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Employee Involvement in Sustainability Projects in Emergent Markets: Evidence from Turkey

Business Administration, School of Business and Management Sciences, South Campus, Istanbul Medipol University, 34810 Istanbul, Turkey
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2023, 15(18), 13929;
Submission received: 20 July 2023 / Revised: 6 September 2023 / Accepted: 9 September 2023 / Published: 19 September 2023
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Business Model Innovation and Climate Change)


Without a doubt, encouraging the behavior of employees in relation to sustainability is one of the most effective tactics that organizations can use to attain their sustainability goals. It is critical that employees take part in sustainability projects in order for organizations to be successful. In this study, we assumed that organizations supported by responsible employees will be more likely to engage in sustainability-driven projects that affect their long-term viability and the interests of their stakeholders, and that green human resources management will be an encouraging factor. The purpose of this study was to investigate the involvement of employees in sustainability-driven projects within organizations, as well as the potential influence of such involvement on the performance of projects in emerging economies such as Turkey, where individual sensitivity to sustainability is lacking. With this goal in mind, we conducted a qualitative investigation on ten different employees from various corporate enterprises who were authorized to participate in sustainability-driven projects in their workplaces. Our results revealed that in the Turkish business environment, employees have still not reached the required level of maturity regarding sustainability issues in order to be initiators of sustainability projects. This study is the first to investigate the role of employees in sustainability-driven projects within the Turkish market.

1. Introduction

The growing importance of sustainability has resulted in the development of a new field of study in human resource management (HRM) theory, green human resources management (GHRM), which focuses primarily on how HRM can be involved in meeting environmental development targets. In contrast to prior examples in the existing literature, we based our study on planned-behavior theory. In the literature, a considerable number of studies have employed social-information-processing theory to explain employees’ sustainability-driven attitudes and activities [1]. According to this theory, employees’ attitudes and behaviors may be influenced by their perception of the work environment. As a result, many studies suggested that businesses’ sustainability-driven activities affect their employees’ social behavior [2], resulting in employees’ green behavior and pro-sustainability behavior. However, in this study, we took a different approach and considered the plausibility of employees initiating the sustainability-driven projects of organizations, as well as the potential effect of GHRM in motivating employees to encourage their businesses to engage in sustainability-driven activities. We based our approach on the idea of planned-behavior theory [3], which holds that humans make rational decisions and that the actions they perform have impacts on their own lives and the lives of others.
In addition, we were motivated by GHRM, which can be viewed as an example of a sustainability-oriented approach. Recently, GHRM has increased in popularity and significance in encouraging the potential positive effects of HRM on sustainability issues. According to [4], GHRM is a phenomenon that encourages a mentality that helps HRM personnel in understanding the relationships among organizational activities that influence the design, evolution, implementation, and influence of HRM systems. GHRM promotes employees’ green behavior, which is characterized in the literature as a type of pro-environmental conduct that is unique to businesses [5].
When we consider the existing literature, we see that GHRM has been the focus of many researchers; however, there are only a few studies on employees’ behavioral approaches to reducing company footprints and boosting company sustainability [6,7,8]. This academic gap piqued our interest in considering the possible links among employee-driven sustainability efforts, the adoption by organizations of GHRM principles, and organization-level sustainability behavior. In this study, we aimed to fill this gap by investigating the possible impact of employees in initiating sustainability projects.
As there were no previous articles investigating the potential relationships between GMHR policies and sustainability-driven behaviors of employees in the context of emerging economies specifically in Turkey this article aimed to eliminate this knowledge gap. We chose Turkey as our field of interest because, as is the case with any developing economy, the Turkish economy is very fragile and labor-intensive. That said, the most significant difference between Turkey’s economy and other developing economies is that Turkey has turned its face to Europe in terms of culture, and its young and dynamic workforce is heavily influenced by Western ideology [9]. This circumstance had an impact on the dynamics of corporate life, as well as on the molding of workforce expectations. In fact, in many societies, the lack of environmental awareness [10,11,12] and the lack of knowledge regarding sustainability-related issues [13,14,15] are still significant problems that cause individuals and institutions to avoid taking part in sustainability-driven projects. According to [16], a considerable majority of the Turkish population is unaware of sustainability-related issues. According to [17], one of the most common causes of people’s ignorance regarding sustainability is a society’s lack of environmental commitment. On the other hand, according to [18], the lack of knowledge about sustainable development goals (SDGs) is a barrier to developing employee behaviors that promote sustainability.
Sustainability-related articles in previous studies have mostly focused on some form of top-down strategy regarding sustainability projects [19,20]. In that regard, many studies show the positive effects of GHRM on employees’ pro-environmental behavior [21,22,23,24]. There have also been significant studies about the impact of sustainability-driven management practices on organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) and on employees’ green behavior [25,26,27,28]. However, there are very few studies about the role of employees as initiators of such sustainability-driven efforts. In addition to this absence of studies about the importance of employee participation in decision-making processes on OCB [29,30,31], there are no studies revealing the positive effects of positioning employees as initiators of sustainability-driven projects. Therefore, this study is novel and noteworthy within the context of sustainability literature.
In this sense, we aimed to understand the relationship between employee-centered sustainability driven behaviors in which employees are involved on their own initiatives, and pro-sustainability managerial efforts of institutions at the macro level. While designing the study, we wanted to evaluate the possibility that sustainability projects could be initiated by the employees, especially in the context of Turkey. The fact that Turkey is still an emerging economy and studies on sustainability have not yet matured enough has created the need for us to test this presupposition. Actually, we had a question mark since, as an emerging market, Turkish enterprises may be cautious to engage in sustainability activities and assign a role to their workers as project triggers. A qualitative study technique was used to investigate 10 Turkish white-collar professionals working in a multinational firm with over 1000 employees in order to elaborate on these interactions in detail.
The qualitative research method was chosen for its value in gaining a thorough grasp of the aforementioned relationships, while white-collar professionals were chosen due to their greater understanding of managerial concerns. Moreover, large corporations have been preferred for conducting the field study owing to the existence of more professional HR and strategic management units in the Turkish business environment. We analyzed our interview data in the Maxqda qualitative analysis program. According to the findings of the study, Turkish employees are uninterested in undertaking sustainability-driven projects, which are often led by strategic management units of human resource management departments. Our findings, however, only partially confirmed our assumptions about employees’ potential strength in sustainability concerns in the Turkish enterprise market. This essay is unusual in that it is the first to analyze the role of Turkish employees in sustainability projects and evaluate whether or not they are initiators. According to the study’s findings, strategy makers should increase employees’ awareness and knowledge of sustainability concerns as well as spark their interest in sustainability-related initiatives, which has the potential to make these projects more widespread in the business and more effectively implemented.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Green Human Resource Management

HR literature is a burgeoning topic of study that connects academics and professionals [32]. Traditional human resource management (HRM) is the process of managing people in organizations, and it includes all of the techniques used to manage people and keep them up to date, qualified, and aligned with the expectations of stakeholders; there is also a focus on activities related to individuals’ professional qualification, learning, and training [33]. According to [34], HR systems have a positive impact on high performance, employee commitment, and job engagement. Ref. [35] discovered the impact of human resource management on well-being and superior performance in recent studies. On the one hand, Ref. [36] suggest that stakeholder-centered HRM, which is in line with the societal goals as outlined by the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has a critical role to play towards achieving these SDGs by contributing to organizational inclusiveness, sustainability, and resilience.
At this point, green human resource management (GHRM) has gained special attention over the last decade and has evolved into a conceptually and empirically distinct subject from the core topic of sustainable HRM [37]. Since 2016, researchers’ interest in GHRM has expanded [38,39,40,41]. The GHRM literature plays an important role in developing and implementing corporate strategies that aid in the achievement of sustainable development goals [40]. Actually, the importance of GHRM stems from environment-oriented strategy plans that construct, maintain, and promote sustainable development [42]. The social expectations related to business in global environmentalism have also stimulated this growth of GHRM [43].
According to [44], GHRM can increase the green ability of employees by recruiting individuals with high levels of environmental awareness, providing training activities that boost environmentally friendly skills, and inspiring green performance by rewarding and punishing pro-environmental behavior.
When the term’s roots are researched, it becomes clear that there are various definitions of GHRM. For example, Ref. [45] described it as the implementation of human resource management strategies to promote the sustainable use of resources inside businesses and, more broadly, the causes of environmental sustainability. In other words, it tries to improve a company’s long-term development [46]. Later, Ref. [44] defined GHRM as human resource practices aimed at environmental protection and the ecological influence of businesses, while Ref. [43] defined GHRM as the HRM part of environmental management.
GHRM is directly responsible for creating a green workforce that understands, appreciates, and practices green initiative and maintains its green objectives throughout the HRM process of recruiting, hiring, training, compensating, developing, and advancing the firm’s human capital [47,48]. In other words, it refers to the policies, procedures, and systems that require employees of an organization to work for the benefit of the individual, society, natural environment, and business [49]. Green recruitment in GHRM refers to attracting employees who are environmentally conscious [50]; green training is a mechanism that changes employees’ attitudes and involvement in green organizational goals [51]; and green performance appraisal is about rewarding pro-environmental behavior [52].
Organizations can choose environmentally friendly individuals and make them more environmentally friendly after they join the organization thanks to these unique human resource management processes. According to [53], GHRM can improve employees’ overall environmental performance. Ref. [54], discovered in their empirical research that GHRM improves employees’ perceptions of organizational environmental support and that perceived organizational environmental support increases work engagement and task-related pro-environmental behavior while decreasing quitting intentions. GHRM has the ability to increase green work participation [22]. In accordance with the existing literature [24,44,55,56], we assumed in this study that adoption of GHRM literature can result in more inventive and motivated personnel willing to begin sustainability-driven projects.

2.2. Employee Participation in Sustainability-Driven Projects

Employees are the key to successful environmental education, according to [4]. GHRM adds positively employee participation in environmental [57]. By rewarding green performance and establishing an ecologically friendly environment, GHRM encourages employees to engage in pro-environmental behavior [23]. According to [44], green human resource management (GHRM) should be viewed as an explicit relationship between organizational-level environmental strategy and employee green behavior. In this study, we also thought that the connection was one of the most significant instruments for empowering employees to be positive driving forces in the creation of a more sustainable organizational framework. The theory of planned behavior (TPB) is a pervasively used framework for understanding employee intentions and triggering organizational change [58]. This study is also based on the theory of planned behavior (TPB) for understanding the effects of employees’ sustainability-driven attitudes that behaviorally support an organizational change on the way to becoming a more sustainable organization. Individual intentions, according to the idea of planned behavior [58], are the most proximal determinants of behavior.
The second factor is subjective norm, which indicates how much social pressure there is to perform or refrain from performing a behavior, and the third is perceived behavioral control, which indicates how much of the action is guided by volitional control. This hypothesis states that when people have positive attitudes about a behavior and believe they can control it, they are more likely to have strong intentions to engage in the behavior [59]. As a result, it is plausible to assume that when employees want to make their organizations more sustainable, they will initially start moving in this direction and persuade their superiors to follow suit. Furthermore, while employees are at the beginning of the organization’s greening, a bottom-up change management process may develop. Contrary to popular belief, upward psychological pressure from superiors in managerial jobs may cause them to be more attentive to sustainability challenges and may assist them in adopting sustainability-driven plans and projects, albeit unintentionally [60].
According to the existing literature, top managers [4,20,61] and HR authorities [61,62] drive most organizational-level sustainability efforts. In other words, organizations’ sustainability strategies are determined from the top down. However, we know from the existing literature that when employees participate in significant decision-making processes, they become more motivated to participate in OCB and are enthusiastic about extra-role performance, including pro-environmental behavior [63]. There is a definite demand in the literature for empirical studies exploring the significance of employees launching sustainability-oriented activities and projects. In this regard, no research has been conducted in the Turkish corporate world.

2.3. Methodology

Qualitative research allows for an in-depth examination of cases in their own context. Qualitative research, according to [64], is “research in which qualitative data collection methods such as observation, interview, and document analysis are used, and a qualitative process is followed to reveal perceptions and events in their natural environment in a realistic and holistic manner”. For this assignment, we went with a case study design. The case study design is defined as “a qualitative approach in which the researcher collects detailed and in-depth information about real life, a current limited situation, or multiple classified situations in a specific time, through multiple sources of information, and reveals a situation description or situation themes” [65,66,67].

2.4. Sampling

In this study, criterion sampling, which is one of the purposeful sampling methods, has been preferred. In general, purposeful sampling involves the selection of situations rich in information about the subject of the research [68]. This sampling method is mostly preferred in order to conduct deep and detailed research on the subject. In criterion sampling, which is one of the purposive sampling methods, the sample is composed of people, events, and situations related to the research subject [69,70]. In order to understand the existence of assumed relationships, we investigated different corporate companies from various different sectors. In order to investigate the positive effects of employees’ GHRM practices on the company’s sustainability, semi-structured interviews were performed with ten managers from the human resource and sustainability departments of companies from various sectors in Istanbul.
In order to ensure the diversity of participants, managers from different industries were interviewed to understand the different aspects of employee GHRM practices and their impact on the company’s sustainability strategies and practices. The main criteria for selecting the participants was that their company is involved in a process of sustainability, and they were authorized to work on sustainability-driven projects in their companies. The interviews were conducted online through the Zoom program and recorded with the consent of the participants. As Ref. [66] stated, before the interviews, the participants were informed about the purpose of the research, and the interviews lasted an average of 25–30 min. Below, Table 1 outlines the demographic profile of the respondents.
The primary goal of this research is to determine whether Turkish organizations assign roles to their workers as producers of sustainability-driven projects. Participants were asked if their staff were actively involved in sustainability-driven projects. To determine the answer to the research’s core question, participants are specifically questioned about whether employees are actively participating in sustainability projects and if they can initiate or start those projects.
Furthermore, the research determined what Turkish enterprises understand by sustainability. The study looked at whether Turkish businesses are focused on the triple bottom line of sustainability or simply comprehending the environmental element of sustainability. We attempted to determine if the economic and social aspects of sustainability are overlooked or given equal attention as the environmental aspect through semi-structured questions in interviews. Furthermore, corporate social responsibility is examined in the study, and participants were asked about the significance of corporate social responsibility and whether it is viewed as a long-term goal for their companies.
This study’s theoretical foundation is based on the idea of planned behavior, which allows for the examination of the impacts of both personal and social indicators, as well as non-volitional factors, on attempts [71]. Our key research issue in this study is the feasibility of employees initiating sustainability-driven projects as well as the influence of GHRM on inspiring employees to force their employers to engage in sustainability-driven activities. According to the theory of planned behavior [3], individuals make logical decisions, and whatever decision they make has a larger impact on their own lives and social surroundings. According to the theory of planned behavior, Ref. [72] discovered in their research that individual observations about sustainable surroundings produce a substantial connotation and inspire the individual to build sustainable behaviors and practices. The three primary categories of the research are built within this framework. Because the literature reveals that these three categories are favorably associated, the key categories of this research are corporate social responsibility, employee green behavior, and sustainability. According to [25], organizations that participate in corporate social programs generate sustainable results in their businesses, and Ref. [73], claimed that green HRM practices have a positive effect on an organization’s sustainability.
In our research, in which the qualitative research method was used, firstly, the online interviews were analyzed and written down. Actually, the most critical point of qualitative research is its validity and reliability. Hence, in order to ensure the validity and reliability of the research, the following studies were carried out:
A detailed literature study was carried out during the research period.
The interviews were recorded with the consent of the participants in order to prevent data loss.
Interview questions are addressed to an expert academician and an experienced manager in the sector.
A pre-interview was held with a manager to test the clarity of the interview questions. The results of the pilot interview were shared with an expert academician and the validity of the questions was confirmed.
At least eighty percent of intercoder consensus, according to the coding control that ensures internal consistency.
The content analysis was made and codes and subcodes of the themes were created. All necessary qualitative analyzes were completed by transferring the data to the Maxqda program. It was tried to reach the results by interpreting the themes in line with the codes they contain and by including quotations from the interview texts in order to support the comments.
The sub-codes of each theme are explained in the Figure 1 below.
The below Figure 2 shows the codes of the research and each code is shown with a different color, the square shapes the shows frequency of recurrence; the bigger square means, the code is mentioned more.

3. Corporate Social Responsibility

In the “corporate social responsibility” subject, the declarations of participants are categorized as “social projects”, “head of social projects”, “types of projects developed”, and “best sustainability projects”.
The majority of participants are satisfied with their firms’ “corporate social responsibility” attitudes and social business goals. They feel that the goal of their organization is to assist the various parts of society who want assistance. Participants who work in global corporations appear to be more satisfied with the initiatives established, whereas employees of local corporations find social projects shallow. The codes linked to the theme of corporate social responsibility are listed in the section below.

3.1. Social Projects

When we inquired about sustainability-driven projects, they mentioned social projects in their organization. All of the participants stated that their companies are involved in the development of social projects, however the number and scope of projects vary by company. The majority of participants, however, are pleased with the scope of the social projects. According to the participants, the social projects implemented are primarily in conformity with the environment-oriented strategic plans. The participants stated that the primary goal of the social projects is to improve the living conditions of their blue collar employees. They went on to say that the second goal of the social programs is to assist those segments in society that are in need. below:Interestingly, we noticed that participants relate social projects with manufacturing units of their companies wherein mostly blue collar workers take place. To show how this code is declared, the statements of participants P1 and P5 are given below:
P1: We are focusing on environmental projects. We have a forest in Urfa and we have 2000 trees in that forest.
P5: … the company makes hazelnut farming in Turkey and mainly seasonal agricultural workers are employeed and the company carries out projects for them and their families. For example, the company opens schools for the children as they come with their parents and cannot go to school.

3.2. Head of Sustainability Projects

Participants also stated that social programs are produced by corporate relations departments, which exist in multinational corporations, or by human resource departments in the absence of corporate social departments, particularly in small businesses. However, there is a significant disparity in the quality and depth of projects generated by corporate relations and human resource departments. initiatives generated by corporate relations departments are often short-term focused, popular, and more appealing to society, whereas initiatives developed by human resources departments are generally long-term oriented, popular, and more appealing to society.
Furthermore, the board of directors determines the substance and scope of the programs, while the human resources department just works on the operational aspects of the social projects. Because the initiatives are forced by top management, the human resource management team does not regard this duty as their primary responsibility, which helps to the success of the social programs. As a result, we can conclude that HR does not fall under the purview of GHRM. Unfortunately, contrary to our expectations, the projects’ direction is top-down rather than bottom-up. In other words, projects are frequently not initiated by employees. To illustrate the expressions that occur in this code:
P4: … The company is a multinational company and social projects are run under the “corporate relations and sustainability directorate”.
P7: … as a local company, we do not have corporate relations department and social projects are run by human resource department. Actually, multinationals and conglomerates often have a seperate business unit for carrying our social responsibility projects and the way they conduct these projects are rather more Professional.

3.3. Types of Projects Developed

During the interviews, participants stated that sustainability-driven projects and social responsibility projects carried out in their organizations are typically established in accordance with their companies’ green organizational goals. In other words, when we discussed sustainability-driven projects, people primarily assumed we meant green projects with pro-environmental goals. They also stated that their companies are working on social projects that will benefit the most vulnerable members of society, such as low-income people, women, and children. Participants stated that their companies are increasingly developing programs to assist their own employees in need, and that the projects are typically developed in industries in which the companies operate. Furthermore, the projects are developed in areas of societal interest. As an example of how our participants expressed themselves:
P9: … As we are mainly serving to the health industry, we are in contact with the world cardiovascular association and working with that association about hypertension… etc. to develop social projects.
P4: … the company has been supporting the different types of projects for ten years with the aim of sustainable development and the company carries out many projects in Turkey targeting the weak segments of the society with the focus of women, children, education, the disabled, the elderly over 65, the gifted, and the autistic”.

3.4. Best Sustainability Project

The participants were also questioned about the finest sustainability-driven project established in their organization, but they couldn’t agree on which one was the best at first. However, they mostly addressed the most long-term projects. These were corporate social responsibility projects that had an impact on society as a whole. It appeared that the initiatives that were intrigued by the scope of the project were mentioned as the best by the participants. In other words, they were impressed with projects that reach the greatest number of individuals in need. As an example,
P1: … The Elazıg earthquake was the best project, we identified the poorest areas damaged by the earthquake. We developed a card and distributed that card to 2000 families. The project was so helpful that we decided to continue with that project.
P4: … Turkcell is still associated with the Kardelen project. Better still hasn’t come to Turkey yet. The project, which started in 1994, will still continue in 2022 with the same effect.

4. Employee Green Behaviour

Under the theme “employee green behaviour”; we try to find out how the green behaviour of employees affect the corporate social responsibility act and sustainability-driven projects of the company. Two main sub themes “personnel involvement” and “developing environmental projects” are present under this theme.

4.1. Personnel Involvement

In general, social programs are established institutionally by departments and carried out on behalf of the firm by a professional team. These initiatives’ creators and initiators are also professional teams dedicated to sustainability-driven acts and projects. Employee engagement is entirely voluntary, and corporations make no requirements for it. Although the firms do not compel pro-environmental behavior, they do motivate green performance by rewarding it. Companies use the reward system to promote high levels of environmental awareness. Employees who want to participate in sustainability projects can come from any level of the firm; there is no hierarchical separation between white and blue collar workers. It should be noted that, the participants mentioned that the continuity of the projects are not dependant on the personal involvement. The participants mentioned this subject as follows:
P2: … All of our employees are included in those projects; both white and blue collar.
P5: … All the participants are volunteers, there is no coercion in those projects. We try to reward the employees participating in the projects.
P7: … We have been investing in social responsibility projects for a long time. We have a corporate association formed and funded by our employees. The employees who work voluntarily transfer a certain part of their salaries to the association and projects are carried out for village schools or disadvantaged groups with this resource.
Only from the participants; Participant P8 discussed the UN Sustainability 17 Global Compact goals. Because this corporation is in the plastics industry, sustainability is portrayed as a must (albeit he did not specify it) at the director’s level. As a result, the initiatives created are more compatible and comprehensive with long-term aims. Projects that have been developed are more thorough and accessible to employee participation. Furthermore, the organization aims to train its employees in the subject of sustainability.
This condition can be attributed to the company’s membership in the worldwide organization known as the Global Compact, as well as its obligations and awareness in this field. Despite the fact that the corporation is unaware of it, they are making extra efforts for environmental sustainability due to the industry. This position indicates that Turkey, as a growing market, leans more toward sustainability if it is required. Despite the fact that the other companies interviewed are ancient, well-established, and huge, they do not exhibit this propensity. As an example,
P8: “Our company has been a member of global compact since about 2012, there are 17 items there, but about 11 of them connect us as an industry and we carry out work on each of them. Social responsibility may be related to the development of children, it may be related to female employees, equality may be related to diversity…”

4.2. Developing Environmental Projects

Companies in our study that operate in industries with a high carbon footprint are more interested in establishing environmental projects. These businesses have green corporate aims and ecologically sustainable strategy plans. Although the majority of environmental projects are established institutionally, businesses also accept environmentally beneficial ideas or projects suggested by their personnel. According to the participants, the major criterion for implementing employee-based ideas environmental projects in their organizations is that they must be consistent with the organizational culture. The projects developed by the employees are more willingly embraced by the other employees. Participation rates and life span of those projects are better than the other projects which is a clear sign of positive perception of employees about their companies.
As an evidence expressions of P2 and P8 are given as examples for developing environmental projects:
P2: … We are mainly developing environmental projects related to usage of plastics. Our customers are very sensitive to sustainable development and we make the necessary revisions quickly. The water shortage is a serious problem and therefore we are collecting waste vegetable oils so that they do not throw it in water pipes.
P8: … We have established tri-generation facilities and use it for the heating and cooling of the whole company which is very important for sustainable development.

5. Sustainability

Although sustainability may be defined at several levels, such as environmental, economic, or social, in this theme, we attempted to figure out sustainability at the organizational level, in other words, the notion should be viewed as organizational longevity. The code “company life time”, “vision”, and “long-term targets” are used to analyze the theme “sustainability”. “Sustainability elements”, “employee incentives”, and “strategic partners”.
During the interviews, participants were asked when their organizations began operating, and it was discovered that the majority of them have a life span of more than 30 years. This is a clear indication that all of the companies involved are long-term. The majority of businesses include sustainability goals in their vision. Furthermore, all participants, with the exception of participant P10, stated that their vision is shared and known by all of their staff. They added that necessary adjustments in their vision has been made according to dynamics of the business environment and their vision has been revised regularly. Interestingly, participant P10, which is a local company stated that vision of their company is not shared with th emloyees and even with human resource department. But the rest of all our participants stated that the vision of their company is shared by the employees. For instance;
P4: … The vision and mission of our company is known by our employees.
P10: … Vision of the company is not shared with the human resource department.

5.1. Long-Term Targets

Participants generally stated that environmental sustainability is one of their long-term goals. Companies in high-carbon industries reported that their clients are requesting that their operations be replaced with sustainable ones. The remaining corporations were less concerned with environmental sustainability standards because there was no demand from their customers. In the long-term goals of the participating companies, digitalization is ranked second only to sustainability. According to the participants, the dynamics of the business are compelling them to use digital technology and digital transformation. To illustrate this code, consider the following:
P2: … Currently, we are focusing on digitalization. For example, we serve our customers with digital menus. Another issue is sustainability, our hotel customers want carbon footprints to be low hence we align our inner activities in a way that do not poollute the environment.
P8: … In our compan, the most important element that serves for the sustainability of the institution is environmentalism followed by human factors.

5.2. Elements of Sustainability

When the word “sustainability” is used, most people think of environmental sustainability. As a result, they did not highlight the economic and social components of sustainability throughout the interviews. The majority of participants stated that sustainability is part of their long-term strategic plans, and that the main component of their sustainability policy is establishing environmentally favorable projects and replacing non-sustainable operations. The following people contributed to this code:
P3: … On the sustainability side, there are strategies that can provide more ecological balance and reduce consumption, and there is an effort to complete the fiberization cycle in Turkey and to bring this internet service to all provinces and districts as much as possible.
P7: … In terms of carbon footprint, planes have damage to the environment and they are not the right choice so for transportation we plan to use alternative methods in the long term.

5.3. Incentives for Personnel

According to the participants, the biggest fringe benefits for employees are private health insurance for their entire family, shopping vouchers, and bonuses earned during performance review times. Some participants did not wish to provide direct information about this subject, instead stating that they are satisfied with their companies’ wage systems. Some individuals indicated intangible incentives such as a fair workplace climate, equality, diversity, and so on. The participants made no mention of green wage management or performance incentives in their workplaces. P4 and P9’s assertions concerning this code, for example, are as follows:
P4: … We are one of the leader companies in human rights policy in Turkey. We pay equal wages to men and women. We have a diversity policy in the board of directors. We try to develop employee welfare every day. If you ask our employees, most of them will say that they are very satisfied with the conditions.
P9: … Our company offers private health insurance for all family members, shopping cheques, using the company car for private occasions, and sales incentives.

5.4. Strategic Partners

For social projects, the participants said that their companies are willing to involve strategic partnerships with several external stakeholders. They are mainly interested in developing projects with universities, public institutions and chambers of commerce. Regarding the strategic partners code, the participants mentioned the importance of “supply chain management” and external partners. They force their supply chain to adopt the environmentally friendly policies. Their main enforcement is “not to work” with suppliers who do not comply those policies. Sample statements about this code are;
P4: … We make partnerships with our stakeholders and have close relations with universities, public institutions, chambers of commerce.
P7: … Supply chains are getting closer in terms of distance in terms of sustainability. Logistics activities are changing, in order to have less carbon footprint, we try to work with the closest company in distance.

6. Discussion

Environmental management and sustainability, as viable business areas, have focused managers’ attention to the impact of these concepts on their firms’ long-term success and competitiveness. In recent years, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) effort on global warming and environmental laws and regulations has grown rapidly. The rate of change in search of a sustainable model of capitalism is increasing [74]. As a result, firms began to respond to environmental concerns in ways that went beyond pollution and damage reduction [75]. Greening firms and guaranteeing environmental sustainability have moved to the top of decision-makers’ objectives in the twenty-first century, sparking a hunt for innovative alternatives to traditional human resource management [76].
According to the linked literature, companies must acknowledge the vital function of human resource management in order to successfully achieve superior sustainability performance [77,78]. In this setting, GHRM evolved from a desire to balance individuals’ and businesses’ social and economic well-being while also increasing environmental awareness and providing long-term advantages to the organization [79]. GHRM is a critical organizational strategy in which human resources actively participate in becoming environmentally sensitive acts and projects [80]. Indeed, the goal of green human resource management is to ensure that opportunities and resources are provided for employees who feel the need to improve their environmental competency, as well as establishments that commit to minimizing their environmental impacts to a minimum, allowing personnel to solve climate change challenges at their own level [81,82].
Employees are more inclined to trust firms that care about other external stakeholders, particularly the environment, which encourages motivation, commitment, and organizational citizenship behavior [83,84]. Ref. [85] also believes that GHRM can enhance employee morale by cultivating a culture in which management promotes concern for their coworkers’ health and well-being. In fact, many employees like the favorable company image created by GHRM, and it has a positive impact on employee job engagement [86,87]. As a result, GHRM improves employees’ perceptions of their organization. According to the linked literature, persons who have good perceptions of their organizations are more likely to engage in behaviors that provide value to their institution [88,89].
In this study, we hypothesized that when employees have the ability to participate in the planning process of proorganizational and prostakeholder actions, they develop a reasonable basis for their pro-environmental conduct. In relation to this approach, this study is theoretically based on the theory of planned behavior, which advocates that promoting new beliefs or changing existing ones is possible through persuasive communications, discussions, and observational modeling [58], which are mechanisms that work in both up and down directions. In other words, two-way communication and mutual persuasion of both superiors and subordinates in an organization have the potential to cause significant changes, leading us to believe that employees in lower ranks of the organization can influence strategy makers in their organization to adopt sustainability policies and green human resource management principles.
If more employees participate in green projects, strategy makers will find it easier to persuade others in the company of the importance and utility of these projects [90]. According to [81], when employees are exposed to GHRM, they become more imaginative and courageous about participating in challenging projects. Unfortunately, in Turkish professional life, employees avoid participating in sustainability-driven projects for a variety of reasons, including a lack of interest, a lack of understanding, and a high workload, making them hesitant to participate in any other extra projects [59,91]. Although lack of awareness dampens Turkish employees’ enthusiasm for sustainability-driven individual initiatives, when they are provided with the necessary groundwork, their activities become more pro-environmental, and this even increases their green creativity and green organizational citizenship behavior [92,93].
On the one hand, as [94], suggest, Turkish enterprises are often run by paternalistic leadership, with the top manager making crucial decisions, including sustainability-driven projects. In relation to that, as explained in the conclusion part, our findings revealed that in Turkish case most of the sustainability driven projects are up-to down projects [59,95,96] rather than bottom-to-up projects as seen in many European examples [97,98], which made us think that as a developing country Turkish business environment is not mature enough to encourage employees act as with an awareness that they can also trigger these projects rather than simply participating those started by HR or by other strategic departments. According to previous research, sustainability projects in Turkey are mostly initiated by HR and top management authorities such as general managers, deputy general managers, directors, and strategic management heads [88,99,100].
As in the case with our study, in most of the previous studies discussing sustainability projects, employees conceive sustainability as something related to pro-environmental activities and projects [27,101,102]. In our study, as in the case with most of the other studies [103,104], when sustainability is mentioned, a picture was drawn as if only voluntary activities for the environment were at the forefront. Actually, during our field research we noticed that the term sustainability is conceived as sustainability of environment by most employees and they have developed an opinion that they have a common responsibility with their companies for serving the environment. Hence, we can make the inference that employees give importance to involvement in activities targeting sustainibility. This was similar with the findings of previous studies such as [29,105,106] that emphasized employees positive perceptions regarding social responsibility projects [107].
Moreover, our participants emphasized that taking part in sustainability projects is not an obligatory issue, rather they voluntarily take parts in these projects when they see it as necessary according to their own convictions. This was parallel with the findings of [21,26] revealing that employees do not need any kind of compulsion to take part in sustainability projects especially when they have a value match with their organizations. Unfortunately, the expectation that sustainability projects should be initiated by the employees, which was our main expectation while conducting the field research of our study, was not met. The aforementioned results suggest that employees in the context of Turkey are not yet sufficiently conscious of sustainability issues and underline the need to raise their awareness more. In Turkey, sustainability-driven projects are still carried out to a large extent by the PR departments, human resources departments or similar strategic departments of companies, and employees preferably participate in these activities rather than triggering their activities. Moreover, although HR carries our many pro environmental projects we cannot view their activities in the GHRM level.

7. Conclusions

To determine which codes coexist, we ran the related analysis in the maxqda qualitative analysis tool. Significant links between the following codes were discovered by Maxqda analysis. The relation maxtrix of the our research is shown belown in Figure 3 as follows.
First and foremost, there is a relationship, or coexistence, between codes of “elements of sustainability”, “long-term goals”, and “social projects”. The majority of participants responded that social projects are part of their long-term goals, and that components of sustainability are incorporated into their social projects. What they understood from sustainability, however, was only environmental sustainability and they did not mention the triple bottom line of the sustainability. Only participant 5 discussed the triple bottom line of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. Another significant association has been discovered between “project development” and “personnel involvement”. Employees are not required to participate in the development of social initiatives, according to the participants, but they are allowed to design and present new projects to the company. During the interviews, we learned that initiatives are not initiated by employees in any of the organizations that took part in our study. Employee ideas and initiatives are encouraged if they are in conformity with business rules, but in fact, employees are not willing to think about and design sustainability-driven projects. Nonetheless, they were invited to participate in current projects initiated by the responsible offices.
Furthermore, there is a considerable association between the codes “strategic partners” and “head of projects”. The heads of sustainability-driven projects are either heads of corporate relations, human resource management departments, or other similar strategic departments. Participants believe that these authorities do their best to incorporate all of their strategic partners in the initiatives, particularly because they have authority over their supply chain. This coexistence of codes reveals that companies manage their sustainability-driven projects through specific offices such as HR and departments, and they have strategic partners in achieving their sustainability-driven goals who are mostly external partners, such as logistic providers or suppliers. Moreover, although unconciously, many participants give hints for the existence of environmentally friendly HR structure although not at the level of GHRM.
The final significant connection is found between the concepts “social projects” and “developing environmental projects”. According to the participants, environmentally friendly projects are prevalent in their sustainability-driven projects. The majority of the examples they provided of sustainability-driven projects were environmental in nature. They stated that their consumers and staff are pressuring them to include environmentally friendly projects in their sustainability initiatives. This relationship demonstrates that ecologically sustainable initiatives are becoming more prevalent in corporate strategic strategies. Their consumers are pressuring them to incorporate green organizational goals into their strategic plans and to direct the scope of their projects.
The relationships between the codes stated above clearly illustrate that the themes corporate social responsibility, green employee behavior, and sustainability are all positively related. In general, Turkish businesses comprehend the environmental aspect of sustainability but do not focus on the triple bottom line of sustainability. Turkey’s corporate climate is similar to that of other rising countries, and employees are only free to participate in sustainable driven projects that are not initiated by them. Despite the fact that HR departments engage in sustainability activities, their performance falls far short of the green HRM standard. According to the theory of planned behavior, an individual behaves in a certain way as a reflection of its motivations, and in our study, long-term goals and social projects of a company act as a mechanism that influences the individual’s values and attitudes to participate in sustainable driven projects. According to the theory of planned behavior, if the HRM department encourages green sustainable behaviors in the firm, participation in sustainable driven projects will undoubtedly increase. Furthermore, individual observation is important in the theory of planned behavior, and green HRM methods inspire and push employees to build new sustainability driven projects.

Managerial Implications and Further Studies

The importance of sustainability-driven projects, as well as the impact of employee involvement and the role of HR in project management, are stressed in this study. Our study is significant in that it demonstrates that in the Turkish corporate environment, sustainability is still understood in such a limited way that it only covers pro-environmental programs. The fact that employees are not the initiators of the process in sustainability-driven activities not only narrowly accepts the process, but also alienates employees from sustainability issues and makes them feel passive. Even so, there is a risk that they will see participation in these processes as a responsibility and obligation that will gratify the top management that begins these projects.
Our findings revealed that in the Turkish corporate environment, employees are not yet at the maturity level required to initiate sustainability projects. As a result, the findings of this study gave us the impression that there is still a long way to go. More detailed sustainability education for employees, as well as the use of GHRM practices, can raise sustainable consciousness. They will now understand that they can also commence sustainability, and that employee-driven sustainability can be more long-lasting and successful. Because this study is limited to the Turkish firm setting, it can be replicated in other emerging economies in future studies to further understand the role of employees in starting sustainability-dricen projects. A quantitative field research can also be used to increase the explanatory power of our study, and a mixed technique can be employed to facilitate better comprehension of the topic.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, E.B.; methodology, B.D.; software, E.B. and B.D.; validation, E.B. and B.D.; formal analysis, B.D.; investigation, E.B.; resources, E.B. and B.D.; data curation, B.D.; writing—original draft preparation, E.B.; writing—review and editing, E.B.; visualization, B.D.; supervision, E.B.; project administration, B.D. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

This study was conducted according to the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki, and approved by the Institutional Review Board (or Ethics Committee) of Istanbul Medipol University (protocol code E-43037191-604.01.01-42428 and date of approval 5 August 2022).

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

The Data related to this study is available at (accessed on 8 September 2023).

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Themes and Sub-codes of the research.
Figure 1. Themes and Sub-codes of the research.
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Figure 2. Codes and Frequency of Recurrence.
Figure 2. Codes and Frequency of Recurrence.
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Figure 3. Code Relation Matrix.
Figure 3. Code Relation Matrix.
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Table 1. Demographics of respondents.
Table 1. Demographics of respondents.
1Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) IndustryHuman Resources Director
2Restaurant & Hotel Sustainability Manager
3CommunicationHuman Resource Manager
4CommunicationCorporate Communication Manager
5AgricultureSustainability Director
6FinanceHuman Resource Manager
7AutomotiveSustainability Manager
8PlasticSustainability Director
9PharmaceuticalSales Director
10HealthHuman Resource Manager
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Baykal, E.; Divrik, B. Employee Involvement in Sustainability Projects in Emergent Markets: Evidence from Turkey. Sustainability 2023, 15, 13929.

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Baykal E, Divrik B. Employee Involvement in Sustainability Projects in Emergent Markets: Evidence from Turkey. Sustainability. 2023; 15(18):13929.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Baykal, Elif, and Bahar Divrik. 2023. "Employee Involvement in Sustainability Projects in Emergent Markets: Evidence from Turkey" Sustainability 15, no. 18: 13929.

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