How sustainable business practices foster great talent attraction and retention



Read time
7 mins


It’s becoming increasingly clear that organisations that prioritise sustainability are reaping the rewards of attracting and retaining talented employees. According to an ESG report by recruiter Robert Walters, a third (34%) of white-collar professionals in the UK would turn down a job offer if a company’s environmental or sustainability values do not align with their own. If companies are not focused on being sustainable, they may lose out on top talent. But what is HR’s role in leading organisations’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda? And what’s the potential benefit of considering ESG when it comes to people strategies? 

In this article, we’ll look at why sustainability should be one of the top priorities for organisations looking to attract and retain great talent, and how HR can lead the change needed to make workplaces more sustainable while also achieving other business goals. 

In this article

Why sustainability in business is important

Aside from the obvious benefit that business sustainability has to the environment and society, it’s good for the organisation itself. From reducing costs to improving reputation, sustainability can provide a competitive advantage. So much so, that an increasing number of organisations are pursuing a ‘triple bottom line’ (sometimes called ‘3BL’ or ‘TBL’): profit, people, and planet.

However, according to research conducted by sustainability activator Anthesis, “40% of UK workers are disappointed by the lack of effort and resource put into sustainability by their employer, despite over half (53%) choosing it as a key factor when making a decision about which company to work for.” Businesses that want to attract and retain the right people should consider investing time and energy in sustainability programmes to make a positive contribution to their short- and long-term value.

A new generation of workers

Society as a whole is, arguably, becoming more aware of the impact of human activities on the environment. And while it’s unwise to make sweeping generalisations about groups of people, studies have shown that many millennials – generally defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s – have high expectations for their employers when it comes to environmental and social responsibility. According to a 2016 study by Deloitte, around two-thirds of millennials would quit their job if they don’t find fulfilment or if they sense that their current job has no ambition beyond profit. Additionally, 9 in 10 millennials believe that the success of a company should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance. The study also suggests that businesses should pay close attention to the environment and care about the social life of their employees, not just focus on their financial performance, successfully attract new talent.

If businesses want to be seen as attractive and engage potential candidates because of these efforts, they need to find ways to act more sustainably. You also need to prove to candidates that your sustainability efforts are genuinely making (or at the very least attempting to make) an impact, rather than being a ‘greenwashing’ scheme. If you make your environmental credentials part of your employer brand, you’ll need to deliver on your promises to engage and retain your people in the long term. 

Talent attraction and retention

As survey carried out by Cleartrace shows that millennials are likely to choose to work for, and stay with, a company that has a strong sustainability plan. In other words, genuinely sustainable businesses will attract and retain candidates who are looking for an employer that gives them a sense of purpose. 

Businesses that implement sustainability initiatives, such as donating a portion of its profit to an environmental cause, or allowing employees to work from home to reduce commuting emissions, is more likely to attract and retain younger talent than a company that does not commit to environmental or social sustainability. 

In terms of sustainable brands, Innocent Drinks ranks among the top contenders. From incorporating recycled plastic into their packaging, to opening the world’s ‘most sustainable juice and smoothie factory’, the drinks giant has made sustainability their key mission. Due to this, Innocent Drinks is a desired place of employment. On Glassdoor, employees rated Innocent 4.1 out of 5 for work-life balance, 4.5 for culture and values, and the company secured a position on the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list in 2018.

The outdoor wear retailer Patagonia sees its mission as saving the earth and offers new starters up to two months off work (with pay) to volunteer with an environmental organisation or project. The company has also acknowledged that it is part of the problem. Because of this, their products come with a lifetime guarantee and Patagonia encourages customers to repair old items rather than replace them. The company is now a leader in the outdoor apparel industry and recognised and ranked as one of the ‘Best Places to Work’ by Outside and Fortune magazine.

How to make your workplace more sustainable

We’ve looked at some of ways that embracing sustainability can benefit your organisation, but how can you go about achieving this? Here are four ways to start on your journey to sustainability: 

  1. Reduce your carbon footprint – reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions your business or workplace generates by offering cycling to work schemes, installing solar panels, and putting in place recycling initiatives in the office
  2. Become paper free – cut down on needless stationary equipment by digitising your business. With the right tools, such as HR software solutions and payroll software, you can lessen your overall environmental impact as well as reduce administration time and improve employee engagement
  3. Flexible working conditions – a daily commute is a significant contributor to carbon emissions in the UK, and fewer people on the road each day means a huge reduction in those emissions. Also, 73% of UK employees under 30 years of age say flexible working makes a job more attractive
  4. Commit to diversity and inclusion – there is a clear link between diversity and inclusion (D&I). According to Global Diversity Practice, a D&I consultancy, “a workforce that represents diverse ethnic and social backgrounds is more likely to understand how a business’s environmental footprint affects different communities. There is also evidence that diverse companies are more productive when making changes and solving existing challenges”

HR’s role in sustainability

According to the CIPD, sustainable human resources management (HRM) “creates and captures value over the longer term and recognises that to be truly sustainable, HRM must be able to deal with the internal and external environment and the changing context in which the business is operating.” In a sense, sustainable HRM builds on strategic HRM which is about creating a coherent planned framework for employees to be hired, managed and developed in ways that supports an organisation’s long-term goals. Sustainable HRM is based around broad organisational goals in several areas, not just ‘business’ goals. It seeks to achieve positive economic, social, human, and environmental outcomes simultaneously, in the short term and the long term. Sustainably conscious HR leaders need to facilitate the dialogue between managers and employees and challenge the strategy of purely maximising shareholder value, but instead align with meeting the interests of many stakeholders over the long term.

Book a demo today of Ciphr Connect today to find out how our solutions can streamline your HR team’s administrative and transactional tasks, giving you more time to focus on strategic sustainability goals.