4 Ways to Attract Top Sustainability Talent

by Shannon Houde

2020 might have been wrought with crisis for many sectors; but for sustainability and ESG professionals, it marked a turning point. The last year has firmly cemented the relationship between purpose-led business and corporate success, with a wide swathe of companies now stepping up recruitment of specialist sustainability and impact roles. Jobs that touch on the “green” economy alone are expected to soar 105 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the many motivated and experienced sustainability professionals out there, this presents a big opportunity. What better time to kickstart your career, go after that promotion or even start from scratch in the specialty?

But if you’re a recruiter, particularly at a brand where sustainability is embedded into every part of the business, it presents a big challenge. When competition for the best sustainability professionals out there just got a lot tougher, how do you attract, retain and empower them to drive progress at your organization?


Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up

Upskill existing talent

Did you know that nearly two out of three people aren’t currently happy or fulfilled in their role? For companies looking to grow their pool of talent in a competitive space, it pays to first identify existing staff members — those that have already proved their worth and know the business — that might be looking for new opportunities in impact or purpose-led roles.

Encourage line managers to check in with teams and get a sense of who might be itching for a new challenge. Actively promote sustainability and ESG roles on internal comms and highlight that full training can be given. Offer taster sessions in which any member of staff can learn more about the sustainability and impact work going on within the company.

The important thing is that, before you look outside for new recruits, ensure you’re not missing out on great talent currently dormant within the business.

Create tailored job specs

One of the great things about ESG and sustainability coming to the fore across all types of businesses, is that it’s no longer siloed in a specialist department, or sat separate from the nuts and bolts of operations. But as the reality of these roles evolve, so too do recruitment teams need to more carefully define the role that potential candidates are looking at.

That means avoiding vague terms or criteria that could encompass any role in sustainability. Just as you’d expect each cover letter to be tailored for each role, ensure each job spec is specific to the individual job opening.

For technical roles, for instance, ensure that the specialist departments are working alongside HR teams to draft criteria, and have a final check before the job is advertised.

Benchmark your competitors

Previously, recruiters at forward-thinking companies had the advantage. They were few and far between, while mainstream companies saw little reason to bother with the specialism beyond a small CSR team in a corner office. That meant their competition was a smaller pool of often similar companies. Now that demand for ESG and sustainability professionals has ballooned, covering every industry, that competition is vast and far less familiar.

That means it pays dividends to carry out a benchmarking exercise for the types of roles you’re recruiting for. Where possible, conduct or commission a salary-benchmarking study or use an external recruitment agency to do a candidate-mapping exercise. Know what you’re up against.

Empower your team to help

As we all know, many candidates don’t land their dream job by waiting for the perfect recruitment ad to pop up. That’s even truer in the ESG and sustainability sphere — where the transferability of skills, and the movement between totally different industries, makes networking and relationship-building such a big part of securing your next gig.

But this same logic applies to recruiters on the other side of the fence. With ESG and sustainability, it’s crucial to look beyond your immediate competitors, beyond your industry and — given the lessons of 2020 — even beyond your typical geography to land the best candidate for the job.

Doing so can be both challenging and resource-intensive, though. So, don’t ignore the power in leveraging your existing networks and relationships as a business — i.e., your existing team. Set aside budget to incentivize staff to identify and flag opportunities to external candidates they know. Set a KPI for senior leadership, with rewards attached. Create an open channel for staff to highlight potential candidates, whether there’s a specific job vacancy or not.

It’s brilliant news that sustainability and ESG professionals look set to become as critical to any business as operations, sales and marketing; but for brands that rely on a steady stream of candidates in these roles, it will require a rethink of hiring strategies. Without a big effort to attract and retain top talent, even the most sustainable-centric business might find themselves losing out to the competition.


This article was already published by Sustainable Brands and can be viewed here.


You may also like...

sustainability catalyst
How to be a ‘sustainability catalyst’

Stephanie Cárdenas has had an incredibly diverse career. Self-identifying as a “sustainability catalyst,” she has shaped sustainability strategies for international clients at Deloitte, worked as a green finance consultant at the Inter-American Development Bank and developed farm to fork systems as sustainability manager at Baldor Speciality Foods in New York. Now, in her latest role as forest manager at nonprofit CDP, she’s part of the mission to get companies to disclose their progress on reducing corporate impact on people and

By Shannon Houde
The Marine Stewardship Council’s Angelina Skowronski on selling sustainability, the upside of being an extrovert

Like so many sustainability professionals, Angelina Skowronski’s career trajectory hasn’t been linear. After several years working in the seafood industry, building sustainability programs from the ground up and leading Fishpeople Seafood to maintain B Corp status, Skowronski took a sidestep into the adventure sports industry before returning to the sector in her current role as commercial manager at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). In this interview, she discusses how she came to that decision, the massive challenge we all face

By Shannon Houde
Carving out your sustainability career in the private sector

When Lindsay Vignoles joined skincare company Rodan + Fields in 2018, she didn’t wait for the right role in sustainability to appear — she set about creating it for herself. Now overseeing environmental, social and governance functions at the San Francisco company as director of ESG, Vignoles talks candidly about how she formally created that role within the business, how to create buy-in from leadership when a company is early in its sustainability journey and how she sees ESG evolving

By Shannon Houde
Insider sizes up fashion’s fair labor problems

Prior to accepting a position with Zalando in early February, Christian Smith was partnerships and stakeholder engagement lead at Fair Wear Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to improve conditions for workers in garment factories. Previously, he spent years working to make changes from within the apparel industry, with roles at Tesco, ASOS and TOMS. Here Smith explains how working with an NGO compares with working for a brand, how COVID triggered a new understanding of the systemic problems within global apparel and what Fair

By Shannon Houde


Book a 30-minute trial session with Shannon