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When a company makes sustainability key, it’s an opportunity for HR to lead

A survey by Accenture shows the majority of businesses think the benefits resulting from their sustainability initiatives have exceeded expectations. But a hardcore minority of businesses does not see sustainability as a critical or strategic investment.

The survey of 247 senior decision-makers in the US, UK and China asked their views and opinions on sustainability in the business sector.

Common focus areas are talent and skills initiatives (47%) and the development of sustainabilityproducts and services (44%).

HR directors can get a flavour of what works from high-street travel firm Thomas Cook. Here, information on sustainability forms part of the employee induction programme and sustainability criteria have been incorporated into some job descriptions and performance reviews.

All UK employees responsible for sustainability in overseas destinations are now required to report monthly on their initiatives, with this linked to their performance-related pay.

Thomas Cook estimates 84% of those based in the UK have taken sustainability training.

Thomas Cook also claims the impetus comes from parts of the business other than the sustainability team and the firm also raises awareness of the importance of sustainability by engaging directly with employees, through meetings and committees.

Last year, it launched the Group Sustainability Working Party with the aim of increasing engagement in sustainability across the whole Thomas Cook Group. The body includes representatives from every area of the business.

A sustainable business is one where all employees are aware of how their roles contribute to the sustainability agenda. So when a company makes sustainability an integral part of its business strategy, there is a tremendous opportunity for HR to lead. That is because HR can transform the business impacts on employees into the sustainable impacts of employees. That is the case for initiatives such as training, branding, health and wellbeing work/life balance or leadership development programmes.

Accenture's survey paints a picture of organisations that increasingly see sustainability investments as ways to generate ROI through market success and cost performance. HR must stand tall to grasp the opportunities that are out there.