Embracing Sustainability in Employer Branding

WRITTEN BY: Olivia Thompson

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that taking responsibility as an employer is key. Responsibility in the form of management communicating effectively with staff, in relation to creating a safe working environment for employees and also, managing work expectations.

But these areas only lay part of the foundations towards being a responsible employer; your ESG initiatives play a huge role too. ESG refers to your ‘Environmental’, ‘Social’ and ‘Governance’ commitments as a company, and it has become a very hot topic in employer branding. As S&P Global summarizes in the Seven ESG Trends to Watch in 2021, 2020 taught us a lesson, and now, “that lesson reinforces our view of how a long-term, sustainable approach centered around strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles is more important than ever.”

Our research

Using our Employer Brand Index research methodology, we took a look at public data from Employees, Alumni, and Candidates and a selection of global Fortune 500 companies to see exactly what talent was saying about ESG in Q1 (January- March) 2021.

Across our 16 Employer Brand Index attributes, we found ESG to have one of the highest scores in Q1 2021 at 8.56 (10 being the highest), meaning that 85 percent of commentary towards this attribute was positive. In addition to this, as Figure 1 shows, ESG was the second-highest mentioned attribute on social media. Put simply, with a high share of voice and positive score, this attribute is a key driver of positive impact towards your employer brand score.

Figure 1- showing the share of voice on social media across the 16 attributes in Q1 2021.

Sustainability findings

For this research piece, we decided to focus on the ‘Environmental’ part of ESG, in particular, sustainability, which formed 23 percent of the total number of positive ESG mentions in Q1 2021.

Within this data-set, we found the following key positive themes:

  • Taking care of the planet
  • Reducing plastic use & embracing sustainable product packaging
  • Initiatives towards combating climate change
  • Aiming towards being carbon neutral

Who is saying this?

We then narrowed down the positive sustainability comments in order to reveal exactly who was being most vocal and from a platform standpoint, where talent was being vocal:

Figure 2- showing the share of voice across different levels of Seniority in relation to positive sustainability comments.46 percent of positive commentary on sustainability came from Senior Management.

Figure 3- showing the share of voice across social media, employer review sites, and online forums in relation to positive sustainability comments. 90 percent of positive commentary on sustainability came from Social Media.

How does this link to employer branding?

On its website, Unilever defines its Sustainability Strategy in the following way:

We believe that sustainable and equitable growth is the only way to create long-term value for all our stakeholders.

And how exactly this value can be measured from an employer brand perspective is in the following ways:

A stronger mission & purpose statement

The Wall Street Journal assessed more than 5,500 publicly traded companies to reveal that Sony took first place in The Top 100 Most Sustainably Managed Companies in the World in 2020. What Sony has successfully managed to achieve is embedding a sustainable mindset within a mission statement, as the following shows on their Approach to Sustainability :

Sony’s management approach is “getting closer to people,” and its purpose is to “fill the world with emotion, through the power of creativity and technology. For people to be connected through emotion, it is necessary for people, society, and the planet to be healthy.”

As our data set also showed, similarly to ESG, Mission & Purpose had one of the highest scores in Q1 2021 at 8.19, and as Figure 1 showed, ESG and Mission & Purpose were the top two most mentioned attributes on social media. Clearly, it is possible for both ESG & Mission & Purpose to work in tandem.

Talent attraction & talent productivity

As it is growing in importance, maintaining a strong ESG agenda is important for both keeping your current employees motivated as well as attracting new ones. A report by PWC, The future of work: A journey to 2022 showed that “65 percent of people around the world want to work for an organization with a powerful social conscience” and “36 percent of HR professionals are building their talent strategies around their organizations’ social & environmental conscience.” Talent is seeking to work for green companies and would feel a strong sense of motivation & purpose in working for them.

Competitive stance

Of course, if you strive for sustainability, not only does your overall credibility as a ‘green employer’ increase, but so does your market potential and growth opportunities. As McKinsey’s Five Ways that ESG Creates Value reveals, “A strong ESG proposition helps companies to tap new markets and expand into existing ones.” Take Sony again as the perfect example, a company that is one of the largest manufacturers of electronic products in the world that continues to grow and dominate the tech industry, and yet still claimed the top spot in being the most sustainable company. It is possible to do both.

Keep the momentum going!

There is no escaping the fact that sustainability is here to stay. It started as the new, popular ‘green’ trend for businesses, but in time, it has proven to be an integral part of corporate culture and strategy that manifests into long-term value. From our research and an employer brand standpoint, in Q1 2021, sustainability was spoken about most positively by senior management online, with the majority of topics appearing on social media channels. From a strategic point of view, our results would seem to suggest that senior management should continue to post online, but also encourage other talent cohorts to do the same on sustainability initiatives. Companies should also embrace exploring the use of a range of social platforms for messaging (i.e. through corporate hashtags) from an activation standpoint. Sustainability as a concept in both business and employer branding is here to stay.

Learn more about how we can measure how talent feels about your organization’s ESG commitment and the overall reputation of your company as an employer right here.


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