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Human sustainability

Annie Delaney discusses human sustainability within a businesses supply chain.
Human sustainability is one of the four pillars of sustainability. The human capital of an organisation is critical to achieving and maintaining a sustainable business. Without engaging internal and external stakeholders around what it means to become sustainable, a business cannot meet its own sustainable goals. For the organisation to embrace human sustainability, it requires having a positive attitude towards employees, contractors, and suppliers. Labour is not just a cost to the organisation, but one of the most important assets. Business cannot spruik high standards for employees in their head office in Australia, Europe, the US, and elsewhere and ignore the rest of their operations. It’s not just about their own employees.
It’s also about the business’s external stakeholders- their investors, suppliers, contractors, workers, consumers, the local community, and the wider community too. It’s important for the business stakeholders to understand the organisation’s journey towards sustainability. For example, if you want your suppliers to pay a living wage to their employees, they need to know if it will cost them more. They need to ask is, it worth their investment in doing things differently? How can stakeholder support the organisation’s journey towards sustainability unless they understand what’s involved and how it will impact on them? This is particularly true in relation to human sustainability and what it means.
A good place to start is to look at the organisation’s business supply chain networks and to consider how the supply chain can move towards sustainability. Being transparent about how the business products are made and the potential impact in relation to each of the four pillars of sustainability is key.
To sum up, it’s about human capital of the organisation and its stakeholders. An organisation that values its human capital will support diversity and equal opportunity. It will consider all stakeholders as valuable and adopt ethical practises in relation to how it does business, participate in the broader community, and have a positive influence in the industry. Human sustainability is an essential element of innovation and an ethical means to achieve sustainability.
Human sustainability was identified earlier as one of the four pillars of sustainability. Let’s explore it a little further now since the human capital of the organisation is critical to achieving change, being a sustainable business, and maintaining this state.

Human sustainability extends beyond the business’ immediate employees. A broader definition encompasses all stakeholders, such as, employees, suppliers, investors and workers and communities. The idea of the supply chain as a network is a useful way to think about this, especially since the majority of a business’ carbon footprint can be accounted for in the supply chain (Benn et al., 2014).

Supply chain networks include:

  • Head office employees (CEO, managers, designers, marketing, public relations, operations, buyers, corporate social responsibility [CSR] officers etc.)
  • Importer/exporter intermediaries
  • Production networks that include factories and component suppliers in supplier countries and suppliers of raw materials
  • Logistics and transportation contacts

Managing human capital across the supply chain is challenging. Businesses in labour intensive industries need to value all the human capital involved in making their products: their direct employees, workers in factories, suppliers, distribution and logistics. This means that any business, even a small one, initially needs to invest time and money in some key activities to ensure it’s confident that the supply chain meets its own sustainability standards.

Being transparent about where the organisation’s products are made and how sustainable practices are being maintained can provide a good story to consumers.

Think of the elements that differentiate a traditional supply chain with a sustainable one.
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Business Futures: Sustainable Business Through Green HR

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