Research & Thought Leadership

HR can be change-makers for sustainability

Matt Gitsham, Director of the Hult Sustainability Impact Lab, and Professor at Hult International Business School and Hult EF Corporate Education.

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Sustainability and mangroves

Business leaders have become acutely aware of the wide range of complex and urgent global challenges linked to the climate crisis, as well as the frameworks to address them, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Climate Change Conferences (COPs). The implications for organizations are so great that more and more companies are integrating increasingly sophisticated and ambitious sustainability-related goals in their corporate strategies.

And they are having to figure out what it means for all different areas of business: who needs to do what? What does it mean for HR and Learning and Development leaders? How does it impact the company’s people strategy?

As we approach the COP28 climate conference, Hult EF Corporate Education has contributed to the Corporate Research Forum (CRF) 2023 Sustainability report, surveying the latest thinking regarding HR’s role in achieving a sustainable business, and mapping out the future direction.

The importance of having one over-arching strategy incorporating business, sustainability, and people goals

One important, core finding is that we will not get very far with disconnected and siloed business, sustainability and people strategies. An organization needs one over-arching articulation of corporate purpose and a strategy that flows from that, with interconnected sustainability and people concerns embedded within it.

Core aspects of HR’s contribution to achieving the sustainability components of a company’s strategy are also set out in this report. These include several areas that often fall directly within the remit of HR, including safety, wellbeing, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Added to that are many areas where HR has a key role enabling the wider organization to achieve its broader sustainability goals.

How HR can influence the organization to achieve its sustainability goals: learning & development, performance management and cultural change

Through learning and development, as well as recruitment and selection, HR can play a key role in helping build the knowledge, skills and mindsets needed – in other words, the overall capabilities of leaders across the organization to achieve these goals. Other crucial areas for HR to influence include the role of performance management, in making sure that reward schemes are aligned with achieving sustainability goals.

Finally, it is important to utilize HR’s expertise around cultural change and the organization development skillset – with many different types of activities that can help embed sustainability thinking and action as a norm in the organization’s culture.

Hult EF helps leaders to be effective change-makers for sustainability within their organization and society

In our work at Hult International Business School and Hult EF Corporate Education, we have led ground-breaking research around how business leadership roles are changing as a result of today’s complex sustainability challenges, and the implications for learning and development.

This research has been informing our leadership development work with senior leaders, helping them enhance their skills to be effective change-makers for sustainability within their organization and society. Through our practical, experiential, immersive and behavioural approach to corporate education, we aim to enable leaders to inspire, guide and galvanize, releasing the full and diverse capacity of all their people to be change-makers.

This report (available to CRF members by registering here) provides the insight and learning to enable HR and Learning and Development leaders to be change-makers themselves, helping their organizations achieve their sustainability goals and helping us all address the complex global challenges we face.

Watch our on-demand webinar: What's sustainability got to do with HR?

The scale of the climate challenge the world is facing means that organizations need to place sustainability at the heart of everything they do, but what can HR do to drive change? Join our webinar as we explore how to embed a culture of sustainability in your organization

Watch on-demand
Sustainability webinar 23

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