Seven Links Between HR and Advanced Environmental Performance

Weak corporate cultures and inefficient management of human resources put firms at a disadvantage with environmental performance.
Pam Laughland September 26, 2017
Your manufacturing firm is trying to reduce its environmental impact — but by focusing too much on control, you might be going the wrong way about it.

Reactive Vs. Proactive Environmental Management

Manufacturing companies can use two approaches to reduce their environmental impact: Researchers Jesús Ángel del Brío, Beatriz Junquera and Mónica Ordiz (all of Spain's Universidad de Oviedo) explored how organizational culture and human resources relate to a firm’s ability to implement environmental practices. They conducted eight case studies on ISO 14001 certified medium and large factories across different sectors (e.g. construction, hardware, pharmacy, foodstuffs). Based on these cases, several relationships were proposed for future testing.

The authors interviewed both the environmental manager and HR manager in each company, and supplemented their transcripts with business documents. Companies were then sorted by increasing environmental performance. The lowest-performing companies focused mainly on compliance via control approaches. The highest performing companies aimed to be environmental leaders and to improve products and processes. They regularly communicated these goals and successes to stakeholders.

Seven Secrets of Environmentally Performing Firms

The results suggest a number of links between HR and environmental performance. In particular, firms with better environmental performance may have:

Prevention Approaches and Committed Staff: Key to Sustainable Management

If your firm is solely relying on control approaches, you may find they are costly and inefficient — and usually undertaken only to comply with regulation. Prevention approaches often result in innovation and efficiencies, but are complex and require coordination to implement. The more advanced — and potentially profitable — prevention approaches may have a strategic component, requiring support from the top and commitment from employees. If your business has a weak culture or inefficient management of human resources, it will be at a disadvantage when it comes to environmental performance.

But, research in this area is just beginning. A key role for future research will be to test these propositions across a range of situations to understand the circumstances and mechanisms through which they occur.
Ángel del Brío, J., Junquera, B., and Ordiz, M. 2008. "Human Resources in Advanced Environmental Approaches-A Case Analysis." International Journal of Production Research. 46.21: 6029-6053.

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