Sustainability – A Competitive Edge In Talent Acquisition

By Harris Karaolides, Global Lead, InterSearch Worldwide Energy & Sustainability Practice Group, in cooperation with the practice group experts.

Go ahead, ask a headhunter what her job was like in 2022, and there’s a good chance the first thing she will talk about is the shifting priorities of candidates. That is unless she starts complaining about the alarming increase in the number of counter-offers, of course.

Anyway. Only a couple of years ago, when considering a job change, candidates were primarily interested in career growth, a wider scope of responsibilities, and improved compensation. But post-COVID, and I don’t think this is a coincidence when a headhunter calls a candidate, we have noticed that the candidate’s top questions (usually in this order) are:

  1. Flex-work related: Can I work from home at least two days a week? Can I work from anywhere in the world for a couple of weeks every year? (extremely popular question in expat-heavy locations such as Dubai).
  2. Job security related: Why is the role vacant? How long was the previous guy in the role for?
  3. Sustainability related.

But what is Sustainability, exactly, and why is it important?

Sustainability refers to the ability to maintain or continue a certain process or state, usually in the context of the environment and natural resources. In practice, it often involves balancing economic development with the protection of natural resources and the well-being of future generations. In other words, and to be a bit cynical about it, companies must give up some of their short-term profits to be branded as “sustainability-friendly” if they want to be around in the 30’s too, especially those companies targeting younger millennials and zoomers, either as customers or as employees.

Sustainability can include practices such as reducing waste and pollution, conserving water and energy, protecting biodiversity, and promoting social and economic equity, and these practices have created new types of jobs that simply did not exist a few years ago. For a company to recruit for such sustainability-related roles can present a number of challenges. Some of these include:

  • Limited pool of candidates: Sustainability is a relatively new field and there may be a limited pool of candidates with the necessary skills and experience.
  • Lack of understanding: Many job seekers may not fully understand what sustainability roles entail, making it difficult for employers to attract the right candidates.
  • Specialized skills: Sustainability roles often require specialized skills, such as knowledge of environmental regulations and experience with sustainable practices, which can be difficult to find in candidates.
  • Unclear job descriptions: Sustainability roles can be broad and encompass many different responsibilities, which can make it difficult to clearly define the job and attract the right candidates.
  • Competition: Sustainability roles are becoming increasingly popular, and as a result, employers may face competition from other companies when recruiting talent.
  • Lack of perception of career advancement: Some candidates may not see sustainability roles as providing a clear path for career advancement, making it difficult to attract and retain talent.
  • Cost: Sustainability roles may require a higher level of investment for companies, which can make it difficult for them to attract and retain talent.
  • Lack of standardization: There is currently no standard way of defining and measuring sustainability skills and experience, which can make it difficult for companies to evaluate candidates.
  • Lack of diversity: There is a lack of diversity in sustainability roles, particularly among minorities and low-income communities, which can make it difficult for companies to attract a diverse pool of candidates.

One example can be found in the field of renewable packaging. Juhani Konu, Managing Partner of InterSearch Finland, says: “As the large global brand owners in packaged consumer goods become more aware of the effect sustainability has on the corporate image within the society, they start highlighting the importance of their packaging. As generally known, traditional plastic packaging is a major source of waste. As a result, there’s a large new global business area for suppliers who specialize in producing packaging that is recyclable and contains less plastic.”

According to Juhani, an example is companies that specialize in wood fiber products and are investing in this new technology. But to really find a market and success for their solutions, they need to recruit new talent who can find business for them: “These business development roles are difficult to recruit for, as the position requirements combine sales skills with a rather deep technical understanding. Furthermore, these positions are often stand-alone as they are located close to the market, but often in a distance from the production facilities and most of the internal stakeholders. Such companies often seek out the services of a search professional for these key positions, as the search is usually too specialized and difficult to conduct through internal resources.”

“Steel, mining, paper, cement, and even beer manufacturing are good examples of industries that have been pioneers when it comes to creating and recruiting for sustainability roles”, adds Malena Juarez, Managing Partner of InterSearch Mexico. “This is because of their need to optimize resources, water, and energy for instance, but also because they are constantly in the public eye about how they behave in reducing their footprint.” Ana Ber, Managing Partner of InterSearch Romania, confirms she has noticed an increase in requests from her clients across Central-Eastern Europe for a variety of new roles/job titles that are sustainability-related. These include:

  • Energy efficiency auditors: These professionals assess energy use in buildings and identify areas for improvement to reduce energy waste and increase efficiency.
  • Green building architects and designers: These professionals design buildings that are energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable, using techniques such as passive solar heating, natural ventilation, and green roofs.
  • Sustainable energy project managers: These professionals oversee the planning and implementation of sustainable energy projects, ensuring they are completed on time and within budget.
  • Sustainable energy policy experts: Governments and organizations need experts who can develop and implement policies that promote sustainable energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Says Ana: “For jobs like these the talent pool is still limited, and executive search firms like InterSearch can add a lot of value to companies looking to attract qualified candidates as we transition to a more sustainable future. The right search partner should have sustainability expertise and should support the hiring organization in building a diverse and inclusive workforce, contributing to a more sustainable and socially responsible business. Your search partner should have the ability to identify candidates with a passion for sustainability and the motivation to make a positive impact and support you in benchmarking sustainability performance, identifying areas for improvement, and recommending candidates with the skills and experience to drive change. By providing ongoing support to the clients as they implement sustainability strategies, your search partner helps ensure that sustainability remains a top priority and that progress is being made towards sustainability goals.”

For more information, please contact our Energy & Sustainability experts or read the Practice Group e-brochure.

About InterSearch 

InterSearch Worldwide is a global organization of executive search firms consistently ranked amongst the largest retained executive search practices in the world. InterSearch is currently operating with over 90 offices in more than 50 countries. Established in 1989, InterSearch prides itself on carefully selecting the best executive search firms to partner as members of a global entity with high integrity, transparency, and depth of experience. InterSearch prides itself on having a global reach, but local impact.


Sustainability – A Competitive Edge In Talent Acquisition

5 min

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