Green HR Management as a Secret CSR-Tool

November 24, 2021

How green HRM can help achieve companies environmental goals

Human Resource Management can steer enterprises toward environmentally conscious and sustainable ways of doing business. WU Professor Michael Müller-Camen of the Institute for Human Resource Management explains which levers HR experts and executives can pull in order to do so. Just recently, he joined forces with the WU Executive Academy to organize an expert workshop on the topic of “Green Human Resource Management (HRM) – what will the future of HR look like?”

symbolic pic of green HRM
How does green HRM help fight climate change?

Corporate sustainability and environmental protection strategies are usually the domain of CSR or environmental management departments. Zooming in on HR work and the HR team is a hitherto unknown approach. Michael Müller-Camen heads the Institute for Human Resource Management at WU Vienna and is also an expert for New Work at the WU Executive Academy. With his team, he has engaged in ground-breaking research on Green Human Resource Management (Green HRM) and ecological HR management.

All Eyes on Green HRM

“Green HRM is about organizing and adapting all HR functions, from recruiting to staff development and performance management through to employer branding, in a way that all of these areas align with a company’s environmental goals,” Michael Müller-Camen explains. In this respect, companies in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland have a lot of catching up to do. This is the result of the “Comparative Green HRM” study, for which the WU department collaborated with the University of Augsburg to survey HR staff, executives, and top managers from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland in April and May 2020:

  • Eighty-six percent of respondents viewed environmental problems as one of the major challenges of our times; the same share held that companies had a social responsibility in this respect.
  • Seventy-three percent hoped for companies of their countries to adopt a pioneering role in world-wide efforts to protect the planet.
  • Eighty-seven percent believed it was important for CSR to become an integral component of any company’s business philosophy.
  • And still as many as 50 percent held the view that sustainability comes with perks, for instance when recruiting high potentials.
Portrait Michael Müller-Camen

Michael Müller-Camen

  • Head of the Institute of HR Management of the WU Vienna

At the same time, our research was unambiguous about one thing: many companies discuss Green HRM in their sustainability reports but fail to implement it when it comes to their business practice.

That’s a shame, because HR management and staff development offer numerous opportunities to make a real difference while simultaneously furthering company goals in a tangible way.

The HR expert identified three main fields of action for companies to increase environmental awareness among their staff.

1. Employer Branding and Recruiting

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, we all learned that recruiting can be handled online. “Particularly employer branding is a field in which companies can score points with environmentally conscious applicants, presenting themselves as an attractive employer with green values,” Professor Müller-Camen says. However, it’s a thin line that separates serious sustainability goals from engaging in greenwashing with the intention of pleasing certain markets: “We know that companies tend to focus on sustainability and the environment when they notice that that’s what customers want. It’s often the prospect of additional revenues that drives them to act,” the researcher says.

symbolic pic green HRM
Between green washing and taking it serious - it often takes financial incentives.

2. Executives as Role Models

In-house communication and HR development can be used to create awareness for environmental questions among staff and encourage them to make positive changes in their behaviors. “Managers must act as role models when it comes to ecological behaviors”, Müller-Camen says. Also training measures can be used to impart expertise and knowledge of methods related to sustainability and green business models.

3. Incentives and Bonus Payments

“Flexible salary components can be linked not only to economic but also to ecological targets,” Müller-Camen points out. Bonus payments for executives could be tied to the achievement of green goals, such as a reduction of CO2 emissions or package waste or another climate-friendly measure somewhere along the value creation chain.

“Intrinsic motivation works best, but extrinsic incentives such as bonus payments can be a regulating force,” Müller-Camen explains. Rewards for excellent proposals or suggestions – think: ideas management – can encourage employees to come forward with green ideas. And incentives can be geared towards ecological goals as well: a fleet of e-vehicles and paying for public transport tickets can contribute to a green mindset among staff. Hybrid work models and making available coworking spaces to commuters at places close to their homes can further contribute to reducing companies’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentally Friendly Facilities with Digital Helpers

Also office facilities can play their part, for instance through concepts such as the paperless office or digital solutions and apps that control buildings and offices. “Digital technologies for green buildings that regulate temperature and lighting are one thing, but also printer settings or software that supports staff in making environmentally sound decisions can make a real impact,” Müller-Camen says.

His advice for companies interested in Green HRM is to start by establishing the status quo of mindsets and behaviors in the company: “Are the behaviors of employees and teams ecologically sound? Is ecologically sound behavior linked to certain management styles? Do orders and instructions collide with expectations?” Once companies have answers to these questions, they can move on to derive strategic measures based on this knowledge, Professor Müller-Camen explains.

For more information about the Human Resources Management courses offered by the WU Executive Academy, please click here.

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