Issues related to sustainability have moved to the forefront of business, economics and the political arena worldwide. Business leaders have already realised the fact that sustainable workplaces and business practices can make their companies more competitive. Companies that manage sustainability can reap long-term benefits for both their businesses and for society, because they recognise that the perceptions about sustainability among consumers, employees and other stakeholders have changed. Given the importance of driving an enduring sustainable culture inside an organisation, human resources professionals must step up and play a critical leading role in the realm of corporate sustainability.
Under the theme of “When HR Meets Sustainability”, the annual Greater China Talent Management Summit 2016 was held by A-Performers.com in early July. This Summit has been widely regarded by HR experts across the greater China region as an effective platform for sharing insights as well as knowledge, and is considered a highly effective vehicle overall for talent management.
Bolstering the talent pool for future sustainability
Several prominent speakers at the Summit shared their in-depth views about today’s sustainable development from both business and social perspectives. Kicking off the Summit was Christine Loh, Under Secretary for the Environment, HKSAR, who pointed out that the government was actively trying to partner with the private sector to bolster the talent pool necessary for the Territory’s future sustainability. “Based on the types and amounts of investments and policies targeted toward Hong Kong’s environment over the next 10 to 15 years, you’ll see a huge demand for talent, including top, middle and lower level personnel in order to facilitate a true transformation of our society.”
Among all businesses in Hong Kong, Loh highlighted the importance of the property development sector and management industries as being the key stakeholders of the government. “Most of the energy we generate is used in buildings, offices, and homes.
The more efficiently we can use energy, the more money we will save, and that makes things better for the environment.” She said that it was not just a CSR practice, but the essence of how a business should operate.
Ignite change through empowered employees
On the other hand, Vincent Tam, assistant general manager for Corporate and Talent Development of New World Development Company Limited, explained that making changes could be very difficult in a large-scale company like the Group he serves; it’s like asking an elephant to dance. Yet he also emphasised that it was important to take business operations to the next level with new core values in order to embrace an ever-changing world and cope with the challenges ahead.
He highlighted a term called - ‘intrapreneurship’ during his speech. “We need to build ownership mindsets among employees, who perform their jobs as if they were owners of the company.” He believed that once staff were engaged they were willing to go that extra mile in order to enhance the customer experience, leading to an improvement in overall business performance. “That’s where L.E.A.D. programmes come in,” said Tam. “It represents: Leadership, Empowerment, Aspiration and Development.”
Be responsible for other stakeholders for long-term success
In addition to the addresses from the government and business sectors, the Summit invited an academician to talk about how HR should fix the various misconceptions and myths about doing business. Professor Simon Shun-Man Ho, president of Hang Seng Management College, said that according to economics 101, the sole responsibility of a business is to increase its profit legally via fair market competition. “The concept of maximisation of shareholder value is pervasive in the business world and at business schools. Many board directors erroneously equate their duties as promoting the success of their companies with maximising current share prices. That is not in the best long-term interests of a company, proven by reams of empirical evidence.”
According to the Stakeholder theory proposed by the scholar Edward Freeman, corporations cannot be thought of as being responsible to shareholders only. Executives need to also proactively engage other stakeholders like employees, suppliers, customers and the local community in all the major decisions and future plans, as well as balance the competing interests of various stakeholder groups.
Wellness – contributing to business sustainability
Agnes Tse, principal consultant of Human Dynamic Asia Pacific Limited, also agreed with this notion. “Employee wellness is essential in order to create an enduring corporate culture that will ensure a healthy workforce, which in turn contributes to the overall productivity and continuing success of a business.” Based on “The State of Work-Life Balance in HK, 2014 Survey” commissioned by Community Business, the work-life balance scores among Hong Kong employees over the years from 2006 to 2014 remained fairly static. “Though many companies have already taken initiatives on such issues in recent years, the research shows that employees cannot find a great deal of significant improvement or the programmes cannot meet their expectations and needs.”
A wellnesss programme framework for employees should include training, talks, a designated wellness day, lifestyle intervention programme, stress management as well as a supportive environment that may include a gym facility, healthy food menu and other considerations. “Company management should recognise that a wellness programme is not a business cost driver but rather a sound investment, and that we all should do it consistently to achieve long-term effects.”
Being a ‘Good Company’
From selling copiers to becoming today’s leading corporation in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), Fuji Xerox has been operating under the concept of the ‘Good Company’ since 1992. Eliza Ng, its director of human resources, explained that a ‘Good Company’ should be ‘strong’, ‘interesting’ and ‘kind’ with respect to different interests of various stakeholder groups. “We should be able to consistently deliver excellent products and services to maintain shareholders’ interest and bolster positive growth of the company while also allowing employees to achieve more personally and professionally fulfilling careers. In addition, a ‘kind’ company should care for and contribute to local and global communities in terms of environmental conservation efforts, ethical practices and other social support systems.”
Fuji Xerox has also encouraged staff as well as their family members to participate in a host of green-related CSR activities. As a result, some have entered energy-saving competitions that involve not only office areas but also the employees’ homes. “Green has become part of our lives now,” says Ng. “Everyone in our company is a Dr. Green.”
Sustaining an International Workforce: Managing Your Duty of Care
In addition to local staff, companies should extend their care to those employees who have been seconded overseas for short-term assignments or even longer term duties. “Duty of care refers to the obligation of an organisation to assume its responsibility to protect its employees and their dependents, contractors and sub-contractors from risks and threats when working across the world in order to meet CSR and to ensure sustainable development,” said Adrian Ole, regional human resources director from International SOS.
Based on the latest Mobility Research from PwC, by 2020, the number of business travellers around the globe will significantly increase by 50%. “Businesses are increasingly operating globally, companies are consistently sending more staff on overseas assignments, and employees are more mobile than ever,” added Ole. “More younger generation staff expect to travel and receive overseas assignments.” International mobility is a normal part of the workplace, so the same protection and prevention rules apply. Ole emphasised that risks from health and security aspects to business travellers are increasing, that’s why a sustainable and proactive Duty of Care approach is becoming more essential now.
Sustainability leads us into a brave new world
During the panel discussion moderated by Angela Lee, director of A.L Consulting, focusing on the topic of “Sustainability is a Brave New World”, Bella Chhoa, who is not only the assistant director – corporate affairs at Hang Lung Properties, but also the chairlady of the Sustainability Steering Committee of the company, stressed that the board of directors of the Group has strategically invested in the economy, society, the environment and their staff, which they regarded as the four pillars that combined to build a comprehensive sustainable business model.
With reference to the Stakeholder Theory, the sustainability mission of Hang Lung Group is guided by the motto - We Do It Right. “It is not about what we think is right but what our stakeholders think is right. These stakeholders include customers, employees, investors, business partners, suppliers and contractors, opinion leaders, government personnel and the general public. It is essential to listen to the opinions of different parties.” She also emphasised that HR should lead the way in creating a culture of corporate sustainability.
Business sector should be the pioneer of a low-carbon economy
Another panel member, Christine Cheung, CEO of Business Environment Council (BEC), also agreed that HR should steer corporate sustainability by engaging stakeholders, such as employees, potential recruits, investors, suppliers and the media by means of communications and collaboration. “By emphasising transparency, companies can build trust with stakeholders, shape company culture, drive behavioural change and build a strong employer brand.”
As an independent, charitable membership organisation established by the business sector in Hong Kong since 1992, BEC has been at the forefront of promoting environmental excellence by advocating the adoption of clean technologies and practices that reduce waste, conserve resources, prevent pollution and improve corporate environmental and social responsibility. “Our vision is that the business sector should be recognised as leaders who practice and support environmental protection and contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy. After all, one can balance environmental protection and business performance quite well.”
Recogise the value of staff for corporate sustainability
As a key corporate member of BEC, Towngas has stressed environmental protection in its vision, missions and corporate values (VMV). Kit Fan, head of corporate human resources for Towngas, highlighted the important roles HR could play to keep strengthening the understanding of and appreciation for VMV among different teams as well as business units under the Group across 26 provinces in China. “Starting from Hong Kong headquarters, our HR teams have travelled to different business units with the same set of VMV materials, such as videos, story books with training programmes and dedicated workshops to educate the trainers and ambassadors there.”
Employees are highly treasured at Towngas to ensure sustainable development. “The proper establishment of talent pools enables successful succession planning, which supports the Group’s mid- to long-term growth,” says Fan. “To recognise technical expertise, Towngas MasterCraft Award has been held to acknowledge excellent craftsmanship among our frontline technicians as one of our key staff engagement initiatives.” Offering continuous learning opportunities, a workplace environment to foster innovation, plus the enhancement of employees’ wellbeing with a host of staff programmes and CSR activities also help keep its staff turnover to a low level.