By Kathy Gurchiek
Half of HR professionals surveyed say their organization has a formal or informal policy on environmental responsibility, and another 7 percent plan to adopt a policy in the next 12 months. That’s among the findings of a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) online survey of 391 HR professionals conducted September 2007 and released in January 2008.
“The impact of our daily activities on the environment and the desire to go green has expanded from just individuals to organizations,” writes lead researcher Justina Victor in the report. “More organizations are volunteering to operate in a more environmentally responsible way. Local municipalities are encouraging businesses to become greener by offering incentives. In the near future, ‘being green’ could become the norm.”
Encouraging employees to be more environmentally friendly at work—making double-sided photocopies, using energy-efficient bulbs for desk lamps, lowering blinds in the summer to conserve energy, powering down computers that are inactive after a few minutes—was the main way their organizations were environmentally responsible, HR professionals said
Other top practices they cited include:
• Offering recycling programs for office products, including plastic, glass, cans and Styrofoam.
• Using energy-efficient lighting systems and equipment, such as occupancy sensors; using Energy Star equipment; and changing from desktop to laptop computers.
• Installing automatic shutoff for equipment.
• Buying or leasing refurbished goods such as toner cartridges, copiers, printers, fax machines, retread tires and re-refined oil.
• Promoting walking, biking and use of public transit.
• Partnering with suppliers and companies that are environmentally friendly.
• Minimizing pollution, such as the air and water emissions during production.
• Participating in or sponsoring projects and events in the community, such as plant-a-tree day and fundraisers for a local nature preserve.
When SHRM asked 504 non-HR employees, in a separate but related survey, what was the most important environmental practice that organizations can perform, a majority pointed to donating or discounting used office furniture and supplies to employees or local charities.
In addition, they cited using water-conserving plumbing fixtures such as faucet aerators and low-flow toilets, and offering recycling programs for old cell phones and other selected personal products.
Getting the Word Out
Among the HR professionals who said their employer has a policy of being environmentally responsible, a majority (63 percent) communicate their policy through in-house newsletters or other publications. Some include that commitment among their stated goals (40 percent); mission or vision statement (38 percent); annual report (23 percent) and an environmental report (10 percent).
Contributing toward society—being a good corporate citizen and embracing ethical considerations—is the main reason why organizations should take a greener attitude, both HR professionals and employees said.
In fact, contribution to society is the key driver of their environmentally responsible programs, according to almost seven out of 10 HR professionals and one-third of non-HR employees. Other top reasons HR cited included environmental and economic considerations, while non-HR employees saw their employers’ programs as part of a good public relations strategy.
“I am seeing a real trend among small companies I work with,” commented Nancy C. Nelson, SPHR, and a member of SHRM’s Corporate Social Responsibility Special Expertise Panel, in the report. “They want to adopt ‘green’ business practices, separate from any compliance requirement that may come into play,” noted Nelson. The director of HRProse LLC was among 10 external reviewers and contributors to the survey report.
Such programs foster improved morale and a stronger public image, both HR and non-HR employees said, and HR professionals at small organizations were more apt to see such a program result in improved morale.
Fellow panel member and The Hermann Group President Gerlinde Hermann thinks green initiatives, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in general, are tools for recruiting young workers but warns organizations they must back up their talk with action. She noted that “these potential employees check the background of organizations and talk with employees or past employees to find out for themselves” whether the organization delivers what it promises. “Better to have genuine green/CSR initiatives which are grassroots and inexpensive than to have a massive promo campaign involving significant funding—it’s the realness that is the selling feature,” Hermann said in the report.
It can be a retention tool as well. Sixty-one percent of employees whose employer participated in practices that were friendly to the environment said they are “very likely” or “likely” to stay at the organization because of its environmentally responsible programs. Despite these reasons for being more environmentally responsible, the cost of implementing and of maintaining them are the top barriers for taking action (85 percent and 74 percent, respectively), HR professionals said.
Lack of management support is the third largest barrier HR saw to being environmentally responsible. While 43 percent of HR professionals said their departments were involved directly in such a program at their organization, creating and implementing it starts with the senior management team or an employee taskforce or committee, a majority of HR professionals and non-HR employees said.
The effort doesn’t have to be big and splashy, though. “It is possible for every organization to provide some level of environmentally responsible practices,” SHRM CSR Special Expertise Panel member Victoria Johnson, PHR, noted in the report.
Such programs can benefit employers in many ways, according to the report. “A greener workplace can mean productive and healthy employees,” Victor writes, “and [can strengthen] an organization’s financial bottom line through operating efficiencies and innovations.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at email@example.com