Why sustainability is a talent issue

News & Views

Capitalism has done a lot of good in the world. It’s made us healthier and enabled us to live longer. It has improved our standard of living and access to education. It has reduced armed conflict, increased jobs, given us an abundance of food, improved the lives of women and connected countries to each other.

Unfortunately,  what it has also done is widen the gap between rich and poor and create what is the most existential threat to the entire planet – The climate crisis.

As the wise Sir David Attenborough once said “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth with physically finite resources, is either mad or an economist”

Fortunately business is waking up to their role in changing the direction of travel. By investing in more sustainable models and adhering to the belief that the market forces and levers that brought us to this point are probably the same levers we need to get us out of it. Capitalism re-directed could well be the answer.

So, quite rightly, sustainability is a major focus for business now, but is it translating into action on the ground?

Developing a blueprint for a company to meet the needs of society as well as shareholders cannot be an afterthought or something to impress the outside world. It must be the main focus for the C-suite in creating value. The B-Corp movement is a great example of this vision and alignment and it’s gathering real momentum. At the time of writing, over 4,000 companies in 77 countries and across 150+  industries have become Certified B Corporations. These businesses pledge to meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. Believing that society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and non-profits alone, B Corps are determined to accelerate a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

B Corp aside, consumers are starting to demand it and are voting with their wallets. So too are an increasing number of progressive investors, and just as importantly employees.  In fact companies that are not walking the walk are increasingly being taken to task by their own staff. And in today’s interconnected world that grumbling is no longer confined to the canteen.

If you want to be a truly sustainable business you need to start hiring talent with sustainability credentials at the C-suite level. A recent survey by Deloitte highlighted that when it came to areas of professional expertise in senior hires, industry-specific and digital expertise were the most sought after, with 43% and 34% of roles requiring them. Unfortunately, when it came to the areas of CSR, sustainability and social impact only 5% of roles required them. 

So, to answer the original question, in terms of recruitment, not really.

Baking sustainability into your recruitment strategy isn’t just the right thing to do, it is becoming a necessity for any organisation that wants to attract top talent.

By 2025, millennials will comprise 75% of the workforce and this generation is the one for whom sustainability is all-important. A study conducted in 2016 by Cone Communications found that 64% of millennials would not take a job with a company that didn’t have a strong sense of corporate social responsibility. 

Hiring teams are waking up to the fact that increasingly candidates are choosing them as much as the other way round. Being able to articulate a company’s sustainability credentials has never been more important.

But talking and walking are two different things. 

Sustainability credentials need to move it right up the pecking order, to be as important as, Industry, Digital and Leadership experience. Companies also need to instigate a learning culture, so new knowledge in the business is retained and shared. Bringing more leaders with sustainability experience into business today will help to ensure we lessen the environmental harm of tomorrow. 

The target is in plain sight, but we don’t have the luxury of time. 

By Rob Hill

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