Green Recruiting: Building Your Environmental Employment Brand

Environmental Sustainability Goes Wide

Companies like Honda, S.C. Johnson, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, Patagonia, Timberland, and GE have successfully used their environmentally friendly policies to sell their product and gain media exposure.

However, until recently, few firms have made a concerted effort to leverage the company’s environmental stance as a critical point in recruiting pitches. Firms like Google, Timberland, and yes, even old-school General Electric have led the way by undertaking major efforts to make being environmentally friendly a critical element of their employment brand. Google, the world’s only “recruiting machine,” leads the way not just in its environmental practices but also in publicizing their environmental record and approach. Like many emerging green companies, Google has hired a director who coordinates corporate environmental efforts in an attempt to match their corporate business strategy with their environmental efforts.

Some sample programs at Google that support environmental issues include:

  • $5,000 subsidies for employees buying hybrid cars (Timberland offers $3,000)
  • Company dining facilities that serve organic sustainable foods
  • Charitable contributions to organizations that fight global warming
  • On-site farmers markets
  • On-site composting of food waste
  • Use of green fuels and solar power
  • Fully subsidized employee bus pools for commuting employees

Google has developed so many green programs that even former Vice President Al Gore, producer of the controversial documentary on global warming called An Inconvenient Truth is proud. It’s no coincidence that Al Gore has been an advisor to the company for many years.

While some companies adopt the grassroots approach to going green, others start at the top and work down. General Electric is one of a small handful of companies that have an environmental effort driven by their chief executive officer, Jeff Immelt. If you watch television or read national magazines, you might recall seeing one of hundreds of ecomagination advertisements GE has spent millions on in recent years to “greenwash” their image. The ecomagination campaign is one of the boldest approaches to capture intangible value by touting environmental efforts in play by any global company.

Day in and day out, they are capturing that value by selling more product to environmentally conscious consumers and tapping candidate pools that once would have written them off as the destroyers of the environment, using the Hudson and Housatonic Rivers as living examples.

Reasons Why Firms Must Practice Green Recruiting

The tipping point for environmental consciousness varies around the world, but for many Americans it was the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. In one day, an iconic American company had its reputation slaughtered. Sales were affected, employee pride was affected, as was their ability to recruit on college campuses around the world. For years, Exxon and their energy industry peers had to wage an environmental branding war in recruiting. But that was then, and this is now.

The new thrust of green recruiting is proactive and focuses on making “greenness” a major element of your employment brand. Some of the reasons why green recruiting is becoming more essential include:

  • Gen Y demands it. This generation has learned about the importance of the environment and recycling in classes since elementary school. They filter both product purchasing and job selection choices with their green mindset.
  • College grads demand it. Al Gore is a hero on most campuses. Students, while they are on campus, demand that every aspect of their campus life leave a minimal “environmental footprint.” On my campus, San Francisco State University, even the most conservative of all schools, the College of Business is developing a “sustainability” major to satisfy the student demand for integrating business and the environment. It has become so important that even starting salaries take a back seat behind “greenness” when students evaluate potential employers.
  • Many job candidates care about it. Although no one has yet quantified the impact that being environmentally friendly has on recruits, if you ask candidates whether working for an environmentally friendly company is important to them, a vast majority will respond with an affirmative.
  • Global candidates can be passionate about it. Some countries around the world are extremely passionate about the environment (Germany, Australia, and Finland to name a few). As a result, if you expect to recruit the best from around the world, you must be prepared to meet a growing set of eco-expectations as an employer.

Action Steps to Implement Green Recruiting

There are many things that recruiting leaders can do to implement a strategy, including the following 17 action steps:

  1. Identify candidate decision criteria. If you can’t show that a large number of quality applicants consider a firm’s environmental record as one of their primary criteria for selecting a job, you’ll never get senior management to buy in to a major green recruiting effort. Start by holding focus groups at industry conferences to identify what “green” factors would be important to individuals seeking a new job. Next, ask candidates during interviews and on the website to list their decision criteria. During orientation, ask those who accepted the job what criteria they used to make the decision. Finally, contact those who rejected your offers three to six months down the line to identify positives and negatives. Use this information to modify your recruiting processes and focus.
  2. Benchmark. Search the Web, benchmark with college recruiters, and work with recruiting consultants to identify the best practices of other firms. Use this competitive analysis to gauge your success and to plan your future actions.
  3. Your website. Make sure that both “what you do” and the results of those efforts are prominent on your corporate careers website. Include your recycling statistics, as well as whether you are carbon neutral, limit greenhouse gases, or win environmental awards. Include narrative or video profiles of your environmentally conscious employees. If your company policies allow, link your corporate jobs site on major (but primarily nonpolitical) environmental websites.
  4. Be talked about. If you have a strong environmental record, it’s important to get “written up” in business, professional, and industry publications as well as in newspapers and on TV. Work with the PR department to identify which of your practices are most likely to be appealing to the media and designate an individual to be available for interviews. It’s also critical to constantly scan the Web to identify and quickly counter any “negative” comments on your environmental record (Starbucks has done an excellent job but Apple is currently struggling in this area).
  5. Recruitment advertising. Advertise in magazines that candidates who are sensitive to the environment are likely to read. Highlight a few “eye-catching” facts and any environmental awards you might have won in your recruitment ads. If you use brochures or paper recruiting materials, make sure it’s from recyclable stock and that it says so on the document.
  6. Job descriptions. Make sure that, where possible, job descriptions for high-volume hiring positions include responsibilities for minimizing negative environmental impacts. This is critical because if they don’t see being environmentally friendly integrated into “every job” at the company, they might see your “green recruiting” as merely a PR effort. If you’re really serious, include knowledge of environmental impacts under the skills required section of your job descriptions.
  7. Interviews. Provide managers with “green” fact sheets to use during interviews. If you are really aggressive, provide candidates with a side-by-side comparison showing how your firm’s environmental record is superior to other firms they might be considering.
  8. Sourcing. One of the best ways to strengthen your environmental image is to hire lots of environmentally friendly employees who can spread your “green” story through word-of-mouth. Have your recruiting team identify the sources that produce the highest-quality environmentally friendly candidates. Source at environmental organizations (i.e., Sierra Club). Also, recruit at environmental events and use subscription lists from green publications or email and direct mail recruiting.
  9. Employer referrals. Having your employees spreading the word will help both recruiting and product sales. If you have the resources, proactively seek out employees who are highly visible in environmental circles and ask them specifically to talk up your firm, to seek out candidates, and to provide you with names. 
  10. Awards. Winning awards for excellence is always a major element of building an employment brand, so obviously winning “environmental” awards should be a major element of your strategy.
  11. Advisory group. Ask the advice of six to eight environmentally friendly employees, measuring the quality of the message you’re sending and how to reach and convince more applicants of your strong “green” record.
  12. Products. Obviously, applicants want to know that the products they are helping to produce are environmentally friendly. This means putting pressure on product advertising and marketing to include the fact that your products are eco-friendly in your product ads and packaging. In some industries, how you treat vendors and outsourced work can be important (i.e., Starbucks, Nike). 
  13. Value statements. Make sure that your corporate goals, values, and even corporate business objectives include environmental elements.
  14. Annual report. Because some applicants take the time to read your annual report, make sure it includes sections that highlight your environmental record and the fact that you recruit environmentally friendly employees. If your firm uses bio-diesel fuel, pays fair market value to suppliers, is energy-efficient, or if it buys “carbon offsets,” highlight these selling points.
  15. Employee benefits. Consider adding holistic health options, paid time to volunteer for environmental causes, matching donations to green causes, and support for alternative transportation options to your benefit package.
  16. Reward criteria. Include this factor in the performance appraisal system for all employees. Obviously, use it as a hiring criteria, but also use it as a critical element in promotions, bonuses, and pay increases.
  17. Develop metrics and rewards. Because whatever you measure improves and whenever you add rewards to the equation the behavior improves even faster, your green recruiting effort must have metrics and rewards tied to it. Some of the metrics you want to include are the percentage of candidates aware of your strong environmental record, the number who reject offers because of a poor record, and the percentage of new hires who say your environmental record was one of their top-five reasons for accepting the offer. Hold post exit interviews with your top performers to identify whether environmental factors contributed to their exit.

Final Thoughts

Anyone familiar with sales knows that you need to appeal to things that are on the “top of the mind” to your target audience. The same holds true for recruiting.

Like it or not, environmental issues are on most everyone’s mind, so if your firm has a competitive advantage in this area (or it can develop one quickly), it’s incumbent on both individual recruiters and recruiting managers to integrate that message into your recruiting processes and your employment brand. This is especially true if you don’t pay at the top of scale, if you are in a crummy location, or if you’re not a well-known company.

Green recruiting is a chance to differentiate yourself in a recruiting marketplace where standing out from the crowd is already extremely difficult. Incidentally, not only does green recruiting improve your chances of attracting and selling candidates, it’s also your chance as a recruiter to do your part to improve the environment by showing senior management the dollar impact it has on recruiting, retention, and product sales.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, please take a minute to follow or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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