SHRM Report: HR Central to Organizations’ Sustainability Efforts

April 11, 2011

SHRM Report: HR Central to Organizations’ Sustainability Efforts

Alexandria, Va., April 11, 2011 — Almost three-fourths of organizations (72 percent) reported engaging in sustainable workplace or business practices, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said today in announcing the results of a survey conducted in partnership with San Francisco-based consulting companies Aurosoorya and Business for Social Responsibility.

The survey report Advancing Sustainability: HR’s Role examines the role of human resources in sustainability and corporate social responsibility programs within the United States and abroad.

Key drivers behind organizations’ investment in sustainability are the desire to make a positive contribution to society, gain a competitive financial advantage and help the environment, according to report findings.

“Many benefits of sustainability initiatives are closely related to employees and how they do their jobs,” explains Jennifer Schramm, manager of workplace trends and forecasting in SHRM’s Research Department, in a March 2011 HR Magazine article on sustainability.

The top four benefits reported by survey respondents coincide with responsibilities that are often housed within an organization’s HR function:

  • Improved employee morale (55 percent),
  • More-efficient business processes (43 percent),
  • Stronger public image (43 percent),
  • Increased employee loyalty (38 percent).

Data collection for Advancing Sustainability began in February 2010, consisting of a survey of 728 companies of all sizes along with case studies of Alcatel-Lucent, Japan-based Hitachi, Interface, Nestlé Waters North America, Pfizer, HERProject and Business for Social Responsibility’s international women workers’ health initiative.

The report also analyzes the successes and challenges of corporate social responsibility efforts in India.

"India’s middle class is predicted to grow from approximately 50 million people now to in excess of 500 million people in 15 years,” says Pravir Malik, president of Aurosoorya. “How these consumers consume will have huge global repercussions. It is imperative that growth in India proceeds along sustainable lines. Companies must focus on corporate social responsibility internally so that products and services are ‘greener’ in nature, and environmental and social impacts are managed in real-time along the length of supply chains.”

Respondents whose firms practice sustainability in regular operations identified that their organizations offer recycling programs, use virtual tools to conduct meetings, donate/discount used office furniture, use energy-efficient lighting systems and equipment, and partner with environmentally friendly suppliers and companies.

Additionally, almost 40 percent of survey respondents said their companies offer telecommuting options to reduce the environmental impact of commuting. SHRM has identified workplace flexibility as a critical issue and this year partnered with the Families and Work Institute on the program Moving Work Forward designed to help organizations transform the way businesses view and adopt flexible workplace practices.

“Sustainable practices often intersect with workplace flexibility,” says Schramm. “A great example is telecommuting. Not only does telecommuting provide employees with a greater degree of flexibility, it also decreases the pollution and energy usage associated with commuting.”

While survey results show that a majority of companies are already engaged in sustainable workplace or business practices, the data also indicate that about one-quarter (28 percent) have yet to adopt such practices.

One of the biggest hurdles cited in implementing sustainability programs is overcoming the perception that the programs would be expensive to launch or maintain, or difficult to measure return on investment. Even with these obstacles, no company practicing sustainability and tracking its ROI reported a negative return on investment.

Other reasons cited for slow adoption were lack of support from organizational leaders and lack of internal capacity or knowledge, both areas presenting opportunities for HR practitioners to help their firms reach the triple bottom line.

“The HR function is one of the key groups responsible for implementing a sustainability strategy in their organizations,” says Schramm. “For any such effort to succeed it needs to be communicated effectively to employees, and employees must be actively involved in putting the strategy into practice. HR is central to making this work and needs to be involved from the ground up — from the strategy phase all the way through to implementation and evaluation.”

For details, visit the research section of at Follow SHRM Research on Twitter @SHRM_Research.

Media: For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Kate Kennedy of SHRM Media Relations at 703-535-6260 and ​or Ciara Calbert at 703-535-6101 or

About the Society for Human Resource Management
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in more than 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at and follow us on Twitter at



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