Greenwashing firms – the great resignation’s biggest victims?

Talent could head to employers that are genuine about sustainability

COP26 is pressuring businesses to limit their impact on the environment, but firms should also embrace sustainable practices as key retention and recruitment policies and an ethical priority.

The climate change conference comes on the heels of the ‘great resignation’ where employees are quitting in droves amid a buoyant jobs market, searching for better roles.

The phenomenon is happening across all sectors and among blue and white-collar workers, including retail, healthcare, and office-based roles. A record 4.3 million people in the US, nearly 3% of the nation’s workforce, quit their jobs in August 2021. In the same month, job postings exceeded 1 million for the first time in the UK.

Younger workers and environmental sustainability

With candidates empowered by a plethora of job options, staff who feel their employer is being disingenuous about environmental sustainability are looking for employers who are doing better. This is especially true for younger talent who want to work for values-driven and impactful organisations.

In fact, 86% of millennials would consider taking a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own, according to a 2018 LinkedIn Workplace Culture report.

While a report by software company Peakon found that Generation Z is “the only generation to reference social concerns within employee comments.” It added, “raised in a time when the effects of climate change are making weekly headlines, it shows that they care deeply about the world around them.”

Gordon Wilson, CEO of UK IT firm Advanced has asked employers to practice what they preach on sustainability to recruit and retain younger workers, who can also help devise better solutions.

“Our recent business Trends Survey shows over half (56%) of 18-24-year-olds are accusing their employer of ‘greenwashing’, meaning that they overstate and gloss over their sustainable business efforts for business gain.

“We cannot afford to ignore the voice of this generation, which has much greater personal awareness of their values and the impact they want to have on the world than previous generations. These are the voices of future leaders, and they’re joining the business world with an inherent distrust.”

Wilson added that employers should work with younger talent to devise more innovative solutions to stem their environmental impact. “They are asking questions that we don’t yet have the answers to, but we need them to work with us to help us provide those answers.

“We can invite young employees to help us come up with new solutions. We will never solve the UK’s skills crisis if we don’t. Young people want to align themselves with companies that are doing the right thing for the planet and society and are working towards positive change.”

Younger workers bring unique perspectives and technological prowess, states Wilson, meaning they can help devise solutions to climatic impact. However, what will drive success is better understanding and communication between multi-generations of workers.

“Young people bring the strength of challenge and a different way of thinking, forcing everyone to revisit old ideas and look at things in a new way that drives improvements. That they are highly adept with technology is beyond a given, which is instrumental in understanding and limiting our impact on the environment.

“Initiatives such as reverse mentoring are a positive way to foster greater understanding between the generations and help everyone to understand, respect, and appreciate what each can bring.”

Boehringer Ingelheim – a case study in sustainable initiatives

With younger workers such as Gen Zs and millennials soon to account for the majority of the workforce, businesses must prove that they operate with an additional purpose beyond profits.

An example of such a business is the pharmaceutical firm Boehringer Ingelheim. Their main initiative, “Making More Health”, aims to “engage marginalised communities on topics such as health, education, employment prospects, and living and working conditions.”

The initiative involves a partnership with Ashoka, the largest global network of social entrepreneurs, enabling “changemakers to co-create innovative healthcare solutions and deploy them in vulnerable communities.”

So far, they have supported over 120 social entrepreneurs globally, with another 130 to be added until 2025. The initiative “significantly increases the company’s impact on health, society, and environmental issues”, aligning with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainability 2.0 – cultivating a talented workforce that stays

Practising sustainability as a business also goes beyond limiting environmental impact. To ensure top talent remains and continues to contribute to the success of an organisation, employers should “re-recruit” them, according to advice provided in a recent Harvard Business Review report.

This proactive approach includes pointing out an employee’s positive impact on a company, engaging with them about their goals, and helping them find a career pathway to reach their ambitions within their current company.

As many firms have experienced high attrition rates since COVID-19, leaders should acknowledge when work-induced stress has caused an employee to leave. Especially if others subsequently take on additional responsibilities. Involving employees in plans to create better support systems could improve motivation and wellbeing when this occurs.

Evidently, it’s not just greenwashing and lying about their carbon footprint that organisations need to be concerned about. Future generations are ready to take them to task on all manner of issues, and compensation is one of them. Leaders should be mindful if incoming staff are being offered more money than current employees. While the motivational value of pay rises can be short-lived, a lack of compensation could encourage employees to look for better-paid jobs.

According to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), out of the 10 elements of culture they found matter most to employees, leaders living core values where their actions are consistent with the organisation’s values came third while unethical behaviour, such as when employees and managers lack integrity, followed closely in fifth place. Again, these findings prove that talent cares about sustainable business practices that go beyond environmental impact matters.

Combine widespread concerns about the climate crisis, a buoyant jobs market, and the growth of purpose-minded younger talent, where Gen Zs will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025, and businesses that fail to embody sustainability in all its forms could be the biggest losers in the talent recruitment and retention game.

In this article, you learned that:

  • A record 4.3 million people quit their jobs in the US in August 2021.
  • In the UK, the number of job postings exceeded 1 million for the first time ever in the same month.
  • A survey by IT firm Advanced found that over half (56%) of 18-24-year-olds are accusing their employer of ‘greenwashing’.
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