave examples of how they are engaging employees in sustainability, community programs, sustainability communications and a whole lot more... far too much for one blog post, though I will be picking up on some of the key messages in future posts.

In the meantime, I was highly pleased to learn about encouraging work being done in a range of leading companies, and to welcome an interested audience, seeking to learn more.

You can also read a nice summary of the conference posted in People Management dot com.

Are we at the tipping point ? ahem.... not quite... but let's keep plugging away.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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
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