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The world is going green – from activists who want to save the planet and influence climate change, to those who are yearning for a simpler, less stressed and complicated lifestyle. We are bombarded by green messages at all levels – what to eat and how to have a greener lifestyle.

What is the impact of going green on how people work and perform in organisations? Green is not only the physical, tangible changes we have to make to save the planet, influence global warming, and control our carbon emissions, but it is also a state of mind. This is a sense of renewal for organisational performance practices by considering how green the organisational HR and performance practices are. People are continually reminded to perform better, utilise time more efficiently, use technology smarter, and have a work-life balance, but how does this link to the green way that is advertised and promoted everywhere?

Performance is inextricably linked to a green world because there is a fine balance between performance sustainability and the external as well as the internal risk indicators. The diagram in Figure 1 indicates the impact.

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Figure 1.  Performance sustainability approach

Green performance sustainability approach and performance improvement methodology

Many factors will influence a decision to move to a greener HR approach or strategy. A review of the past HR carbon footprint should influence a future strategy to address the impact on the environment and the impact on people practices. As an organisation, the focus should be on green performance results for internal and external clients and all stakeholders in the results and value chain.

Green performance framework

When analysing all the processes in the green human capital performance model, it is important to adopt a systems approach to operationalise such a new mind set. The model in Figure 2 indicates how a total performance system can be applied to achieve sustainable green HR practices.

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Figure 2.  Green human capital framework

Conditions and environments: The deliverables and the business objectives will be continuously monitored and evaluated against changes and conditions in the environment i.e. scanning the environment; planning scenarios; and taking cognisance of legislation, technology, socio-political and economic factors directly affecting the organisational green strategy.

Outputs: The major deliverables of the green performance model should be to decrease the HR carbon footprint by streamlining all the processes in the HR value chain as well as continuously scanning the environment proactively for changes and opportunities that will affect green business objectives and results.

Process steps: The deliverables should be achieved as set out in a business plan incorporating all the green processes and systems. Each process step should integrate its own subsystem of greenness, which means that the entire value chain will reflect the new strategy as an end-to-end total green system.

Inputs (resources): The value-adds and results to be achieved in the green human capital model will depend on the availability of and access to resources that align with organisational green strategy and supply chain. Additionally, given the scope and vastness of such an initiative, it is necessary to have access to appropriate resources to operationalise the green business objectives. HR leadership is co-responsible for achieving this model and to ensure its sustainability. It is also important that a green audit be carried out on the resource allocation regularly to assess the ongoing viability of the operational plan.

Receiving systems (internal and external clients): The sustainability of the green performance model is dependent on the value proposition to the business. Appropriate sign-off, commitment, and responsibilities of each element in the receiving system are critical to the success of this model.

Value chain

How will the green performance sustainability model be integrated with the day-to-day business?  The value chain of a green performance–driven HR model should consider the negative performance effects by recycling. In a green world we are reminded to recycle with both positive and negative consequences. In the day-to-day human capital value chain, we are interpreting and implementing business strategy, workforce planning, recruiting and selection, onboarding, talent management, performance management, succession planning, career planning, and further life strategic planning. All these activities ultimately either provide positive or negative performance.  And these performances either provide results or waste and should be recycled to maintain a neutral carbon footprint. This stretches the mind—but if we continually focus on the end result to provide positive outcomes rather than fulfilling just activities in the human capital value chain, we will keep on producing performance waste. Figure 3 explains this.

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Figure 3. Positive/negative green human capital recycling

When determining the desired outcomes and expectations with management of a green HR model and people practices, what are the expectations of management? How does this align with our organisational green strategy? Is management still driven just by results, or are they equipped to deal with the total person? Conducting a green HR carbon footprint audit will determine the total performance waste of all the HR functions that impact the entire organisation.

An example: Is it a green practice for employees to be wasting time in traffic congestion during peak hours? This has a tremendous un-green knock-on effect and creates performance waste.

Opportunities for change

What are the opportunities to set a new strategy to incorporate greenness into the human capital and talent management plan? These questions to consider are:

  1. What is the human capital carbon footprint of the organisation? How effective and efficient are we in the way we deal with HR issues? What is the legacy we will take into the future? Are we setting a green example in the industry by doing more with less?
  2. How green are our talent management practices? How well do we treat our people? Do they live our vision, and do we really care about them?
  3. How “green and lean” are our recruitment and retention strategies? Are these in line with world-class practices? How well do we manage and sustain performance?
  4. How green is our reward and recognition system? Does this reflect that we care about performance and productivity in a green way? Does our wellness strategy support these green practices? Do we reward employees in a green way for community development work?
  5. Are our business management processes green in the way that supports efficient and productive workflow? How well can we scale down and improve and maintain performance?
  6. Do our learning and development practices support a green approach to people development? What renewal strategies do we have to introduce? Can we do more with less? What are the green technologies we can use to accomplish this?

With the above questions answered, we can conduct a performance sustainability checklist to gather more specific information for change.


  • Does your organisation have a standpoint on green issues?
  • Does the organisation have an explicit green strategy?
  • Is it in line with the corporate culture?
  • Do policies, programs, and practices match the organisation’s standpoint on green sustainable performance issues?
  • Does the organisation measure its carbon footprint?
  • Is the organisation engaged in any green initiatives?
  • Is the organisation considered to be an example on green issues in its industry sector?
  • Does the organisation put marketing emphasis on its green products and value proposition?
  • How are green issues communicated internally to employees? And externally to customers?
  • Does the organisation create positions specifically to deal with green issues, e.g., environmental scientists or green performance architects?
  • Is HR involved in environmental governance and practice?
  • Is HR equipped to play a role?
  • Do you see links between HR work and green sustainable performance issues?

The action steps in Figure 4 will set us on our way to think differently about green performance sustainability and provide an opportunity to be ready today rather than sometimes planning too much for the future.   

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Figure 4. Action steps for sustainability

Finally, we can plan a global message through a performance sustainability journey for social impact, business impact, people impact, and systems impact to effect change. Figure 5 provides ideas for indicators, perspectives, and technologies for consideration in this change messaging process.

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Figure 5. Sustainability journey

If you would like to know more about what we do, please visit our website or connect with Belia Nel on LinkedIn.

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