Why businesses need to embed sustainability to attract and retain the best talent

A new UK survey has found that more than a quarter of workers would quit their company if it was failing to act on sustainability. So, as the ‘climate quitting’ trend heats up, how can businesses set themselves up to attract and retain talent?

Why businesses need to embed sustainability to attract and retain the best talent

A new survey from E.ON of more than 10,000 people across the UK sought to uncover the attitudes toward the public at a national, regional, and corporate level.

While the main findings showcase that many of the public feel undervalued and flat-out ignored when it comes to decisions to make local communities greener, the survey also offers up fresh warnings for businesses.

According to respondents, more than a quarter (26%) of UK workers would consider quitting their jobs if their company did not take steps to become greener in the next five years. This is a considerable increase on the same survey from 2022, in which 18% stated that they would consider their job.

The notion that people would leave their jobs due to poor sustainability credentials is not new. Indeed, there is a booming trend of “climate quitters” – those who would leave or reject jobs based on the poor ESG commitments and/or progress from corporates.

Last year, KPMG found that 20% of UK office workers would turn down a job if ESG factors were deemed lacking, with almost half of workers wanting their employers to demonstrate climate and social commitments.

Last year, a survey from SaveMoneyCutCarbon examined worker attitudes toward corporate sustainability. It found that 19% of UK employees would never apply for a job with a company that doesn’t “prioritise sustainability”. Additionally, 22% of employees will only support businesses that can demonstrate how sustainability is embedded across their operations.

If these figures were to account for the whole of the UK workforce, it would mean that almost 10 million workers would turn away from a company based on their approach to sustainability.

The most recent E.ON survey highlights that 74% of people believe that corporates have a key role to play in spurring climate action, by 39% do not believe enough is being done. Additionally, 77% of people would like to see their companies take action to improve their environmental credentials.

Unsurprisingly, there is a notable ambition gap regarding the demand for corporate sustainability based on age groups.

For 18-24-year-olds, many of whom are just entering the workforce, four in 10 would be prepared to move to another company depending on corporate sustainability efforts, well above the aforementioned UK average of a quarter. This shrinks to 16% for over 55%. Younger workers are also three times as likely to cite the sustainability credentials of a business as a reason to work for them compared to over 55s.

In short, if businesses want to attract and retain the best talent, sustainability needs to be high up the corporate agenda.

Skills and demand

One of the benefits of taking sustainability out of its silo and getting boardroom buy-in is the trickle-down effect it creates. More of the workforce becomes aware of a company’s sustainability initiatives and the role of the sustainability professional is therefore to embed actions across different functions that build toward whatever ESG North Star they’re targeting.

This sounds like a dream scenario where the workforce is inspired to act, and maybe they are. But what many businesses are failing to deliver is the training and upskilling aspect that equips all workers with the means to act more sustainably.

The E.ON survey found that only 12% of UK workers believe they have access to the tools and training needed to work more sustainably.

Elsewhere, a study from Trade Union, Prospects, found that more than a third of workers reported that specialist tasks are being assigned to workers who are not trained to deliver them, due to a lack of investment in skills. Separate research suggests that only 18% of UK employees feel content with the amount of training they receive in relation to sustainability.

A report from the World Economic Forum (WEF), using data from LinkedIn, found that efforts to upskill and reskill workers for a sustainable future are moving at a snail’s pace in comparison to the skyrocketing demand for workers with green skills.

When looking at the UK’s efforts to reach net-zero, upskilling becomes crucial. Reports suggest that 3.2 million workers will need to “boost their skills” if the UK is to meet its 2050 net-zero target. This figure covers upskilling and retraining.

Among the sectors most affected, the report states, are construction and transportation, where 30% and 26% of workers respectively will need upskilling.

However, new jobs created to help drive the UK’s transition to net-zero could pay 18% more than the national average salary – and 30% more than the average salary offered by companies in high-emitting sectors.

There is a need to take employees on the low-carbon transition, and there are multiple ways to do so. Recently, edie outlined three actionable insights on engaging employees for sustainability action. Read the piece in full here.

Options to consider include Carbon Literacy training. This training aims to provide employees with a clear understanding of the organisation’s environmental impact, their individual and collective carbon footprints, and actionable steps for mitigation at work and in their personal life.

The training consists of three modules covering climate science, policies, the EA’s net-zero goals, and practical strategies for reducing carbon footprints. Data assessments were conducted to evaluate training effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Leadership alignment was ensured through similar literacy training for executives to translate discussions into actionable outcomes.

Incentivisation is also a tried and tested method, with many adding sustainability-linked KPIs into worker contracts as part of onboarding processes.

Steps to consider

Businesses would do well to consider what types of benefit packages they are offering workers, and whether they link into the broader ESG values of the company.

New research from employee benefits technology company Zest, which surveyed more than 2,000 employees and 500 HR managers, has uncovered some discrepancies between corporate sustainability aspirations and the benefits packages also on offer for staff.

It found that just three in 10 employees currently believe that corporate benefit platforms support the needs of the individuals, with four in 10 stating that they want their company to invest in sustainable and accessible options as part of benefits packages.

As such, businesses may want to explore whether benefits packages are tied to things such as electric vehicles and sustainable pensions.

Back to the E.ON survey, and respondents also highlighted the areas that they want their businesses to focus on in order to make working more sustainable in general.

The top two improvements businesses need to deliver are investing in onsite solutions such as renewables and insulation to make offices greener and making recycling easier (both cited by 43% of respondents).

Further down the list of actions is banning disposable plastics (31%), utilising sustainable suppliers (28%), investing in local community projects (26%) and ensuring pensions aren’t funding fossil fuels (21%).

It is clear that attracting and retaining talent can’t be confined to the rhetoric and slogans that businesses use to describe sustainability. It needs to be seen and acted upon in the office, reflected in worker’s benefits and incorporated into training modules.

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