Choosing an Employer that Takes Sustainability Seriously

As a student, you’re likely to have lots of questions about what your future job prospects look like. We suggest that you consider an employer that is not just sustainable in terms of their own business practices, but one that offers you and your career longevity over the long haul.  Focusing on employers who take into consideration the environment, its workers, and ethical sustainability practices can help make your choice more secure and provide peace of mind when deciding on where best to invest your professional future. In this article we will cover how to research if an organisation takes sustainability seriously – a good indication that they’ll be around for years to come.

What does sustainability mean in business?

You’ll hear terms from employers like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Sustainability. All three strive for the purpose of improving the long-term sustainability of a business and the planet. This could be simplified to “doing the right thing”. For the sake of this article, we’ll refer to this topic as Sustainability and will focus on an employer’s environmental impact, their employee DE&I (diversity, equality, and inclusion) and their workforce wellbeing.

Where can you find information about an employer's sustainability?

Information about an organisation’s plans and progress towards being more sustainable can be found in multiple places. If they take the topic seriously, their website will include information or relevant links to their CSR, ESG or Sustainability Reports. You’ll quickly discover that each company reports in varying formats and houses their information in different places.

Windō is a helpful and registration-free resource that makes it easy to access, digest and compare the plans and progress that UK’s largest graduate employers are making to be more sustainable, all in one place and in an engaging and standardised format.

What to look out for when researching an employer’s sustainability

Transparency, or lack of, says a lot

Increasing transparency in sustainability reporting is key for an organisation to demonstrate that they have a true commitment to the planet and people and that they acknowledge the importance of the topic for young candidates. Gen Z are the incoming global workforce, as a generation will make up 33% of all employees by 2030, with a large majority (85% as revealed by Prospects) saying it’s important that the company they work for has sustainable practices. As such, when researching potential employers seek out transparent communication; no jargon, straight, honest talking, admission of progress and shortcomings and easily digestible visualisations of their data. The largest organisations in the UK are required by the government to report on certain sustainability activity. Some do it well and others need to catch up. If you want to work for an employer that takes sustainability and your future seriously, choose an organisation that goes above and beyond what is required, by not only reporting in greater detail but also by making their reports accessible, easy-to-understand and comparable. Of course, the alternative is to choose an employer that has work to do, where you could arguably drive greater impact, but that’s a whole other topic.

Positive signs that an employer is environmentally conscious

We like to look at an organisation's Intensity Ratio, which is a way of defining emissions data in relation to an appropriate business metric, such as tonnes of CO2e per £ of sales revenue. This allows comparison of energy efficiency performance over time and with other similar types of organisations. Within this model low is more efficient, high is less efficient. Windō have built a comparison tool so that you can compare the intensity ratios of FTSE250 companies and The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers side-by-side (if indeed the organisations you’re looking for publicly report the data that’s required).

In the previous section we talked about identifying organisations that go above and beyond what’s required. The government currently requires listed organisations to report on Scope 1 and 2 emissions. The real issue however is hidden in Scope 3 emissions. Companies reporting on this are at least being transparent and should highlight their efforts to reduce these emissions. This glossary explains the different scopes and other environmental terminology.

Make sure you understand the company's strategic priorities and goals (most will have three within each sustainability vertical) as this will provide a more granular overview of their environmental priorities. If you’re looking to work for a large organisation, be surprised if they’ve not publicly announced their Net Zero target date (2030 is ambitious, 2050 is the latest it should be). This is the date on which they have pledged to not add to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Carbon neutrality will likely be mentioned. This means they’re taking steps to remove the equivalent amount of CO2 to what’s emitted through activities across their supply chains, by investing in offsetting. It’s not perfect though as it can allow companies to just offset and not actually look to actively reduce their emissions first. In addition, it has recently been argued that there is not strong evidence to support the idea that offsetting reliably reduces emissions and there is also a simple fact that there isn’t enough land to plant trees to make offsetting a primary strategy.

You’ll no doubt be very aware of greenwashing - “the act of providing misleading or outright false information about the environmental impact of a company’s products and operations”.

If you’re going into a startup, small or young business (and some SMEs) then finding the above information will be more difficult. There’s no harm in asking an interviewer or existing employees what they’re doing across their sustainability and you should expect that if they are a young business they will have some decent measures in place and less history to deal with.

Does an employer take diversity, equality, and inclusion seriously?

When assessing how serious a company is about diversity, equality, and inclusion, it is important to look beyond gender and ethnicity to include LGBTQ+ employees, those with a disability, from under-represented communities and other minority groups. It is important for a company to not only promote equitable opportunities for all employees, but also create an inclusive environment conducive to diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Ensuring equal opportunities in recruitment processes, work environments and hiring practices indicates that a company takes its commitment seriously, being genuine in its efforts towards making diversity, equality, and inclusion goals achievable.

Take a look at their strategic priorities against their employee data. If an employer has a future target of a 50/50 workforce gender breakdown because they’re currently weighted 70/30 in any direction, then you should expect to see a far greater percentage of hires of the lower gender over recent years. The same can apply to any segment of the workforce. For DE&I and employee wellbeing, Glassdoor can be a helpful resource to discover employee feedback.

How do you choose an employer that places the wellbeing of their employees at the forefront?

It's no secret that when a company takes care of its employees, the rewards are mutual. A healthy mental state among staff gives them an encouraging environment to thrive and better performance, ultimately achieving the objectives of the company. The fundamental aspects that employers should focus on to sustain employee wellbeing include mental health support, generous benefits such as flexible leave policies and work from home options, independent access to mental and physical health care, understanding their needs beyond job description and helping with work-life balance. When companies prioritise and invest in these areas for their employees it can help them build strong relationships with each other as well as increase engagement amongst themselves. Thus having an overall positive impact on productivity and a greater employee retention rate.

Be on the lookout for companies that think their work is done when it comes to remote / hybrid work because of their policies during the pandemic. Many companies seem to have taken the attitude that they made a lot of progress during Covid and can now rest on their laurels. Seek out an employer that stands by the good policies they implemented and are ensuring it continues and evolves. When a new generation enters the workforce there is an opportunity for employers to make positive changes to meet the desires of those they’re looking to attract. Gen Z view work differently to previous generations, particularly when it comes to work-life balance. As such, progressive employers will be acting on and communicating their efforts in this regard.

Do you believe that employers should report their sustainability more transparently?

The team behind Windō are on a mission to make sustainability reporting more transparent and more relevant to you, so that you can make better-informed decisions when researching your career options, whilst also helping organisations accelerate their plans to be more sustainable. Windō would like to now improve their sustainability profiles to reflect what you really want to see from each organisation, not just what employers or the government think you ought to see.

You can support them on their journey, read Windō's article on Gen Z, Doing the Right Thing

Article by Oli Coles BEM, CEO at Windō