Putting 'Human' Back in Human Resources | Net Impact

Putting 'Human' Back in Human Resources

Susan Camberis, HR Director, Baxter Healthcare Corporation

Susan Camberis has dedicated her twenty-year career to Human Resources. She entered the space at the suggestion of a professor, who thought an internship in HR might be a good fit for her interests. A psychology major, the field has indeed given her the opportunity to apply her understanding of people to the business world.

And as it turns out, she’s also found an ideal place for her to make an impact on how thousands of people think about sustainability. At Baxter, Susan works with employees in the company’s supply chain and is involved in integrating sustainability into Baxter’s HR practices.

A shift in perception

Susan had always been concerned about the environment but like many of us, never had a lot of time to dedicate to it herself. But one day in 2009, something changed during her commute to work. She was listening to an interview with climate scientist James Lovelock, in which he was describing the language and framing used to talk about climate change, and something catalyzed in her mind.

“There was something about that interview that shifted my entire perspective on climate change,” she describes. “It gave me a much better appreciation for the immediacy of the issue.”

After that car ride, Susan was determined to take a deeper dive into what Baxter was doing on the sustainability front and how she could personally have a greater impact through her role in HR.

Asking the right questions

She started reading and asking questions. Perhaps more importantly, she started bringing HR professionals together to share stories and best practices. What she discovered, among other things, was that Baxter had a strong sustainability program – and she knew it could help attract new talent to the company.

“I think one thing that’s shifting for us,” says Susan, “is the importance of highlighting our sustainability work for Gen Y candidates. These candidates are typically very engaged around this issue and want to understand what we’re doing before coming to work for us.”

Becoming a partner in internal efforts

Susan also discovered that HR has a significant role to play in helping Baxter achieve its sustainability priorities and that sustainability matters to Baxter’s workforce. In the company’s most recent bi-annual employee culture survey, approximately three-quarters of Baxter employees said the company’s sustainability programs were important to them.

So, how does HR get involved? In lots of ways. Susan’s department participates in Baxter’s executive-level Sustainability Steering Committee; plays an active role in the company’s Inclusion and Diversity efforts; integrates sustainability messaging into recruitment materials and new team member on-boarding; and supports employee health and wellness initiatives.

Unlike intrapreneurs at companies new to sustainability, who often must fight to make the business case for new initiatives, Susan feels fortunate to work at an organization for which the business case is well-understood. As an HR Director, Susan finds herself focusing instead on highlighting how her department can make more of an impact while also shining a spotlight on the impact work the rest of her company is doing.

Susan's advice

We asked Susan her for her personal thoughts about how young professionals can find the right opportunities to make sustainability a part of their careers:

  • Don’t overlook larger companies: Many multinational employers have longstanding corporate citizenship programs that are continuing to grow. There may be a great opportunity for new employees to make a contribution.
  • Companies that manufacture have inherent sustainability needs: Any company that makes things has a supply chainthat needs constant innovation from a sustainability perspective. Numerous disciplines within the organization can have an impact.
  • Use interviews to see if a company is walking the talk: Susan recommends using the fact that you’ll meet with more than one person at an organization to ask the exact same sustainability question. Compare the answers you get and you’ll be better able to understand how committed the company really is to working on the issue by gauging how well employees communicate about sustainability efforts.

Susan’s story is a great example of how a seemingly traditional function can play an integral role in a company’s sustainability efforts.