At least 40% of Millennials say sustainability is a key element when choosing to work for a company. But how can one make sure their future employer will give them the space and opportunity to work towards the resolution of environmental and societal issues? How to not fall into the greenwashing trap when choosing your next employer? To answer these questions, we have talked to Pierre Peyretou, affiliate professor at ESCP Business School on the course Energy, Business, Climate & Geopolitics and trainer at La Fresque du Climat
If you’re part of the younger generations, chances are you’re considering your potential employer’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy before choosing your next career move. Indeed, a 2021 Pew Research survey found that 37% of Gen Zers and 33% of Millennials say addressing global climate change is a top concern to them personally. As a consequence, jobs in the environmental field are increasing and are projected to grow 5% over the next decade, at least in the US.
But for those who are not environmental specialists, how do you ensure the company you’re aiming for embraces your values regarding climate change and sustainability? To understand how one can assess a company’s commitment to CSR, we have spoken with Pierre Peyretou, affiliate professor of sustainability at ESCP Business School.
Job applicants must first specify which aspects of CSR are important to them. The definition of ‘responsibility’ in itself is relative to each person and may change from one individual to another.
Determine which cause is dearest to your heart
Unfortunately, as Pierre Peyretou tells us from the start, there is no ‘CSR Check Box’ to help applicants assess a company’s corporate social responsibility, a concept that mixes a broad diversity of subjects, according to our expert:
“Job applicants must first specify which aspects of CSR are important to them. The definition of ‘responsibility’ in itself is relative to each person and may change from one individual to another. Environmental responsibility (relating to climate change and all questions related to biodiversity preservation) and ethical responsibility (supposed to guarantee equality and safety for all independently of their gender, race or age etc.) are all part of the CSR mix, which does not help.”
Before you start looking for your next job, get your priorities straight: “How would you assess an oil & gas company that makes great progress in terms of security for their employees and, at the same time, increases the amount of fossil fuels sold and their CO2 emissions, endangering the society as a whole?,” asks Pierre Peyretou.
Have your assessment strategy defined
Once you have identified whether you would prefer your company to work towards environmental protection or promote equality for all members of society, or hope to find a company that does both, you can start looking for your next job. After targeting a few positions, you can go on to screen your potential employers.
To do so, Pierre Peyretou recommends having a strategy and looking for answers to the following questions, especially if you’re looking for a job that matches your environmental values:
- Impact on society: Which problems and what needs present in society does the company help to address? Do these seem important or superficial, especially in the context of climate change?
- Activity: To what extent is the company’s sector dependable on fossil fuels, and what are its upstream and downstream CO2 emissions? Is it compatible with a low-carbon society and economy?
- Business model: How does the company generate profit? Does it rely on ever-growing consumption and use of natural resources, correlated to increased CO2 emissions, or does it tend to lower these drastically?
- Product & services: Is the company trying to reshape its production and supply processes to avoid carbon emissions, or is change only marginal?
While looking for the answers, keep in mind that some industries are structurally more polluting than others and that you could fall into the greenwashing trap: “Sectors such as airline companies and airports, or car manufacturing, structurally emit huge amounts of CO2. As they do, they are more exposed to criticism, which they tend to counterbalance with mediatic greenwashing. Typical misleading communication campaigns claim ‘carbon neutrality’, ‘on track towards +2°C’, a certain number of planted trees and hypothetical future clean fuels.”
Keeping an eye on your next company’s supply chain and distribution models will also be key in determining its sustainability. As Pierre Peyretou points out: “For most sectors, more than 75% of a company’s CO2 emissions are emitted outside the company (accounting for scope 3 emissions). These emissions come from suppliers, customers and end-users. It means that a company cannot change itself alone, its entire socio-economic ecosystem has to be mobilised as well. When you buy a car, its manufacturing alone is already responsible for the emission of somewhere between 6.5 and 35 tons of CO2 depending on the model. Still, the major source of emissions by far is the gasoline used for driving afterwards!”
If you want to practice and promote sustainability, don’t wait
Different companies and sectors offer different opportunities to get involved in sustainability. As Pierre Peyretou likes to remind us: “The needed transformation cannot be limited to CSR departments nor to companies in the energy sector. We are all asked to take part in this change.”
Whatever your sector, whatever your job, you can impact your company internally by changing the nature of its activities and processes to reduce emissions, and have an impact on other companies as well by promoting or requiring the suppliers and clients to take actions to reduce their own emissions.
Does this mean that, if your company has not yet embraced sustainability, you could start a movement yourself? Our expert encourages you to: “Whatever your sector, whatever your job, you can impact your company internally by changing the nature of its activities and processes to reduce emissions, and have an impact on other companies as well by promoting or requiring the suppliers and clients to take actions to reduce their own emissions . Imagine you are working for one of the top polluters. You could still push internally to remove products and transform various processes to generate change in the mid term.”
If sustainability is your top priority then remember you could indeed become a driving force for change inside your company. As younger workers are more and more often considering companies’ sustainability plans before signing a work contract, firms have no choice but to comply with these new terms.
According to Pew Research, 40% of Millennials said they have chosen a job because the company performed better on sustainability than other choices. “Some polluting companies experience difficulties in hiring and retaining employees because of their bad reputation harming the environment,” says Pierre Peyretou. “For businesses lacking talents is a strategic and operational weakness.”
Some polluting companies experience difficulties in hiring and retaining employees because of their bad reputation. For businesses, lacking talent is a strategic and operational weakness.
Take part in the change you want to see in the world
Finally, if you wish to be a force for change, Pierre Peyretou advises you to stay focused on the mission you intend to accomplish: “Rather than asking how you can fill a certain company’s recruitment requirements, another approach is to determine a mission for yourself. What do you want to serve? Then, based on your skills, choose which company and which job are the most appropriate to help you with your goals.”