April 1, 2021

What the Growing Corporate Sustainability Movement Means for Recruiting Top Talent

It wasn’t that long ago that corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability teams were shoved in back offices, miles from the core operations of a business. Even worse, responsibility for corporate sustainability would sometimes be awkwardly shoved onto an existing role with little care or attention from senior leadership.

Now, the picture looks very different. A perfect storm of climate change, COVID, and conscious consumerism has forced all businesses across every sector to reevaluate their actions on social and environmental issues. One survey of 150 executives found that 88 percent of business leaders now believe companies must lead with purpose.

As a result, companies are now stepping up recruitment for sustainability and impact roles. Some jobs in the green economy are expected to see upwards of 100 percent growth by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Perhaps even more striking is the growing recognition that roles in CSR and sustainability need to be filled by specialists. According to GreenBiz’s “State of the Profession 2020” report, less than half of sustainability hires came from outside large organizations in 2012. Today, it’s 67 percent.

In other words, companies acknowledge they’ll need to look outside the business to access the type of experience they need to meaningfully scale up their action on social issues like carbon and diversity.

For the growing number of impact-focused professionals out there, this presents a major opportunity. There has never been a better time to kick-start a career, go after that promotion, or upskill in the impact sector.

For recruiters, on the other hand, all of this presents a new challenge. Where previously sustainability wasn’t a priority, how can hiring processes be retooled to attract the type of specialists senior leaders now want?

It Starts Before You Even Type Up the Job Spec

First, ensure that your recruitment team — and company — have reached a consensus on how to articulate your company’s credentials and ambitions when it comes to sustainable business goals. Those companies that struggle to succinctly communicate their CSR and sustainability bona fides will struggle to attract the highest quality talent. It’s that simple.

Job seekers in the impact sector want to work for companies that share their values and put those values into practice. That’s even truer for the younger generations of job seekers: According to one study, two-thirds of millennials won’t work for employers with weak CSR policies.

How are you sharing your brand’s responsible business values across your website and social media channels? How active are you in championing the initiatives that are relevant to your sector? When a candidate Googles you (and they will), what will they find about your record on sustainability?

Next, ensure you’re tailoring your job descriptions. Avoid vague terms or criteria that could encompass any and all roles in sustainability. Just as you’d expect each cover letter that lands in your inbox to be tailored, candidates expect your ads for sustainability roles to be specific to the individual job opening. For technical roles, ensure that specialist departments are working alongside HR teams to draft criteria that are reasonable but still rigorous. Your language in a job description should reflect the language your company uses: CSR, diversity and inclusion, sustainability, purpose, impact, etc.

Thirdly, ensure your employer value proposition at least matches your competitors’. Now that demand for CSR and sustainability professionals has ballooned across industries, it’s important to ensure you’re clear on what these specialists expect by way of salary and benefits, support and growth opportunities, and job responsibilities. Note that candidate’s expectations are always changing, too: The mean global salary in CSR and sustainability grew 21 percent between 2018 and 2020. Where possible, conduct a salary benchmarking study or use an external recruitment agency to do a candidate-mapping exercise. Know what you’re up against.

Finally, once you’ve got your specialist talent through applications, interviews, and references and successfully at their desks, don’t stop there. New opportunities are always arising in the impact sector, which means retaining top specialists at your company is an ongoing process. Focus on employee engagement, a clear path for progression and promotion, rewards for delivering on key performance indicators, and continuing professional development. In the field of environmental and social impact, what we know, what tools are available, and what policymakers and consumers expect are constantly evolving. That pace of change is what gets sustainability specialists up in the morning, so don’t underestimate the importance of regular opportunities to build on that knowledge, diversify skills, or explore emerging issues.

The specialization of sustainability is a great thing for the sector, the professionals in it, and the world at large. After all, it means that businesses are (finally) putting the topic where it belongs: at the top of their agendas. However, there’s no doubt that hiring managers must take a closer look at how they attract the most skilled talent to their businesses in this new and highly competitive market.

Shannon Houde is the managing director of Walk of Life Coaching and author of Good Work: How to Build a Career That Makes a Difference in the World.

Read more in Social Responsibility

Shannon Houde is the Managing Director of Walk of Life Coaching and author of "Good Work."
https://www.amazon.com/good-work-build-career-difference/dp/1789665728