Article (November-2018)


HR in the age of sustainable development

Praveen Sinha

Designation : -   Ex - Head HR Center of Excellence

Organization : -  Escorts Ltd., Faridabad


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Sustainable development tries to make sense of the interconnections of three complex systems, namely, the world economy, the global society and our mother earth's physical environment. To summarize, sustainable development is a central theme for our age and the generations to come. It is both, a way of understanding the world and a method for solving global problems relating to economic, social and environment.
The term sustainable development means different things to different people. But, in essence, it is concerned with meeting the needs of people today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development therefore involves :
I. A broad view of social, environmental and economic outcomes.
II. A long-term perspective, concerned with the interests and rights of future generations as well as of people today.
III. An inclusive approach to action, which recognizes the need for all people to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives.
I have no intention to cast a grim picture, but I do owe a responsibility to repeat here what has already been stated at various forums in India, overseas including United Nations on the issue of Sustainable development.
Our world is under severe tension and pressure and most of us are experiencing the same…across the world for quite some time. Poverty and hunger continues its havoc on human life. Climate change threatens our livelihoods…particularly India farmers…the recent floods easily draw our attention. Conflicts within the society and differences on the issue of world trades are constantly increasing and it looks like unstoppable, if something constructive is not done. Also the inequalities, not limited to gender inequalities, are also dividing societies and giving rise to class struggle.
Dr. R A Mashelkar (FRS FREng, FIChemE is an Indian Chemical engineer and a former Director General of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, a chain of 38 publicly funded industrial research and development institutions in India, Padma Shri-1991 and Padma Bhushan -2000) once mentioned at it is extremely relevant in the given context :
A new thinking is particularly important in order to resolve the tension between two irreconcilable trends, namely, demographic projections that the world population will reach 10 to 12 billion by the year 2050; and scientific estimates that the earth's long-term sustainable carrying capacity at an adequate standard of living may not be much greater than 2 to 3 billion. Unsustainable lifestyles on the part of a few and unacceptable poverty on the party of many is going to create a crisis of unbelievable dimensions and can be resolved only by taking recourse to human centered development. In the new human - centered development, the balance of five Es, namely, ecology, environment, economics, equity and ethics will have to be achieved. The word 'equity' must be substituted with 'dignity' and this can come only through the process of self - employment, which alone can bring self - empowerment. The new engineers and technologists can make this happen.
Former Secretary - General, United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon once mentioned that the real solutions exist in the global fight against poverty, hunger and disease. We have technologies and the know-how to succeed. With the dedicated efforts of each and every one of us, we can be the first generation to end extreme poverty, inequalities and the last generation to face climate change as existential threats.
There is an underlying appeal to all of us who are presently occupying some space on this earth…your energy and participation can help lead the way to the age of sustainable development. Together, we can build a future of shared prosperity and a life of dignity for all.
Humanity…people take the centre stage when we talk about the sustainable development and it resonates well with HR vision…long term objectives, which go beyond managing the day to day simple to complex HR processes.
I am raising a debate…HR may examine the inclusion of the following in their Vision…long term plan under the aegis of sustainable development…giving back to the society - list is only illustrative and not exhaustive :
  • Principles of Good governance.
  • Forces of increasing inequalities.
  • Urban-Rural inequality.
  • Approach to human development.
  • Social mobility.
  • Role of higher education in technological advance.
  • The role of culture - demography, education and gender.
  • Measuring well being.
  • Employee education on Sustainable development, particularly on human induced climate change.
Principles of Good governance : Good governance (ACCOUNTABILITY, TRANSPARENCY AND PARTICIPATION) is about the rules of behavior and it will play an important role in success of Sustainable development. An example : 'Polluter pay principle' falls under accountability which says we all need to clean up ourselves…what you create, should be completely recyclable (includes Toy to Car).
Forces of widening inequalities : One key factor is the rising income inequalities between high-skilled and low-skilled workers. The other important phenomenon is the increased use of robotics, advanced data management system and other information technologies, which seem to be shifting income from labor to capital…there is a shift from wages to capital income which has widened the inequalities of income across the households.
Urban-Rural inequality : Perhaps before the Industrial revolution, virtually the entire world population, roughly, 90%, were living in rural areas. In India, we have both rural and urban population with very different qualities, education and capacity to earn…more unintentional inequalities created. HR may look at hiring policies and tweak it suitably to address urban-rural inequalities.
Approach to human development : As we know economists speak of investments in human capital, just like investments in roads, bridges and factories. Accordingly, the entire economy can accumulate physical capital, so too can entire society accumulate human capital, meaning more EDUCATION, JOB SKILLS, and IMPROVED HEALTH etc.
Social mobility : As we have observed and experienced - education…skills are definite path to a more productive and better life of an individual and they are the differentiator in today's world…and it can also be the amplifier of social inequality. If higher education and acquiring higher job skills are so expensive, then it would always be limited to the children of affluent families and it will constantly increase inequalities and retard social mobility.
Role of higher education in technological advance : We should closely examine partnership with Universities in identifying and solve local problems and issues relating to sustainable development. Every issue with which our society/people are fighting - water, energy, poverty, hunger, disease, climate change, cost of new information technologies etc. - requires locally tailored solutions and answers.
Role of culture - demography, education and gender : Culture building has always been a preferred agenda to HR professionals. In a differential diagnosis of why some companies are ahead and other behind, people quite often turn their attention to Culture. As we all understand, culture is not monolithic. Culture very much like economic structures, change over time. Culture matters for economic development of a nation…this phenomenon also applies to large to small corporate. Now let us look at sustainable development and culture - there is a very strong link between our culture attitudes and our attention and contributions to sustainable development…why some companies are ahead and other behind? Example - learning & development, skill training, employability, role of women and gender diversity at all levels etc.
Measuring well being : As we are aware, we are all interested in the overall quality of our lives, sometimes described as happiness, life satisfaction or wellbeing. We need to look around-next door-to identify community suffering from lack of safe drinking water & sanitation, scarcity of opportunity to be educated/building vocational skills to earn livelihood and support family, plight of orphaned children who lost parental care at an early age, low cost health care etc.
Employee education and R&R (Reward & Recognition program) on sustainable development, particularly on human induced climate change : Why should we at all care about human induced climate change? The way of current thinking - doing business as usual - will have serious consequences for this planet. It is estimated that by the end of the century, the average temperature could be as much as 4-7 degree and most probably such an increase will have devastating effects on our planet - on food, water, ecosystem, extreme weather events and it may also increase risks of abrupt and major irreversible change beyond the control of people living on this planet.
To conclude let me share the following to create a wider perspective on Sustainable development :
In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs-17 Goals) and ratified by more than 190 nations UN General Assembly members (including India). As per United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), more than 50% of the progress towards SDGs will come from India. Further, it is estimated that India presents 25% of $4 trillion worth of market opportunities for companies working in the sustainable area globally and employment generation to the tune of 72 million by 2030.
List of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs-17 Goals) :
1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.
4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.
9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.
10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.
11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. 
14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss.
16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
Within the goals are 169 targets. 
"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them" - Albert Einstein.