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Investing in People for Sustainability

Flexible work.
Personal growth.
Good benefits.

These are just a few points on the list of essential workplace factors for Millennials and Gen Z.

A company’s EVP and general positioning in its marketplace are integral to talent acquisition as well as talent retention.

Research from Deloitte shows that working for an employer with a clear purpose who also allows employees to address societal issues through their work is paramount. With 93% of organisations concerned about employee retention, making an effort to spotlight a company’s sustainability efforts to inspire and attract an engaged workforce is just one way to boost a company EVP, but arguably even more importantly, secures a brighter future.

But how can an organisation’s people strategy support this? Having a personal passion for the future of our environment, coupled with ChapmanCG’s HR network, I have been fortunate enough to speak with three HR leaders who have all worked with sustainability under their remit. I talked to them about HR’s role in driving corporate sustainability and its influence on engagement. We discussed how they went about building clear sustainability agenda, how that impacts employee engagement and purpose, why measuring the effect from a people perspective is vital, and finally their best advice for senior HR leaders looking to improve their sustainability efforts. 

Influencing Employer Branding

As a leader in IT Services and Integration, NTT uses technology innovation to solve social challenges and support a more sustainable society. Whether developing cutting-edge information processing technology or implementing virtual workplaces that complement in-person experiences, NTT have found new ways to use technology for good. Chief Human Resources Officer Marilyn Chaplin talks about how sustainability should cross functions and subjects, and as a result, becomes all-encompassing.

Human Resource Directors all play huge role alongside our CEOs, boards and wider leadership teams. The key thing is to make sure your voice is heard because sustainability is critical to an organisation’s talent strategy. Not only from the sourcing of talent and employee engagement perspective, but also with the societal and location links. When a company invests in a location or geographic hub, to build the skills of the future, they’re also making a societal investment from an HR point of view. You’re therefore doing much more than workforce and talent planning, you’re actually thinking about how a particular location can upskill a community and it has a positive knock-on impact on the societies within which you operate. The impact is broader than just the jobs you create, it can also lift up whole communities.

Marilyn Chaplin, Chief Human Resouces Officer, NTT

See my full conversation with Marilyn here.

Measuring Sustainability from a People & Culture Perspective

Sustainability is not just about climate, conservation, and CO2 emissions—investing in a sustainable people strategy is equally important. The sustainability story at Grundfos, the largest pump manufacturer in the world, is deeply rooted in the company’s history. By providing solar-powered water pumps to remote villages in India and innovative wastewater solutions to floating student accommodation in Denmark, the company pioneers sustainable solutions to the world’s water and climate challenges, improving quality of life for people globally. Executive Vice President and CHRO Mirjam Baijens argues that bringing all the initiatives, ideas and projects together to show every part of the business what is happening is a challenge but paramount to the success of any sustainability strategy.

Communication is an essential element of making sure people truly understand why we do something and how they can also learn from each other and create positive visibility. It’s what we do for the communities surrounding us, and what we do for our own people and how we practise what we preach. Mobilising around an aligned roadmap, leveraging best practises and making sure we recognise efforts being made by all divisions and countries around the world is what will make the difference.

Mirjam Baijens, Executive Vice President and CHRO, Grundfos

See my full conversation with Mirjam here.

Advice for HR Leaders

However, like all new initiatives and challenges, knowing where and how to start can be daunting. At global high-tech company STMicroelectronics, sustainability has been on the corporate agenda for over 25 years. Rajita D’Souza, President, Human Resources and Corporate Social Responsibility, sees their focus on sustainability as a powerful talent attraction and retention tool, but points out how it all begins will reflect on the long-term success.

You must be clear from the beginning, some of the responsibilities must fall under programme managers and experts, but the accountability is always 100% on the shoulders of management. There is no compromise for that. It cannot be done within a small group within the organisation. HR should be at the front of this transformation, and we need to develop the leaders, build effective capabilities, and support governance. HR is both fundamental support and a key factor of change. Because of the overlaps between a sustainability agenda and HR agenda, HR professionals must drive and facilitate some of the required transformations.

Rajita D’Souza, President, Human Resources and Corporate Social Responsibility, STMicroelectronics

See my full conversation with Rajita here

Final Thoughts

It’s exciting to see how sustainability is now featuring in the HR and People remit in progressive organisations. Whilst it remains a significant challenge, the increasing amount of regulations being implemented combined with public pressure makes it important to start somewhere. Like many ESG strategies, there appear to be some very practical and straightforward interventions that not only make a difference but gain great leverage, creating a snowball effect through people. Examples of these include:

  • A people-focused approach reflecting company values and strategies
  • Merging inclusivity and community into a sustainable workforce
  • Ensuring communication through all levels of the organisation and are externally intertwined with the same messaging and approach

I’m excited about what this means for the future of HR and People leaders across the board and would love to hear and subsequently share more on this topic. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or successes on this topic, please feel free to connect with me further.


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