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Climate Change Branding Can Lift Recruitment and Retention

A woman is holding up a poster that says there's no planet b.

​Job hunters are saying they want to work for employers that support efforts to stop climate change. As a result, employers are seeking to promote the ways they are taking this requirement seriously.  

"Many younger individuals want to work for purpose-driven companies, as saving the planet matters to them," said Bill Zujewski, co-founder and chief operating officer of the Massachusetts-based Green Business Bureau, which helps businesses assess their environmental strengths and weaknesses and charts strategies for improvement.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in the spring of 2021 and updated in October, 70 percent of U.S. workers said that a firm's environmental record is important to them and is a consideration when deciding whether to take a job with a company. In fact, one-quarter of those surveyed referred to corporate environmental records as a "major factor" in their decision.

According to Ed O'Boyle, Gallup's global practice leader, a company's dedication to environmental and climate issues will continue to grow in importance to job seekers in the years ahead, competing with increased pay, work/life balance and job security as a priority.

"My belief is that climate change will become more prevalent in the disclosures by organizations that have to address where they are with their environmental effort and what they are specifically doing about it," Boyle said. "If I am an HR manager, I want to make sure that as we develop our recruitment processes, that we have clarity in our message, namely what we are investing in from an environmental standpoint."

A 2019 survey of large employers reported by Fast Company found that 40 percent of Millennials preferred to work for "environmentally responsible" companies.

With all the publicity surrounding the recent COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, climate change is top of mind for many job seekers. That means HR directors at companies of all sizes should start taking steps to make climate change part of their corporate branding to help attract qualified talent, Zujewski said. "It can be a competitive differentiator."

Climate Change and Recruitment

One company that has made climate change a key part of its brand is roofing and insulation manufacturer Owens Corning, based in Toledo, Ohio. The company has held the top spot in the 100 Best Corporate Citizens Ranking for the past three years, and climate change is one of the major criteria in the selection process.

"A focus on climate change is not new for us," said Paula Russell, executive vice president and chief of human resources at Owens Corning. "We are in the third round of sustainability goals for us, including robust climate change objectives."

Russell explained that Owens Corning has a good reputation for being climate savvy and is looked upon as a leader in the industry. The company scores high on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, where it led the building products sector in all three dimensions: economic, environmental and social.  

"We leverage these recognitions as part of our employment brand," Russell said. "Our career website guides people to view our strong climate change record and performance. Also, we make these recognitions visible on social media."

Owens Corning also leverages their climate change prowess in other recruiting activities. "When we go to a college campus to recruit top graduates, we know they are seeking to find out how we contribute to the environment. Many [schools] are educating their students in this space, so it is top of mind," Russell said.

"It's important for employees to feel that they are part of something that matters, larger than just financial results of the company," she added. "There is an attraction and a draw to that."

Climate Change Blemishes

Just as a strong environmental record can be an HR positive, being perceived as a polluter or partner with polluters can be a burdensome negative. A good example is the recent employee "revolt" at global consuting firm McKinsey & Co.

When it became widely known that some of the firm's largest clients were oil, gas and coal companies with large carbon-producing footprints, over 1,000 employees signed a letter to McKinsey's partners requesting that they reveal their clients' pollution activities. In fact, The New York Times and other news sources reported that some employees resigned due to the firm's work with fossil fuel companies.

In response, Bob Sternfels, the firm's global managing partner, issued a statement to employees explaining why the firm worked with polluters and that this work helped to reduce polluters' overall carbon footprint. He concluded: "Companies can't go from brown to green without getting a little dirty. And if that means some mud gets thrown at McKinsey, we can live with that."

Still, McKinsey tried to offset the bad PR by citing its own low carbon footprint and its participation in climate change events. Just a few months ago, the company launched a sustainability platform designed to help clients decrease carbon emissions toward achieving net-zero goals. It is also starting a "McKinsey Academy for Sustainability" that will train both workers and executives on climate change issues. 

The Role of HR

Some HR departments are well on their way to making climate change a major component of their positioning with employees and job applicants, while many other HR professionals haven't started or say it isn't their department's responsibility.

According to a 2021 "The HR and Climate Strategy Survey" study by WTW (formerly Willis Towers Watson), almost half of HR professionals are only minimally involved in delivering climate strategy and 70 percent have no plans to do so in the future. However, the survey of 100 North American employers also reveals that most believe it is essential for the employee value proposition to contain environmental and climate change strategies. Most of these firms also agreed that employees have an important place in furthering their firm's climate agenda, though less than 30 percent have delivered a road map explaining goals to their workers.

Still, there are hopeful signs that HR is getting the message. The WTW survey shows that over half of the participants "have implemented, started to implement or are considering employee engagement and listening activities to understand employee attitudes on climate; another 21 percent may consider these for the future."

Here are some tips from Zujewski on how to develop a greener HR employment strategy:

  • Make sustainability a key part of your mission, brand, values and culture. Cite these values on your website pages, blogs and social media. Make it part of company communications.
  • Find out from job candidates what social causes excite them and attract their attention. If they are environmentalists, ask them to share their experiences. Make sure the candidates understand that their concerns align with your company's goals and mission.
  • Let candidates know exactly what your company is doing to be more environmentally and socially responsible. Give them the details on how it is reducing its carbon footprint. Explain special projects within the company and community, but be careful to avoid "greenwashing" by using misleading or exaggerated environmental claims.
  • Train hiring managers to share the company's green efforts in interviews. They should pick up on candidates' climate change priorities and concerns and know how to respond to candidates' questions.
  • Make candidates feel they could have a role in the company's green activities, such as by joining green teams or working on new climate-friendly products.

"From an HR perspective, we play a critical role," Russell said. "In our sustainability report, there is a large section devoted to talent. In addition, Owens Corning continues to research what people care about and their climate change feelings. It is evident that this research influences how we think about attracting talent." 

David Beck is managing director of David Beck Associates, a content development company in Woodmere, N.Y.


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