Rosalind Cohen-Baruch, Human Resources Director, BSR
In many organizations, human resources (HR) departments are the home of sustainability efforts. HR is often charged with ensuring that an organization develops, monitors, and adheres to its sustainability commitment. There are great writings on how HR can and should provide additional leadership in sustainability—most recently, the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) published “HRM’s Role in Corporate Social and Environmental Sustainability,” which outlines the business case for sustainability and explains how Human Resources Management (HRM) can take a leading role in both developing and implementing sustainability strategy.
With that in mind, how can we in HRM, as individuals and as a global profession, make a commitment to looking at our consumption and social sustainability with a critical eye for positive impact and change?
For me, this question started about three weeks before I attended the SHRM Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. SHRM is an annual gathering at which global human resources professionals talk, learn, and engage with each other on issues that address our profession. Whether it is about employee engagement, global integration of teams, or changes in employment law, SHRM has afforded me incredible opportunities to take what I learn and to help make an impact within my organization.
In the time leading up to the conference, I received piles of adverts in my mailbox from expo vendors wanting to provide me with "giveaways" in exchange for talking with them about their products.
During the conference check in, I received more adverts wrapped in a new conference bag branded with the conference name and year. Finally, walking around the conference expo, I was inundated with stress balls, bags, and water bottles—all for the taking.
The amount of global consumption worldwide is staggering. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we generated about 250 million tons of trash in 2010 alone. While we recycled and composted over 85 million tons of this material, a 34.1 percent recycling rate, we have to ask the question as to whether some of the items we recycled needed to have been made (or used) in the first place.
All of this started me thinking about how HR can look at the culture of consumption reflected at this year's conference. What if as a profession we committed to just one initiatve to make a positive impact? For example, could we ask each participant to bring their own bag and eliminate the need for the production of the conference bags. Let's assume that the cost of production of this bag is US$5 and about 12,000 people attend the conference. Could we have the sponsoring organization donate the cost of the bag production (about US$60,000) to a SHRM scholarship or SHRM foundation? Win-Win-Win: Less landfill, a commitment to sustainability from the sponsoring organization, and a way for the human resources profession to sustain its growth.
It is my hope that we can challenge ourselves to look for opportunities to make true impact around sustainability in our own organizations, and to commit to being leaders in the HR profession. I hope you will join me in this challenge.