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Graduates expect employer focus on sustainability

November 2022

Employers having a strong commitment to sustainable practices is increasingly important for both the attraction and retention of graduate recruits, a survey by Prospects finds

Sustainable development refers to development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.1 To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.2

It has long been recognised that if we are to achieve sustainable development, industry has a significant role to play, alongside government regulators and policymakers.

Many business leaders and corporations have come forward to show their support for the principles of sustainable development. But if words are not accompanied by accountable actions these efforts may be seen as an attempt to 'greenwash', which could lead to a negative impact on their employer brand.3

Three quarters said that they would be more likely to apply to a company with strong sustainable practices.

Demonstrate sustainability strategy in job adverts

For many, sustainability is synonymous with environmentalism. However, sustainable practices are practices that support not only ecological health, but also human and economic health and vitality. It is a company's responsibility to produce higher standards of living and quality of life for the communities that surround them while still maintaining profitability for stakeholders.

With young people becoming ever more aware of the of the environmental and social challenges facing the planet, it is more vital than ever for employers to be transparent regarding their sustainability strategies. A company's societal and environmental mission is becoming an element of attraction for young talent as important as compensation.4

Prospects surveyed 1,050 graduates to get an idea of how important it is for them to work for a company that is committed to sustainability. While training and development, and career progression were identified by respondents as the two most important factors when considering a job, 91% of respondents indicated that it is important that the role they apply for allows them to make a difference in people's lives. And the vast majority of respondents said that it is vital that a company be committed to sustainability and has a positive impact on the environment.

Employers who do have a strong commitment to sustainability can set themselves apart from the competition by highlighting their sustainability practices within job adverts. 72% of the graduates surveyed felt that job adverts should include an employer's sustainable practices/policies. Similarly, three quarters said that they would be more likely to apply to a company with strong sustainable practices.

Half (52%) said that they have looked at a company's sustainability plan or corporate social responsibility policy when looking for a job, and of that, 59% said that they did further research into the company's sustainable practices to verify that they are actually being proactive in this regard.

Although younger respondents were more likely to say that they've looked at a company's sustainability plan when looking for a job, older respondents were more likely to follow up and do further research into the company's sustainable practices.

Two thirds said that they would stay longer in a job if they knew it had an impact on sustainability.

Respond to concerns to retain talent

These findings lend support to previous research suggesting that sustainability can be effectively leveraged as a marketing tool to attract the best talent. What's more, it can also be leveraged as an effective 'commitment tool'.5 Two thirds (65%) of those who participated in our survey said that they would stay longer in a job if they knew it had an impact on sustainability.

Moreover, when asked what they would do if they discovered that a company they were working for didn't make sustainable choices, the majority (71%) said that they would raise the issue to management and try to make a positive difference. That might be by influencing policy or simply making more sustainable choices within their role in hopes of influencing their colleagues.

On the other hand, more than a quarter (28%) said that they would look for a new job:

"If I had the option to work somewhere that did make sustainable choices that would be my preference. I would certainly feel guilty working for a company that didn't make sustainable choices.”

Interestingly, a fifth of those who said they would raise the issue with management also said that they would look for another job if their concerns were ignored.

Only one in ten respondents said that they would do nothing - for some this stemmed from a lack of concern for sustainability, but others expressed feelings of powerlessness. Suggesting that they would like to take a stance in such a situation but would fear repercussions.

The results of this survey highlight just how important it is to young talent to work for sustainable employers. After their basic workplace needs are met, many focus heavily on the environmental and societal impact they could have through their company. The day may not be far off when sustainability becomes the top priority for candidates shortlisting an ideal company to work for.6


  1. Our Common Future, United Nations, 1987.
  2. Learn About Sustainability, EPA, 2021.
  3. Sustainability increasingly important to young talent, Luminate, 2021.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.

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