Top talent, super-smart employees flock to sustainable companies

Last week, students at Harvard rallied on campus, delivering 1,300 signatures from students, faculty, and alumni calling for the university to divest from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison diverted over 900 tons of CO2 as part of a nationwide Recyclemania challenge.

As soon as next month, the students leading these efforts will graduate, and you’ll likely find them sitting across the table from you in a job interview. If you do, keep your poker face. Your excitement will only undermine your negotiations.

Excited, you ask? Let me explain why you should be.

These graduates come packaged not only with highly valued degrees from top universities, but also with a demonstrated ability to think critically and act globally, to mobilize system-wide change, and to drive forward organizational values. They are excellent communicators and emerging leaders. Undoubtedly, they will be key players in the future growth and success of their organizations.

So are you ready to offer this next generation of top talent a workplace that meshes with their values and priorities? Will you be able to attract new, eco-aware leaders with your corporate values and actions as they stand today? If you think this new crop of talent will readily hang up their ideals for a crisp, white-collared shirt and a paycheck, think again.

Today’s new talent and super-smart employees are flocking to sustainable and socially responsible companies. A recent study by the business consulting firm Bain & Co. found that a company’s sustainability initiatives are “an increasingly visible and important factor in hiring and retaining top talent.” The study reported that over 50% of those surveyed under the age of 40 felt that a company’s approach to sustainable business practices influenced their decision about accepting a job.

Companies that commit to corporate social responsibility and sustainability stand to gain a significant competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the next generation of top talent. What’s more, these employees tend to be more engaged and more productive workers.

“We all know that there’s that little bit of extra oomph that employees give when they’re really turned on by their work or their workplace,” said Rebecca Ryan, futurist and founder of Next Generation Consulting. “Companies that put sustainability into practice get that extra oomph from their employees in big and little ways.”


Underscoring Ryan’s point, a 2012 UCLA-led study found that companies that voluntarily adopt “green” practices and standards have employees who are 16% more productive than average.

“Adopting green practices isn’t just good for the environment,” said Magali Delmas, UCLA professor and author of the study. “It’s good for your employees and it’s good for your bottom line.” According to Delmas, the study points to a shift in attitudes.

“When you talk now to MBA students, there’s a big change in the way they look at their future job,” she said. “They don’t want to work just to make money. They also want to make a difference. There’s a little more social consciousness than there was before.”

Rebecca Ryan will present “How to Use Sustainability to Make Your Organization a Talent Magnet” at the next Sustainable Business Network meeting at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 24 at the Goodman Community Center in Madison. This public event is free to SBN members and first-time attendees. See you there. 

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