· 1 min read · Features

Sustainability takes a culture change


When the world's largest company, Wal-Mart, calls, suppliers come running. Its buying power is unrivalled, it has 100 million customers and in any one day its sales amount to more than the GDP of 30 countries. In 2008 it delivered record turnover of $374.5 billion and, even more impressively, bucked the downward retail trend in the fourth quarter by posting sales of $100 billion - a first for any global retailer.

So when Wal-Mart knocks on a supplier's door demanding it makes its business more environmentally-friendly you can bet your bottom dollar the supplier will jump to it. Which is precisely what happened 10 weeks ago when chief executive Lee Scott put sustainability at the top of the behemoth's agenda by outlining plans to use its power to force its 62,000 suppliers to adopt energy efficient measures.

I mention this because in this issue HR celebrates the first anniversary of our Make a Difference campaign, aimed at encouraging HR to take a leadership role in CSR. As well as research on what HR directors see as the major trends affecting their organisations in the coming five years (p7, 27) we interview Ray Anderson, the inspirational founder of arguably the world's most sustainable business, Interface (p30). When Wal-Mart's Scott launched his sustainability initiative with the management team, Anderson was there to make the case. Anderson and Scott are formidable leaders. With incoming US president Barack Obama also flying the green flag, it looks like CSR is still on the agenda - credit crunch or not. So why are so many talking it down?

Like flexible working, CSR is still seen as a 'nice-to-have' rather than a business imperative. In both cases, this is foolish. Interface has survived recessions precisely because it has a sustainable model. The problem, according to Anderson, is that people don't know how to think about sustainability. "A cultural transformation has to happen and you have to help people with that transformation."

Enter HR. In the year ahead, anything that cuts costs has to be a no-brainer, particularly when it is also known to engage staff. So my challenge for 2009 is to help your business achieve this cultural transformation.