Effective Leadership Through Action: How Sustainability Creates a Competitive Talent Advantage


Karen Warnemuende

Global Vice President

Organizations are under increasing pressure to deliver on sustainability, not only from their investors but from their employees and potential candidates. The pandemic heightened awareness of environmental issues, with 70% of respondents in a recent BCG survey saying they were more aware of climate issues than before Covid-19, and 87% agreeing that companies should integrate environmental concerns into their products, services, and operations to a greater extent than in the past. These concerns are increasing in priority for talent everywhere, and it’s crucial that organizations keep them front of mind when considering their workforce strategy.

For leaders and C-suites around the globe, sustainability has to become much more than a buzzword; they must cultivate new behaviors and shared accountability that benefits their organizations alongside the environment and wider community. Research from Accenture and the World Economic Forum found that it was vital for businesses to embed responsible and sustainable values into their ‘DNA’. Those companies that showed deeply embedded sustainable practices enjoyed 20% greater profits, as well as greater environmental impact.

In this blog, I explore the impact of sustainability on the workforce and the wider jobs market.

Does sustainability impact talent attraction?

In a candidate-led  market, sustainability and environmental impact may be decisive for candidates and devastating for organizations with a poor record on green issues. 69% of workers surveyed in a Gallup poll look at a company’s environmental record when considering whether or not to take a job. A survey by clean energy platform Swytch, reported on by Fast Company, found that nearly three-quarters of Millennials – the largest generation currently in the job market – would be willing to accept a pay cut to work for an environmentally responsible company. However, the HSBC Future of Work report found that only 27% of business leaders believed sustainability credentials were important for attracting or retaining talent. The message is clear; those organizations that are ahead of the curve on sustainability will have an advantage in the labor market.

Are environmental issues changing the job market?

Green issues are also shaping the wider US job market. The $1.2T Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) includes a new $6.4B Carbon Reduction Program and is estimated to create 15 million jobs over the next 10 years. Organizations with a strong environmental ethos will be well placed to support a growing green economy. The act may also change the balance of job types in the US, with Georgetown's Center on Education & the Workforce predicting that the act will, “increase the share of infrastructure jobs from 11% to 14% of all jobs in this country, temporarily reviving the blue-collar economy.”

How do green credentials affect employee engagement and retention?

The impact of sustainability doesn’t stop when the hiring process is over. A research study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found a 16% boost in productivity for businesses that voluntarily adopted sustainable practices. While a Society for Human Resources Management study, reported on in Harvard Business Review, found morale was 55% better in companies with strong sustainability programs and employee loyalty was 38% better. An environmentally-conscious approach impacts everything, from a company’s bottom line to the morale of its workforce, and it’s not something any leader or organization can afford to overlook.  

Beware of Green Washing

Disingenuous action on climate change can damage employee and candidate opinions. A recent trends study from UK software company Advanced found that 56% of 18 to 24-year olds felt their employer was ‘greenwashing’ – overstating the impact and reach of their sustainability practices for business gain.

Sustainability cannot be a box-ticking exercise. It’s built into the future of nearly every industry and it’s front and center for job seekers and workers. This is a great opportunity for organizations to reflect on sustainable behavior to future-proof not only our environment but their wider business and talent needs.

Need support linking your green credentials with workforce strategy?  

KellyOCG Talent Consulting can help organizations review how their sustainability approach connects with their talent approach, providing independent insights that help companies achieve their goals faster.



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