Brainstorm Green

How going green can be a boon to corporate recruiters

June 2, 2011: 11:00 AM ET

Companies that tout their environmental sustainability cred could have a competitive edge in attracting the younger generation's best and brightest.

FORTUNE -- When a recruiter wants to snag top talent away from the competition, they often tout time-honored perks like bonuses, stock options and vacation time. But recruiters looking to put their best foot forward should add a new item to the arsenal: a company's environmental sustainability record.

A growing body of research has shown that Millennials want to work for companies that project values that align with their own, and environmental sustainability is gaining ground as a key value for the younger generation.

Of course, young people aren't turning down fat paychecks for thinner ones printed on recycled paper. Research from consulting firm Mercer suggests that salary is the most important consideration for job seekers of all ages. But workers under the age of 25 ranked a company's good reputation as the fourth most important draw for a job, just under pay, potential for career advancement and a flexible work schedule. Corporate sustainability practices are part of the reputation equation, says Jason Jeffay, a senior partner at Mercer.

"Sustainability plays into this notion of being able to give back to the community and the world by working for a company," Jeffay says, "which is a very important motivator."

A company's green agenda is becoming increasingly important for people who want to work in business. "We've definitely seen the number of young people interested in how businesses can be more sustainable explode in recent years," says Liz Maw, the executive director of Net Impact, a nonprofit that aims to help people with business careers promote social and environmental sustainability. The organization's membership has doubled since 2006, which currently stands at 20,000 members.

The term "sustainability" has only entered the HR lexicon in the last five years, says Jeffay. But the term has quickly gained near-ubiquity, according to Maw, and companies are beginning to pick up on the hiring benefits of green branding. Almost half (49%) of the companies surveyed by human resources consulting firm Buck Consultants in a report released this year said they promoted their green agenda, in part, to attract environmentally-conscious employees.

Young, business-minded job-seekers are likely weighing potential employers' environmental records more heavily for a host of reasons. For one, the younger generation is more informed about environmental issues than their predecessors, says Maw. "Millennials have grown up with access to information on a 24/7 basis," she says. "This generation realizes they're going to have to solve the environmental issues that the world faces."

Millennials also understand that social responsibility can affect a company's financials, says Jeffay, who notes that unsustainable practices sometimes come at a great cost to a company's brand. "Nobody wants to end up on the front page for an environmental issue," he says, and Millennials, more than employees in other age groups, are probably looking for companies with a strategy to avoid that situation.

Millennials also have the luxury of choosing a career path based on their values more than their forebears, says Jeffay. The younger generation of jobseekers grew up in a period of relative prosperity, he says, which means, "they didn't have other economic concerns, so social concerns rank much higher for this generation."

The younger generation may also be using a company's sustainability record as a proxy for other positive corporate qualities, says Wayne Balta, IBM's (IBM) vice president of corporate environmental affairs. "They've figured out that companies that are progressive and innovating in this area are themselves more innovative," he says.

Despite the indications that sustainability could be an attractive recruitment tool, not all HR teams are plugging their green credibility during interviews, says Maw. "We still see a little bit of disconnect between the work of the sustainability group and the HR and recruiting group. I think sustainability departments have realized for years that this was a draw," she adds, "and recruiters have started catching up more recently."

While pushing a sustainability platform alone may not be enough to grab the best young applicants, it looks to be enough of a factor to make any HR team turn a shade of green.

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About This Author
Shelley DuBois
Shelley DuBois
Writer - Reporter, Fortune

Shelley DuBois writes on management issues for Fortune.com. Before joining Fortune, she was a producer for National Public Radio's Science Friday and worked for Wired. Shelley has a graduate degree in science, health and environmental reporting from New York University. She lives in Brooklyn.

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