May 20, 2021

In the Battle for Talent, Corporate Sustainability Can Give You the Advantage

As the world has shifted to a knowledge economy over the last 20 years, the battle for talent has intensified. The search for quality candidates has become more competitive than ever as employers vie for top talent, who are now looking for more than just a job.

These days, the best candidates on the market seek meaning in their work and purpose in their career paths. They want to contribute to companies with inspiring visions they care about. More than a decent salary, candidates want to work for companies that make a positive impact on the world.

That may seem like a tall order, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity for employers. By focusing more on corporate sustainability efforts, companies can attract better talent, secure their brands in an evolving world market, and make the world a better place — all at the same time.

Corporate SustainabilityBenefits Companies on Every Level

Corporate sustainability, which evolved out of the broader corporate social responsibility movement, is a management approach that foregrounds a company’s long-term social and environmental impacts. A growing body of evidence shows that companies that invest in sustainability are more profitable and earn greater returns for shareholders. Seizing this opportunity, businesses are increasingly using their influence to drive positive change environmental, economic, and social changes.

At the same time, corporate sustainability can be a key differentiator for employers as they look to attract the best talent. When properly designed and implemented, corporate sustainability efforts provide a powerful sense of purpose and direction for a company. This sense of purpose is highly appealing to top talent in search of values-aligned work, making it easier for the company to attract and retain high-quality employees in the long term.

Given all of this, it should come as no surprise that leading companies like PepsiCo, Microsoft, and McDonald’s all emphasize sustainability as a core component of their value propositions to consumers and employees alike.

Don’t feel overwhelmed. Sustainability is a broad concept, but your organization doesn’t have to tackle every possible sustainability angle. What’s important is selecting initiatives your business can realistically address and that employees can rally behind. For example, as a producer of food and beverages, it makes sense that PepsiCo’s sustainability efforts would focus on agriculture.

How to Get Started With Corporate Sustainability

When an organization starts to roll out a corporate sustainability effort, authenticity is key. Refrain from simple PR exercises or corporate donations meant to simply burnish your green credentials. It’s better to take small but meaningful steps toward lasting policy, program, or management changes. Pandering to your employees and the public will only see unrealistic expectations — or provoke suspicion about your intentions. Either way, you’ll lose employees and customers when you don’t deliver.

Next, commit to engaging with other organizations and leaders in the community around issues related to your sustainability efforts. There are dozens of platforms and venues where organizations can start and join conversations, raise awareness, and learn new things. I recommend checking out The World Business Council on Sustainable Development, the US Chamber of Commerce, and GreenBiz to start. I also recommend looking into industry-specific associations, coalitions, and working groups that may be more directly relevant to your company’s sustainability efforts.

A company shouldn’t dive into a new sustainability effort alone. Sustainability is an incredibly complex topic, and it can be difficult for any single company — no matter how large — to solve significant social problems by itself. Ideally, your company will partner with government entities, nonprofits, and communities to co-develop solutions to sustainability challenges. Look beyond your corporate network to identify key players working toward the same goals. Develop a task force or group within your organization to help make further connections and build project plans around sustainability efforts. If your company is large enough, you might even consider creating a sustainability function with a broad remit across the organization.

Corporate responsibility helps your company come out on top in the hunt for the best employees, but ultimately, its benefits go far beyond that. When organizations prioritize corporate sustainability, they not only change their position in the talent market and the consumer market — they also start to make small changes in the world for the better.

Getting corporate sustainability right can be hard. It requires a genuine commitment to tackling the social and environmental externalities a business generates. By making that commitment, however, companies can attract more high-quality employees and provide them with a meaningful sense of purpose and mission.

Steve Schmida is the founder and chief innovation officer of Resonance.

Read more in Social Responsibility

Steve Schmida is the founder and chief innovation officer of Resonance, an award-winning global development and corporate sustainability consulting firm with more than 100 consultants and offices in Vermont; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; and Manila. Resonance clients include Fortune 500 companies, international donor agencies, and leading nonprofits and foundations. Steve's writings have appeared in the Stanford Social Innovation Review,, The Huffington Post, and The Moscow Times.