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Can human resource management be ecologically sustainable?

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What do “human resource management” and the challenge of climate change have in common? At first glance, one might say absolutely nothing. However, a more in-depth perspective reveals a surprisingly vital connection.

In today’s landscape, where environmental sustainability has become a global priority, organizations are undertaking significant efforts to adopt environmentally responsible business practices. Striking a balance between economic development and resource consumption is the imminent challenge propelling businesses to engage in environmentally-friendly activities.

Concurrently, the strategic role of HR in shaping organizational culture and promoting employee well-being is increasingly recognized as a key factor for business success (Manuti et al 2017). It is at the intersection of HRM practices and environmental sustainability that the concept of “Green Human Resource Management” (GHRM) takes shape.

While the first definition of GHRM was provided by Wehrmeyer (1996) a more modern and comprehensive formulation has been developed by Opatha (2013, p.28), who defines GHRM as “is referred to all the activities involved in development, implementation and on-going maintenance of a system that aims at making employees of an organization green. It is the side of HRM that is concerned with transforming normal employees into green employees so as to achieve environmental goals of the organization and finally to make a significant contribution to environmental sustainability. It refers to the policies, practices and systems that make employees of the organization green for the benefit of the individual, society, natural environment, and the business.

GHRM is an approach aimed at infusing the functional dimensions of HRM with an ecological perspective. While the term “green management” may initially suggest practices with low environmental impact, in reality, GHRM primarily seeks to shape a corporate culture rooted in ecological values. Within this framework, GHRM provides employees with the opportunity to acquire a broad range of values, knowledge, and skills related to environmental sustainability (Tang et al., 2017). Therefore, the role of HR is of paramount importance as it is tasked with aligning employees with new ecological strategies, thereby fostering an organizational culture oriented toward environmental sustainability (Paulet et al 2021).        

Reviewing the available literature on the topic, even though further investigation is required, it is possible to outline some of the GHRM practices:

Green recruitment and selection:

Drawing from Tang et. al 2019 paper, we can summarize three recruitment criteria:

  1. Assessment of Candidates’ Green Awareness: This criterion underlines the pivotal role of candidates’ green awareness in the recruitment process.
  • Green Employer Branding: The concept of green employer branding becomes relevant here. Job seekers often perceive a strong alignment between their personal values and those of an organization through green employer branding. This can evoke a sense of pride in working for a company with a reputable environmental stance.
  • Ecological Criteria in Selection: Another criterion involves assessing and selecting candidates based on ecological criteria. This approach highlights environmental aspects in job descriptions and employee specifications, thereby emphasizing the organization’s commitment to ecological considerations.

Green training

Training, being a pivotal realm to arise the company’s green culture, plays a vital role in raising awareness towards environmental values. It contributes to fostering a community of employees attuned to ecological issues and advocates for positive changes. Green training cultivates an environment that encourages all employees to actively engage in green initiatives

Green performance management

By establishing a set of green criteria, it is possible to create a comprehensive system for evaluating and providing feedback on employees’ activities.

Green pay and reward

Both material and non-material incentives have an impact on employees’ motivation. Recognition with ecological undertones fosters a sense of pride among colleagues and more effectively fuels environmentally-driven initiatives  

Although the realm of GHRM warrants further exploration, literature suggests that a sustainable management approach leads to heightened employee engagement, ecologically conscious behavior, and environmental performance. Furthermore, on an organizational level, sustainable management can enhance productivity and overall performance (Siram & Suba 2017).

In conclusion, while these practices are not yet fully embraced, it is evident that through green initiatives, HR can serve as a driving force to address sustainability challenges within the organization.


[1] Manuti, A., Impedovo, M. A., & De Palma, P. D. (2017). Managing social and human capital in organizations: Communities of practices as strategic tools for individual and organizational development. Journal of workplace learning29(3), 217-234.

[2] Paulet, R., Holland, P., & Morgan, D. (2021). A meta‐review of 10 years of green human resource management: is Green HRM headed towards a roadblock or a revitalisation?. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources59(2), 159-183.

[3] Sriram, V.P. and Suba, M. (2017), “Impact of Green human resource management (G-HRM) practices over organization effectiveness”, Journal of Advanced Research in Dynamical and Control Systems, Vol. 7, Special isuue, pp. 386-394.

[3] Tang, G., Chen, Y., Jiang, Y., Paillé, P., & Jia, J. (2018). Green human resource management practices: scale development and validity. Asia pacific journal of human resources56(1), 31-55.

[4]Opatha, H. H. D. N. P. and Anton Arulrajah, A. (2014). “Green Human Resource Management: Simplified General Reflections”.International Business Research, Vol. 7, No. 8, pp. 101-112. Oxford English Mini Dictionary (2007). 7thedi, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

*This article is an original work of Rocco Giuliano

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