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Written by Bethany Skinnard | UK
on December 13, 2023

The impact of sustainability on the workplace

A key area that is often overlooked when addressing sustainability (yet one that is becoming increasingly important) concerns how companies use their green credentials to attract and retain employees. 

Sustainability in the workplace is no longer just about complying with mandatory regulations (where applicable) and avoiding penalties - it has now become an influencing factor for many job seekers. 

As widely documented, salary alone is no longer the key consideration for people making career-related decisions. Many people now also consider a company’s green credentials when contemplating career moves or job offers. 

The Escape 100 campaign was established to champion the top purpose-led organisations to “escape to.” The survey of 1,500 job seekers found that 89% of respondents wanted a career with a clear sense of purpose. The survey considered the factors that constitute an impactful and meaningful company and ranked companies on criteria including their People, Planet and Mission scores. Too Good to Go (an innovative food waste app) secured the top spot in 2023. The company is often inundated with applications from environmentally-minded people - not surprising as its People score was one of the survey’s highest. 

Now more than ever, people are realising that where they work and who they work for can have a fundamental impact on creating a more sustainable future. This was heightened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (73% of respondents in the Escape 100 survey reported that reflection time during the pandemic made them reevaluate their values and their life plan). 

As sustainability is such a multifaceted area, it’s highly likely that environmentally minded individuals will have a particular or desired area of focus. Examples include renewable energy, food systems, nature-based solutions, green finance, social impact campaigns and community engagement. A Deloitte3 survey found that Gen Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) is extremely interested in sustainability issues, with 28% of this age group stating that climate change and safeguarding the environment is their “top concern.”

For many companies, sustainable practices are not only a moral duty, but also a way in which to gain a strategic advantage over their competitors - both in terms of financial performance and also in employee acquisition and retention. Many businesses now have sustainability deeply ingrained in their company cultures. As such, sustainability pledges are being referenced on countless careers portals and job profiles. 

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In 2020, the UK government launched a Green Jobs Taskforce to ensure that it meets its 2030 commitment of having two million adults employed in “green-collar” jobs.

Many green apprenticeships are now also offered. New research in November 2023 by the MCS Charitable Foundation revealed that careers advisers and social media influencers could play a pivotal role in steering young minds towards green apprenticeships. The research found that the tools to achieve the UK's net-zero goals are likely to be spearheaded by Gen Z.

Our other sustainability-related blogs highlight the many reasons why companies (regardless of their size) should consider their carbon footprint, but how can companies attract and retain environmentally-minded people? 

As a starter, organisations should take note of the following:

  • Having proven green credentials can significantly increase a company’s reputation and, in turn, the employer brand (the perceptions that the labour market has about a company as an employer).
  • The importance of focusing on CSR and not simply on the bottom line. A poor CSR record or allegations of environmental misconduct can dramatically affect a company’s financial performance and destroy its reputation.
    Take fashion retainer Boohoo for example. In 2020, accusations of modern slavery knocked more than one billion pounds off the company’s value and led to an outcry on social media.
  • Addressing sustainability commitments and  promoting the positive impact that these have on people and the planet (especially relevant to companies wishing to attract and retain a younger workforce). As mentioned above, studies have shown that applicants will increasingly scrutinise a company’s environmental credentials when making career-related decisions. 
    Prospects 2022 Sustainability survey highlighted how an interest in sustainability is impacting on young people's employment decisions with 91% of graduates wanting to “make a difference” in their job.
    72% of the graduates surveyed believed that job advertisements should include details of the employer’s sustainability policies. 
    A 2021 IBM survey reported that 71% of employees believe environmentally sustainable companies are more attractive employers. 
  • Companies that embrace sustainability often experience superior financial performance. BlackRock’s report4 into the financial performance of companies during the COVID-19 pandemic found that organisations with better ESG records outperformed their contemporaries.
  • Ingraining sustainability in company culture aids employee engagement and satisfaction. ​​Especially when sustainability practices are frequently reviewed to adapt to evolving environmental conditions. Companies that involve their employees in sustainability-related decisions are much more likely to have a firm grasp on their own strengths and weaknesses. This insight can then be used to ensure sustainability practices are fit for purpose.
  • Consider striving to obtain a well regarded certification or rating scheme, such as those offered by EcoVadis and B Corp. Certification and / or ratings helps demonstrate a commitment to sustainability pledges.
  • Environmentally aware companies rate highly with Gen Z. According to the Deloitte3 study, Gen Zs who felt that their employers made strides to lessen the company’s impact on the environment were more inclined to stay with that employer for at least five years.
  • Undertaking “Green Upskilling.” The process of providing employees with the training and education needed to fully comprehend environmental issues relevant to their workplace.
  • In addition to consulting employees,  companies should also consult and collaborate with their internal and external stakeholders. For example with customers, suppliers and investors, so as to fully understand their expectations on sustainability issues and use this information to adapt sustainability pledges accordingly.
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Sustainable practices are being embraced across all industries. Take the fashion industry for example - the British Fashion Council promotes its Institute of Positive Fashion principles. The Council was also the initiator of the Fashion Pact - a non-profit organisation forging a nature-positive, net-zero future for fashion through CEO-led collaboration. Kering, the luxury fashion house featured in SG Analytics 2022 “Top 10 sustainable companies” list. 

Patagonia regularly tops the leaderboard in the most “sustainable company to work for” category. The company prides itself on being a fashion industry leader when it comes to sustainability. The forward thinking brand focuses on ethical sourcing and implements clean energy solutions to produce clothing that is guaranteed to last longer.

Finisterre, the B Corp certified outdoor clothing company embraces innovation. The company produces outdoor wear for those that share their love of the ocean. Sustainability is evident in their employee culture and benefits. For example, they offer employees free surfing lessons known as “Sea Tuesdays.”

Many people seeking a career in sustainable construction and engineering head straight to the doors of the infrastructure consulting firm Aecom. The company frequently features at the top of the leaderboard for being one of the most sustainable companies in the world. Not only is the company known for being involved in environmental engineering and construction, it’s also championed for being wholly committed to the well-being of its workforce and to ensuring that every employee has the opportunity to make a tangible difference to its sustainable business practices.

Purpose-led organisations attract purposeful people. 
Ensure that your brand reflects your sustainability commitments, so as to help build an environmentally minded team - and secure a brighter future for all as a result. 

To learn more about how we can heighten internal and external brand engagement on sustainability matters:

 

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