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Strathclyde Business School

Sustainable workplaces: creating a culture of environmental engagement

By Andrew Bratton - Posted on 11 July 2013

Andrew Bratton, PhD student and teaching assistant at Strathclyde Business School’s Department of Human Resource Management, discusses how businesses can use HR to become more sustainable…

With workplaces accounting for a fifth of UK carbon emissions, reducing the environmental impact of organisations is crucial to limiting our impact on the environment. As a result, despite other economic concerns, business leaders are facing increasing pressure to respond to climate change and other key sustainability challenges as a priority.

As energy efficiency becomes ever more critical to a business’ strategy, as well as implementing physical changes to improve it, these leaders are now looking to their staff to work sustainably. So it follows that environmental awareness is now a key consideration for Human Resources, as businesses look to encourage energy efficiency, waste reduction and the use of alternative low-carbon forms of transportation.

A growing body of work on ‘Green Human Resource Management’ (GHRM) now indicates employees’ attitudes and behaviours towards energy issues can be modified through a cluster of HRM policies and practices. However research also suggests employers may have to initiate and manage a dramatic cultural change in order to achieve the desired environmental awareness in their employees required to become more sustainable.

Essentially, the pursuit of workplace sustainability is an organisational change issue. For individuals, organisational change comes down to a ‘cognitive process’; how an individual thinks about their work situation. Several studies have indicated that one of the reasons for the failure of programmes, policies and practices promoting workplace sustainability is that senior management ignore or downplay the influence of culture on organisational life. Indeed, if an organisation’s culture is particularly established and resistant to modification, it can be a significant barrier to chance.

The issue faced by many organisations is their ability to reconcile the workplace, where social relationships shape individuals’ interests and motives, with the strategic goals and objectives of management. Any arbitrary enforcement of new rules and processes, whether they concern environmental policy or not, can be highly contentious if not done so with the cooperation of employees.

Achieving workplace sustainability, therefore, involves more than a technical challenge – it goes to the very heart of the social relations of work. That businesses must play a significant role in the transition to a more resource efficient and low-carbon economy is not in doubt.

The question is, to what extent can work and people management including employment relations practices, contribute to creating sustainable workplaces? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…

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