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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my website www.b-yond.biz/en

1 comment:

Integro Leadership said...

Whilst I love that people are working to change corporate culture in this way, I also know that saying "We've got until 2016" is when many companies, not just CEOs but companies are going to shrug their shoulders. The only way forward is to move back, look at a world of lead-based paint, asbestos and coal-burning.
We need to show that we've come this far and with so many more like-minded people we can go every farther.

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