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Sustainable Practices in the Public Sector: How Can Human Resource Managers Pivot the Conversation from Discussion Towards Real Action?

pieces of puzzleSince the last decade, the conversation about eco-friendly and sustainable practices has taken the forefront in many organizations. This is due to the notion that good social responsibility is based on the dichotomous nature of managing our natural environment with our human existence. Many natural resources that are available in limited quantities will not remain at current levels, thus requiring us to take positive action towards promoting sustainability. As Barnes (2013) pointed out, the bio-centric and eco-centric views of ecological literacy support a paradigm in which human systems are nestled within natural systems; thus human communities sustain and enhance, instead of degrade the natural systems on which they depend.

Many organizations both in the public sector as well as the private sector have come to terms with assigning human resources the strategic task to move from daily mundane administrative functions towards planning and implementing eco-friendly polices that are sustainable internally and externally. The action should be towards leading by example as many local government organizations must educate the general public through their environmental department. The requirement to begin the process includes expert internal input from environmental managers who must work collaboratively with the human resources manager and the organization’s attorney. This strategy will ensure all laws are being adhered to while suggestions towards any future implementation of initiatives are not so over-reaching as to cause harm or be invasive in terms of citizens’ rights to make their own decisions. This could be challenging for the community on a whole, as any game changer could be construed as walking a tightrope where there is a need to balance what is best for the society with individual rights and desires.

The requirement to move towards an assessment of the current workforce within each organization will require a human resource audit that will determine who is needed and their desired skill sets to perform any new functions, as well as what metrics will be put in place to measure outcomes. According to Mathis and Jackson (2003), as human resource planners gain an understanding of the current and future jobs that will be necessary to carry out new organizational plans, they can make a detailed audit of current employees and their capabilities. In a human resources internal assessment of the organizational workforce, the data should reveal answers to a number of questions such as:

• What jobs exist now that may require new or additional job descriptions?

• How many individuals are performing each job?

• How essential is each job within each department?

• Is the organization cross training in related job skills?

• What jobs will be needed to implement eco-friendly organizational strategies?

• What are the characteristics of anticipated jobs and how will this enhance sustainability?

Once these human resources needs are clearly identified, the next step would be towards availability in terms of internal and external supplies. The internal selection should be based on current skill sets, experience and education while external selection would best be suited to those with environmental experience that would prove essential to the organization’s implementation of any eco-friendly initiatives. The emphasis therefore is towards helping individuals, communities and the society as a whole, and it is rooted in the notion of cultivating and enhancing a deeper sense of moral and social responsibility that is deemed sustainable. Sustainability in terms of Earth care, economies of nurture and ecology is the desirable outcome that enhances every other action that is deemed desirable.

So what are some local government agencies doing to move the conversation towards action and solid sustainable outcomes? The environmental manager in unison with the human resources manager is able to work with external partners to create policies that reward employees for adhering to recycling. These initiatives are based on community involvement where staff members are able to go out to local schools to educate the students about recycling initiatives that compensate their clubs for adhering to the process. Other ideas have been city marketing departments working with human resources and private partners towards a point system in collection of recyclable materials, and the ability to donate points to nonprofit organizations. Other eco-friendly initiatives are using the methane gas from local waste disposals as an energy source for running a variety of local government operations. Sustainability is also highlighted through local government partnerships with nonprofits to clean up creeks and streams and remove unsightly debris, thus inviting a variety of wildlife to the area. This also enhances biking and nature trails for the community to enjoy and be proud of for years to come. One of the most innovative aspects of this initiative is based on the environmental and parks department frequently hosting local events that take the community through the recycling process from collection and sorting to new products made from recycled materials, thus creating further buy-in to the process and embracing this notion of sustainability. These illustrations are not all inclusive, but do give a snapshot of eco-friendly and sustainable practices in the public sector.

This discussion has brought up the ongoing interaction between public sector human resources mangers and the new responsibilities to discover skill sets that will prove to be a necessity as well as being very desirable. This clearly points out that when there is less emphasis on daily mundane administrative functions, it frees up the human resources professional to work out and implement plans and processes that elevate the organization to a level of social responsibility that is sustainable. As Robbins and Judge (2007) stated, these human resources practices influence an organization’s effectiveness. This occurs through working with internal and external customers where every action that is necessary to adhere to is documented in a policy handbook with the option to tweak and improve processes to ensure ongoing eco-friendly and sustainable practices in the public sector. In context, human resources is therefore responsible for foraging a strong partnership that provides value to support the organization on an ongoing basis.


Author: Horace Blake has served three full terms as HOA Commissioner for the City of Carrollton and has occupied an advisory role in matters relating to human resources issues under the direction of the City Attorney. Blake have a total of 25 years in Human Resources Management in the private sector and has volunteered with the county and the state in the capacity of teaching the youths on career management and job search techniques. Currently Blake serves on the City’s Storm Water Management Board along with being a DPA Candidate. As a member of ASPA, he is the Treasurer for the Section on Public Law and Administration. 


Image courtesy of http://www.evolutionmgt.com/index.php/Conducting-an-HR-Audit.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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