What is HR’s Role in Sustainability?

What is HR’s Role in Sustainability?

6 February 2023

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When we hear the word sustainability, our first thought will typically take us to environmental sustainability. For most people, that is where sustainability first intersects with our day to day lives. This is normally through things like recycling and domestic energy consumption. Sustainability though is a multi-layered concept which goes deeper than many people think.

The Top Employers Institute have the following view on the subject; “It (sustainability) is focused on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Most definitions also outline three core pillars of sustainability which are:

  • Economic viability
  • Environmental protection
  • Social equity

Taking those pillars in the context of a business and trying to simplify them, sustainability is about profit, planet and people. But what’s HR role in sustainability? We explore this in more detail below.

What is Sustainable HR?

In 2019 the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which is the association for HR professionals, published an article entitled, Sustainable HR: a ‘green’ fad, or a realistic model for change?. The article provided a number of insights into what sustainable HR actually looks like and how a business may then implement practices to achieve it. The author of the article, Ed Houghton, believes that sustainable HR involves, “greater acknowledgement and understanding of long-term issues relating to value creation and value capture”. Further academic research from Jaap Paauwe produced a model for sustainable HR in which the efficient deployment of human resources helps to attract and retain people, so that in the long term a business is viable and serves the interests of key stakeholders.

What are some examples of sustainable HR practices?

Theory is all well and good but reality can be quite different. So how can sustainable HR link in to the core pillars of profit, planet and people? And what does that look like in terms of sustainable HR practices that a business can reasonably achieve?


HR can put in place a pay policy which rewards employees, as well as shareholders. This means that profits are used to provide salaries which are fair and support recruitment and retention. Profits can also be used by a business to improve the working environment for staff. With support from HR staff, it can be involved and play a part in deciding what changes could be made.


HR can support, facilitate and drive changes in processes and technologies which make a business more sustainable. This can be via providing training, running consultations and staff forums to discuss changes. HR can also lead by example by implementing HR software. Using software like this can have many benefits for a business. In terms of a positive impact on the environment, it will eliminate the need for the paperwork in HR processes which is a great starting point. Beyond this, HR can also work on specific projects which have environmental impact. This can include car sharing initiatives, cycle to work incentives and salary sacrifice schemes which enable staff to transition into EVs in an affordable way.


HR exists to look after everything people related. The more that a business takes care of its staff ,the more sustainable it is and the more it creates and adds value and social equity. HR contributes in this respect by ensuring that health and safety guidance is adhered to. By supporting employee wellbeing, by delivering training and upskilling and by creating a culture, diversity and positive working relationships are respected and valued.

What can your HR department do to become more sustainable?

Every business is different and there is not a one size fits all approach to HR’s role in sustainability. Businesses and their HR teams or staff, will all be able to do or change something in their day to day operations which can start a journey towards being more sustainable. It’s a good idea to involve employees, gather their thoughts and suggestions and then start to plan changes. Always remember to review things as you progress and if possible report on the difference that has been made.

Take HRX for a spin

As mentioned, one way HR departments can play their role in sustainability is by implementing HR software. At HRX, our software is completely paperless which is just one of many environmentally conscious ways to becoming more sustainable. So if you want to make a start on doing your bit, why not sign up for a FREE 30 day trial today and see it for yourself.

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