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
Related Posts with Thumbnails