Holly Hall

Stop Killing Trees: An argument for sustainability in HR

We all know the common trope – the one where a frazzled-looking HR professional is surrounded by piles of paperwork and filing cabinets. It would probably be funny if all of us hadn’t seen or experienced it at some point in our careers. However, by creating a culture of sustainability that image can be replaced by a superhero; one who champions both Mother Nature and employee integrity.

According to SHRM’s study on HR and sustainability, it’s “most effective when integrated into a company’s strategic framework rather than created as a feel-good exercise.” Because HR is often seen as a conduit to and for employees at-large, working on a sustainability strategy can be HR’s most successful chance for a seat at the table. It’s also just good business sense because of the long-term cost savings.

Companies with active sustainability strategies often see a significant improvement in reputation, leading to an increase in loyalty in clients, customers, and employees. A sustainable culture not only helps to attract ethically-minded top talent, but to retain younger employees who are typically more focused on environmental concerns.

One of the hardest parts of moving toward sustainability is getting started. From an HR-perspective, I recommend two areas of initial focus: procedure improvement and HR technology systems.

Start at the very beginning of your employee lifecycle. While documenting each step look for inefficiencies, duplication of effort, and unnecessary paper waste. Carefully think about how you can make your procedures more cohesive. Remember, documentation doesn’t mean you have to print everything. Instead find an accessible place in the cloud for the materials.

As you’re analyzing your procedures, look at your HR technology. A majority of HR tech users are already on cloud-based programs – but if you’re not – it’s definitely time to look into one. These cloud-based solutions help your sustainability endeavor by cutting down needed resources. You no longer need the space, IT professionals, or electricity that were needed in the past to run older solutions. Plus, think of the mobile capabilities.

One of the best things HR technology can do is reduce paper usage. Gone are the days of paper PTO requests, onboarding documentation, and performance evaluations. All of this can be done compliantly in digital format. To do so, you may need to optimize reports or activate additional modules; or you may need an entirely new system all together.

By using sustainability as a strategy and improved procedures and HR technology as tactics, HR can surely earn that much-coveted seat at the C-suite table (or help retain the seat). Through sustainability we can change the mindset of HR as a paper hoarder to that of an employee-focused superhero.

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