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Sustainability and the Search for Talent

Updated: Jan 12

Savvy firms understand that young people want to work for organizations that cut down their carbon footprints, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman


Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now.

Last year, Google set an ambitious goal to decarbonize all of its energy consumption by 2030. By shifting to 100% renewable energy, the tech giant isn’t only aimed at addressing climate change—its also aimed at filling jobs. "If you don't do this correctly, you won't be able to attract talent," Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Bloomberg.

The article kicked off with a vivid description of Google’s newest campus: three short buildings near the San Francisco Bay shoreline with glistening roofs covered in overlapping solar panels; concrete pillars plunged into the ground that store heat to warm the building and its water supply without natural gas; and canopies that emit a welcoming light into an inner atrium. “We call this the Cathedral of Work,” said Asim Tahir, who oversees energy decisions in Google’s real estate division. Likened to a church, the new building is one of the ways the company is positioning itself in the tech industry’s fight for talent, a war which has intensified over the past year with more creative benefits and new work-from-anywhere policies. "When I look at the younger generation, people who are teenagers now, I can't see them making the choice to work for a company which they feel is polluting," Pichai says.

His prediction isn’t just a guess. According to the Pew Research Center, 37% percent of Gen Zers (those born between 1997 and 2010) listed climate change as a "top concern." Rife with new talent, this generation has been called “The Sustainability Generation." “They believe they can actually change the world and want to work for a company who does change the world,” says Tracey Franklin, VP of talent recruitment at Merck.

A survey by DoSomething found that, “If [brands] are not authentic, Gen Z will be the first to raise a red flag.” This dovetails with what the New York Times has reported—that when it comes to big tech, ethical concerns are causing many Gen Z college graduates to withhold their resumes. Sustainability communicates an awareness of something more than the bottom line. And in a world where upwards to 70% of employees say that their sense of purpose is defined by their work, such efforts prove pivotal.

Google’s focus on sustainability as a recruitment tactic echoes what I have said before: organizations that can’t help their new recruits find meaning risk losing talent. This may be especially true given the growth of the renewable energy sector.

Last year, renewable energy sources accounted for about 12% of total U.S. energy consumption and about 20% of electricity generation, according to the eighth edition of Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2021. Worldwide, renewable energy employment reached 12 million last year, up from 11.5 million in 2019. “The potential for renewable energy to generate decent work is a clear indication that we do not have to choose between environmental sustainability on the one hand, and employment creation on the other,” says Guy Ryder, director general at the International Labour Organization. “The two can go hand-in-hand.” Companies in this sector have a distinguishing advantage: it’s easier for them to draw a clear line of sight between their day-to-day operations and a larger, more impactful, sense of meaning. This line of sight isn’t just important for Gen Z, it's important for everyone. Millennials—the oldest of whom turned 40 this year—are three times more likely to say that the past year has caused them to reevaluate what they do for a living and think more deeply about the role of meaning in their day to day jobs.

Google isn’t alone in its thinking about sustainability. Apple has achieved carbon neutrality with its own operations and has promised to do the same with its supply chain by 2030. And Amazon is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2040. Best case, these efforts are a double win: a world where the planet benefits and the workforce does too.

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