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

1 comment:

safety training courses said...

It's great to read about big companies like Microsoft working on implementing an effective environmental sustainability strategy and encouraging their employees to actively participate. Onward to a sustainable future.

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