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Impact of Green Human Resource Management on Employee Behavior

  • 16 Pages
  • Published On: 12-12-2023
Chapter 2: Exploring Green HRM at the University

Renwick (2018) states that Green Human Resource Management (GHRM) focuses on employing the indirect links between firstly, organisations that adopt pro-GHRM practices in order to change the employees’ behaviour towards an enhanced care while they use energy resource and secondly, the employees undertaking more recycling and conducting a better waste management (Renwick, 2018). He further observes that such practices are staff-based actions that would eventually help the planet in the form of gradual reduction of emission, of pollution of local water suppliers and of organisations’ demands and needs (Renwick, 2018). The need to protect the natural world and the resources is becoming one of the urgent priorities for the society, managers and policy makers. GRHM practices facilitate employees' collective engagement in regard to environment protection. Such practices are conducive for employees’ voluntary behaviours towards the environment (Pinzone, Guerci, Lettieri, & Redman, 2016). This GHRM workplace intervention can be seen as a means to justify the end goal of helping the society indirectly reduce climate change (Renwick, 2018). This means is applicable in the university context where, as Anwar and colleagues (2020) observed, universities are showing slow and inefficient environmental performance, which consequently demands behavioural change in employees (Anwar, et al., 2020).

Anwar and colleagues (2020) studied the influence of GHRM practices, including green competence building practices, green employee involvement practices and green motivation enhancing practices upon the behaviour of employees and staff of a university campus and their impact on environmental performance. They found a significant relationship between such behaviour and the environmental performance. Such behaviour served as a means through which GHRM practices positively influence the environmental performance. The behaviour of university staff plays a critical role for improving the university’s environmental performance (Anwar, et al., 2020). In relevance, GHRM practices are linked with a university’s priority to attain sustainability. It is observed by Jeronimo and colleagues (2020) that green HR practices form part of a sustainable strategy. Such practices may influence the perception of the staff and students in regard to a university priority towards sustainability. Such practices may include green hiring or green training (Jerónimo, et al., 2020).


“A higher educational institution, in its entirety or part, that addresses, involved and introduce, on a regional or a global level, minimize of negative environment, economy, social, and health effects generated in their resource utilization in order to complete to its functions teaching, research, outreach and partnership, and inside supervision ways to help society make the transfer for sustainable lifestyle” (Velazquez, Munguia, Platt, & Taddei, 2006).

Velazquez and his colleagues (2006) state that the sustainable university model provides a clear perspective about the manner people achieve their initial momentum of sustainability initiatives and progress to the advanced steps towards becoming a sustainable university (Velazquez, Munguia, Platt, & Taddei, 2006). They, however, found that raising awareness levels about sustainability is a key function of the policies. Such improved awareness does not guarantee translation into successful implementation (Velazquez, Munguia, Platt, & Taddei, 2006). This finding is similar to that of Shiel and Smith (2016). Lacking in awareness indicates universities lack of willingness to pursue the objective of a sustainable university model. Alternative, it may also indicate a restraint on the universities in terms of lack of legislative will to make sustainability policies governing universities and political will to fund research and other programmes.

The findings are indications of the reformative steps that could be taken to address universities’ sustainability guidelines and objectives. This is especially important given the role of universities in achieving the GHRM standards and objectives. For instance, the first climate emergency declaration was made from the Bristol University in April 2019. Some 500 students signed a petition urging the university to show commitment to sustainability. The University itself declared that there is a strong connection between mental health issues experienced by students and climate change anxiety (BBC, 2019). After the climate emergency declaration, there were over 20 UK Universities that formally made the declaration by January 2020 (Claire Hoolohan, et al., 2021). Claire Hoolohan and her colleagues examined sustainability policies of 66 UK universities in order to determine whether or not their planning and action commensurate with climate emergency declarations. The study focussed on the universities’ treatment of Scope 3 emissions and they focussed on long-distance business travel and catering as two intensive sources of the emissions (Claire Hoolohan, et al., 2021). The findings are similar with that of Shiel and Smith (2016) and Kosta (2016) that state that there is a gap between the policies and the greening effort. Claire Hoolohan and her colleagues found that there is no uniform standard that universities must comply in regard to thie sustainability goals (Claire Hoolohan, et al., 2021). For example, even though many universities sense their responsibility towards reduction in fewer trips and modal shift, they have underreported long-distance travel emissions. Few of the universities have targets and action plans designed for reducing air travel. Only 12 out of 66 universities had quantitative targets for reducing emissions (Claire Hoolohan, et al., 2021).

The study by Claire Hoolohan and her colleagues found that universities do not have uniform scale of emissions reduction and the targets, timelines to achieve the targets, nature of the target set, and types of reductions in emissions, absolute or relative (Claire Hoolohan, et al., 2021). They found that universities have histories of underreporting. This was seen in the focus area of catering activities of the universities. There is a lack of standardised reporting boundaries with challenges in obtaining data (Claire Hoolohan, et al., 2021). There is no uniform set of reporting with a few excluding hospitality and catering services on campus and some including only services managed by the University Catering Service, for instance Cambridge University, which also excludes emissions from its independently managed college (Claire Hoolohan, et al., 2021).

Irrespective of the content of the climate emergency declarations, universities do not seem to give primacy importance to the sustainability policies and objectives. The case of underreporting and that of lack of uniformity in standards applied to achieve the policies’ targets show that it is not necessarily that universities’ policy targets follow climate emergency declarations. Hence, the targets are not a representation of the content of the declaration.

GHRM intervention in Universities

GHRM can be seen as a system of policies and practices that governs employees of an organisation in order to guide the organisation towards environmentally sensitivity, resource efficiency and socially responsible workplace. In regard to universities, some may argue that GHRM practices may not find relevance with the working of the universities as they produce relatively lower emission than the corporate sector (Anwar, et al., 2020). Rayner and Morgan (2018), however, observed that universities have considerable responsibility to contribute to environmental awareness (Rayner & Morgan, 2018). Universities can conduct research and educate current and future generations about the importance of pro-GHRM practices. Rayner and Morgan (2018) assessed the theory of self‐perceptions of ability, motivation and opportunity (AMO) in regard to employees’ green behaviours. They observed that AMOs that are pro‐environmental can positively induced employees’ green behaviours (Rayner & Morgan, 2018). However, this aspect was found more prevalent at home rather in the workplace. They found that even though line managers could migrate the relationship between pro‐environmental AMO and the green behaviour of employees, they could not in regard to the relationship between environmental knowledge and green behaviour (Rayner & Morgan, 2018).

This is a gap where further organisations could work to leverage environmental knowledge in implementing green behaviour. Such gap sets further standards for making informed HRM policies and practices and directs GHRM interventions and management. One example that could elaborate further on this is that of the Bournemouth University. It adopted a campus-greening approach since 2005. In 2014, it appointed an Environmental Manager or a Sustainability Manager. It formed an Environment Strategy Committee with greater academic representation. Policy documents specified commitment to education for sustainable development (Shiel & Smith, 2016). However, Shiel and Smith (2016) observed that maintaining the momentum is difficult. They further observed that the university had several courses, for example, the MSc Green Economy, in place, which had less consideration of sustainability. There was a lack of extending further engagement in the form of raising the profile of the academic agenda and to align with the campus greening efforts (Shiel & Smith, 2016, p. 16). This is an example of challenges that universities could face while implementing sustainability plans.

Katerina Kosta explored the literature on sustainability research as presented in the UK university sustainability policies. She observed that the polices do not reflect the ground reality (Kosta, 2016, p. 263). She explored the sustainability policies of thirty UK universities considered the ‘greenest’ by the People and Planet University League 2015, and their conceptualization of sustainability research. She found estates and operations are the most popular themes presented in the policies, with research occupying the secondary position (Kosta, 2016, p. 263). She found that research is associated with creating new sustainability research centres and how to generate impact and funding. She found regional government legislation affecting the content of the policies. For instance, regions that are with Education for Sustainable Development implementation have higher sustainability uptake in the concerned universities (Kosta, 2016, p. 263). It could be observed that the basic challenge faced by universities in regard to GHRM is less intensity in academic engagement level where the policies are not aligned with the efforts invested. This seems to have been caused by the lack of uniform strategy and collaboration to that effect between and by the universities. The problem is further enhanced by lack of government support in the form of sponsored research and further funding. The basic problem, as highlighted by Richard (2020), seems to be that sustainable human resource management is mostly employer-driven exercises in order to raise employee productivity. Richard found and recommended that it should rather be employee-centred. Richards’ concept demands a wider recognition of other employee-based stakeholders in promoting green agendas.

Organisational behaviour towards green and sustainability initiatives

Institutions of higher education (IHEs) set multiple goals including high quality education, promoting research in various disciplines and enhancing the general community welfare. IHEs aim to create value functions that could translate the outputs in the form of teaching, research, and service into a measure of value that IHEs could maximise (Stafford, 2011). IHEs aims to make these outputs sustainable. Stafford (2011) observes that Institutions that focus on sustainability initiatives would have their alumni’s willingness to donate. Sustainable practices contribute to the society and this could increase its value function. Such practices may attract higher quality faculty and students thereby increasing the quality of the teaching and research activities (Stafford, 2011).

The role of an organisation is important to attain gaols of sustainability initiatives. The behaviour of the organisation determines whether sustainability and green agenda are prioritise and achievable. GHRM practices aim to develop a sustainable environment friendly work behaviour that contribute to the society at large. In order to attain this position, the role of stakeholders such as the employees in an organisation, faculty and alumni in universities and the community surrounding the institution play a key role. This is where the role of human resource management (HRM) comes into effect.

There has been an increasing interest in CSR in the modern society, which stems from the growing pressure upon the organizations from the governments, customers, communities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Firms must be more responsible and more involved addressing social and environmental concerns (Smith, 2003; Moir, 2001). Hirsig, Rogovsky and Elkin observe that the function of human resource management works towards developing a sustainable organization. Such function is positioned in order to facilitate organizations to become socially more responsible. The sustainability of an organisation is primarily connected with the knowledge, skills and energy of the human resource workforce. Investment in the human resource function will lead to the organisation attaining its environmental, social and economic goals. The quality of the human resource management (HRM) and the workplace practices determine the performance and productivity of the organisation (Hirsig, Rogovsky, & Elkin, 2014).

Podgorodnichenko, Edgar and McAndrew, while exploring the role of HRM in developing sustainable organisations and the challenges, observed that HRM provides strategic support, organizational stakeholder HRM's role in promoting and developing a sustainable workforce, employee advocacy, and social support. HRM attempts that employees and organisations deliver CSR goals. HR professionals must ensure sufficient development of employees' abilities, enhancement of their motivation, and appropriate opportunities are afforded. This will enable successful attainment of CSR agenda (Podgorodnichenko, Edgar, & McAndrew, 2020). The HR department is playing an important role to inculcate the culture of sustainability (Harmon, et al., 2010). Such culture focuses on employees’ environmental behaviour (Muster & Schrader, 2011). Promoting the culture of sustainability includes gaining reputation as a green employer to attract high-quality employees, such as when The Rover Group carmaker, in Britain, stressed on environmental responsibilities and qualifications (Phillips, 2007; Wehrmeyer, 1996). It includes green recruitment focussed on prospects with knowledge, skills and behaviours aligned with environmental management system. It includes set performance objectives of employees to include company’s sustainability objectives (Ahmad, 2015). It includes integrating environmental performance into performance management and installing green information systems/audits (Epstein & Roy, 1997; Marcus & Fremeth, 2009).

Muster and Schrader (2011) observed that employees must act as producers and consumers in order that GHRM could meet its full potential. The reason is that employees learn different kinds of behaviour at both the workplace and in private life (Muster & Schrader, 2011). In this context, a concept of ‘green work-life balance concept’ may facilitate an environmentally friendly behaviour amongst the employees. This may bring employee motivation and the retention of their jobs and build an sustainability conscious corporate culture which will impact both family and societal life (Muster & Schrader, 2011).

In this regard, the role of HRM comes at the forefront as a strategic partner and as a value-added function in order to recognise the importance of green practices, undertake environmentally friendly activities, bring innovation in the existing processes, and align its practices with the policy contents. However, organisations must ensure that its HR has the right personal with the right experience to undertake all these activities. The reason being that a study conducted by Yong and Mohd-Yusoff (2016) involving smaller companies, found that the HR competencies of a credible activist, capability builder, innovator and integrator and technology proponent were found insignificantly related to GHRM practices adoption. They found that most of the companies surveyed had less than ten HR employees, which limits their capabilities to work on the competencies. Moreover, the limited HR experiences were not sufficient to be talking about the mentioned competencies. There was a lack of support from the management into integrating HR practices and sustainability initiatives (Yong & Mohd-Yusoff, 2016). If only the situation was different to place the HR at the centre of GHRM activities, there would have been a greater impact of GHRM. For example, HR can take the lead in implementing and integrating green initiatives in organisational’s agenda. HR can promote technical and management skills amongst the employees so as an effective corporate green management system is implemented (Daily, et al., 2009).

If the employees are environmentally conscious, they have more likelihood to voluntarily behave in an environment-friendly manner at workplace. They may voluntarily undertake more responsibilities beyond their job duties. Green recruitment and training and development programs have positive impact in making employees equipped with necessary skills and expertise in regard to environment management (Alnajdawi, Emeagwali, & Elrehail, 2017). In addition, the practices of green marketing fosters a culture of environmental responsibility and sustainability in both the business and society by informing and raising awareness and educating and shaping consumers’ behaviour (Kardos, et al., 2019). Such practices involve creating new products and services that address consumer’s demand for quality while addressing minimal adverse environmental and social impacts; creating brands offering benefits and empowering consumers in regard to issues affecting their lives; and promoting product reasonable use and disposal practices to name a few (Ottman, 2017).

Thus, there is a significant relationship between an organisation’s green motivation and initiatives and organisational behaviour towards the environment sustainability. In the context of universities, a culture of sharing specific environmental targets with the academic staff brings in the staff a realisation of direction and enforcement towards attaining the environmental objectives of their concerned university. It also increases staff’s motivation to invest extra effort towards achieving the sustainability objectives (Pinzone, Guerci, Lettieri, & Redman, 2016). Thus, management policies that integrate environmental aspects will motivate and increase the willingness of concerned stakeholders, whether it be employees or staff, to make voluntary environmental efforts.

The focus on staff or employees as stakeholders in sustainability initiatives bring the primary role of them in attaining the objectives of GHRM practices. Brinkhu and fellow researchers in 2001 assessed the sustainability initiatives of universities across Canada and the USA. They found that it was the faculty and staff members who were the critical leaders in regard to the efforts of attaining campus sustainability (Brinkhurst, Rose, Maurice, & Ackerman, 2011). They also, however, found that the conventional portrayals of the campus sustainability initiatives often obscure this finding. They therefore suggest that more attention must be given to the potential of faculty and staff leadership (Brinkhurst, Rose, Maurice, & Ackerman, 2011). This finding appears to offer a challenge in implementing sustainability initiatives. The role of the faculty and the staff members are not given their due consideration. As such, the identification of stakeholders in the sustainability initiatives could be stated to be done inappropriately.

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Basic challenges

The discussion so far has shown the increasing importance and urgency of integrating principles and practices of sustainable development in human resource management policies and strategies. It has also identified the universities as one of the stakeholders in promoting the principles and practices towards a sustainable society. Filho and fellow researcher recognise the role of the universities in this aspect. They observed that universities have critical roles in disseminating sustainability principles and translation them into practice. (Filho, Shiel, & Paço, 2015). This makes sense given that they are becoming more aware of the impact of the environment. However, they explored how universities can translate the awareness and education of sustainable development into an effective practice (Filho, Shiel, & Paço, 2015). This is particularly important given that the discussion earlier show a gap between the educational participation and environmental commitment. Filho and his fellow researcher observed that irrespective of the apparent need to for universities to develop holistic approaches to sustainability, there are only a few universities that have integrated education for sustainable development across their entire curriculum (Filho, Shiel, & Paço, 2015). This means that even though universities may have relevant policies in place, it does not mean they are implemented (H & F, 2014). Universities are increasingly becoming important medium to drive environmental education, the lack of integrated education poses challenges in promoting sustainability. Having such integrated education require interdisciplinary solutions, which universities may not be found lacking in building such solution (S, S, & M., 2005).

The challenges faced by universities in their sustainability initiatives are rightly observed by Sharp (2002). He observed that universities face a number of complex challenges. The challenges of environmental sustainability are complex in that they require changes in all the spheres of university business (Sharp, 2002). Such changes will require all the multiple stakeholders, including students, alumni, faculty, government, and administration. Their requirement would be exerting pressures for the concerned change (Sharp, 2002). Universities must especially establish an environment working group in order to undertake decisions, implement and control programmes and address any environmental concerns (Sharp, 2002). This requirement presents the insufficiency as universities lack behind in the required efforts. Any transformation is possible when the majority stakeholders formulate different priorities and concerned routines and structures (Sharp, 2002).

The discussion so far has presented the most basic requirement, which is itself the most basic challenge, which universities need to undertake. They must have an integrated approach to sustainable development. However, this does not seem to be the case here. The role of the universities is increasingly pivotal in delivering efficient sustainable green initiatives. Despite this understanding, there has been a constant challenge about implementing an interdisciplinary approach, which call for a uniform standard of practices across the universities. Further problem is caused by challenges of translating policies into efficient practices. There are challenges in the form of a lack of support in terms of funding of research and programmes; of academic reward systems; uniform discipline sustainability culture, practices and policies; and of constant failure to recognise the importance, urgency or scope of work required.


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