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Sustainable strategies integration in the HR field

Updated: May 4, 2022

Potentiality and need for competitiveness in a rapidly changing market

By Agnese Anselmo


Agnese Anselmo is a Talent Acquisition & Sustainability Trainee at 'Prima Industrie SPA' and Executive Board Member & HR Recruiter at 'Centro Studi Internazionali'. Given her interest and competency in sustainability issues, 'SET Padova' is pleased to publish her first article on our blog, focusing on the link between HR and sustainability.

Her article inaugurates the economic sub-track of the blog's new section - 'EcoVirAl'. ‘EcoVirAl’ is an acronym for the ‘Economic, EnVironmental, and SociAl’ dimensions of sustainable development. Professor Robert Goodland proposed such a categorization in three dimensions in 1995. The European Union adopted it in its definition of sustainable development.

‘EcoVirAl’ will publish blog articles on all those three dimensions. Each week focuses on one of them. The pieces are not fully-fledged scientific ones, but they retain a degree of technicality. The language of the articles is usually English, even if it is possible to publish in Italian too occasionally. In such a case, the editors will provide a translation.

Enjoy your second reading!

HR and sustainability

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the central role of companies, of all sizes and sectors, in responding to global challenges through responsible conduct, innovation, and collaboration. There is this recognition because businesses play a fundamental role in ensuring economic growth and job creation, and their activities directly impact the territory in which they operate. Indeed, today they are called upon to contribute to sustainable development and promote long-term economic, social, and environmental goals [1].

Still, how can these goals be put into action? Companies must integrate them into business processes and corporate culture. Regarding the latter, we should keep in mind that companies are made up of people, who must assimilate and accept the new sustainability strategies into their habits. Today, the HR function plays a fundamental role as a facilitator and guide for sustainable transition - but why is it so? Because the HR function is cross-functional and works with all other business functions. It plays a central role in the company and provides a global view of the company's needs and its employees. HR can facilitate dialogue between managers and employees and contribute to changing organizational culture [2].

Image retrieved from 'The HR transformation journey: Transactional to strategic' (John Hansen) in 'People Matters', available at

In order to achieve the green transformation in companies, it is necessary that the HR function, in collaboration with the other functions, help spread the values of sustainability in the culture, behaviors, and daily business and individual practices [3], focusing on the active engagement of employees. In this sense, it is essential to work on employee training on sustainability issues and on the professional skills that need to be updated or acquired to implement the new processes. This can be done, for example, through the use of digital tools, among other means.

A further element to insist on is the reward system based on the achievement of work-related goals that recognize the individual's commitment to implementing sustainable strategies. Clearly informing and involving employees in new business initiatives is also essential for a change. This is because employees are key stakeholders in the transition to sustainability and essential for achieving and sustaining business success [4]. In this process, communication becomes relevant and should be an open dialogue with employees, providing space for their doubts and feedback and focusing on individual responsibility.

There are also corporate initiatives that have an impact on the community, such as those aimed at reducing CO2 emissions in home-work journeys or reducing individual waste such as plastic. Here, the HR function can become a spokesperson for promoting policies that provide incentives to recognize employees' commitment to greener lifestyles even outside the workplace [5]. For example, at the company level, carpooling and the use of public transportation or bicycles should be encouraged. Another measure is the integration of agile work options, such as smart working, which helps better balance private and work life and impacts CO2 reduction.

In human resources management, sustainability orientation is implemented through all measures related to people's development, motivation, and well-being in the work context[6]. It is important to take actions that promote greener habits, but also those policies that impact equity, career development, employee health, and strengthen well-being within the company. If a company works on these measures and makes an effort to communicate internally and externally, it will gain reputation. A green mindset influences the idea that the company cares about the well-being of its employees because it is not only profit-driven but also adopts practices that have a positive impact on the people and the community in which it is located [7]. This is a 'boomerang' effect because a good reputation affects the talent attraction, and the company can benefit from lower staff turnover. As for customers, nowadays, more and more employees are looking for companies that care about well-being and work-life balance and are concerned about social and environmental issues.


In conclusion, the integration of sustainable strategies, including in the human resources area - leading to the development of the HR function in the digital and green HR areas - has become an inevitable step for any company willing to remain competitive in a rapidly changing market. However, the green transition is a complex and varied process and not every initiative works for everyone. To be realistic, one should define what actions can be implemented and tailored on the most valued sustainable goals that the company wants to achieve, based on the type of business.

Written by Agnese Anselmo

Edited by Nicolò Palmieri

Pictures courtesy of Agnese Anselmo

Agnese Anselmo works as a Talent Acquisition & Sustainability Trainee at Prima Industrie SPA. She is also Executive Board Member & HR Recruiter at Centro Studi Internazionali, an Italian Think Tank focusing on International and Italian Affairs. Agnese holds a Master's Degree in International Relations from the University of Turin, Italy.

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[1]“Imprese sostenibili”, International Labour Organization, available at

[2]“Role of HR in sustainable businesses”, RMIT University, 2017, available at

[3]“Sustainable HRM: un nuovo paradigma per la gestione delle risorse umane?”, M. Martini, MaUnimib, 2016, available at

[4]Sustainability as an employee motivator”, RMIT University, 2017, available at

[5]“Sostenibilità delle Risorse Umane”, 2020, available at

[6]“CSR Manager e Direttore del Personale Un’alleanza per la gestione sostenibile delle Risorse Umane”, M. Pedrini, M. Guerci, M. Molteni, S. Bertolini, CSR Manager network Italia, 2011, p.19, available at

[7]Sustainability as an employee motivator”, RMIT University, 2017, available at

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