Build to last: 6 easy ways to create sustainable employer branding

Last updated:
March 4, 2022
March 4, 2022
min read
Martina Di Gregorio
sustainable employer branding
Table of contents

A few decades ago, it was perfectly normal for an employee to mark their 30th and 60th birthdays while working for the same organization. Not anymore.

The modern worker is smarter, broad-minded, and certainly more multi-dimensional. To them, being employed isn't just about taking home hefty paychecks. They need more. They need a company that strives for a higher purpose, a purpose that goes beyond itself and its offering.

For some candidates, it's the issue of a healthy work-life balance that makes their hearts skip a beat. For others, gender equality is the theme that gets them excited. However, for many candidates and employees, ESG is the hot topic that wins over both their hearts and minds. It's either employers share these beliefs with them or they won't put pen to paper on that contract—no matter how big the paycheck is.

ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is an umbrella term that addresses how a company serves all its stakeholders: workers, communities, customers, shareholders, and the environment. Oftentimes, ESG is used interchangeably with sustainability.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Let's first look at what the numbers say.

The numbers behind the hype: just how important is ESG to recruiting and talent acquisition?

The ESG concept has been a trending topic the past few years. It's all everybody talks about, and even your current employees probably had a chat about it this morning.

Well, is the hype real, or is this another fad that no one will care about five years from now?

There's only one way to find out. Here's a quick peek at the numbers:

  • 65% of the people worldwide want to work for an organization with a powerful social conscience (PwC)
  • 83% of workers in the UK think their workplaces are not doing enough to address climate change (Reuters Events)
  • One out of every four employees would look for a new job if they discovered their employer had a bad record on environmental issues (WattzOn)
  • 51% of employees won't work for a company that doesn't have strong social or environmental commitments (Cone Communications)

The bottom line? Employees want your company to establish and carry out sustainable practices. In turn, these initiatives will motivate and inspire them to stick around longer. They'll develop a deeper sense of belonging, drive, dedication, and purpose—which translates into a stronger work ethic, infallible commitment to their employer, and recommendations to both potential employees and customers.

If you're already incorporating ESG principles into your organization, that's half the job done. But what are you doing to tell prospective clients about it? How do they know that your company is a staunch supporter and facilitator of the "going green" movement? This is where employer branding comes in.

What, exactly, is employer branding?

Think of your employer branding as a scorecard given by past, present, and future employees. It's the sum total of how your work environment, hiring process, and even Fun Fridays affect staff perception at the workplace.

Not too long ago, most employers didn't pay much attention to how their brand was perceived by employees. If applicants turned down the chance to join their workforce, it was probably because:

  • They didn't like the job advert from the get-go
  • They deemed the remuneration as rather too low
  • They just didn't like the work environment, culture, and company beliefs
  • They preferred another employer altogether, and for no particular reason

But with the advent of social media and the internet, an employer's brand has inevitably become the standard gauge with which employer-applicant compatibility is measured. And it has evolved to include far more complex variables, one being sustainability.

An applicant might not care much about a flimsy advert or a poorly-arranged office setup. But an apathetic approach towards ESG and all things going green? That's where they draw the line. Heck, they'd even turn down a high-paying job just so they could work for a "green employer". And a recent Fast Company survey confirmed this rather shocking revelation, with 40% of the respondents saying they would take a pay cut just to work at an environmentally responsible company.

Benefits of depicting your company as sustainable

Mindsets are changing when it comes to sustainability. It's not just a personal choice anymore—it's becoming a social responsibility, and job seekers have not been left behind in this regard.

Now more than ever, creating an employer brand that's firmly founded on the basis of sustainability is a no-brainer, and it's incredibly beneficial. Here's how:

1. It attracts the best crop of talent

As it is growing in importance, maintaining a strong stance on ESG and sustainability is important for both attracting new top talent and keeping your current employees motivated and interested.

This means given a choice of two companies, there's a high chance job candidates will gravitate towards the company with a stronger ESG agenda—that is, an employer whose branding is environmentally aware, socially responsible, and governance-conscious.

2. It puts you in the best possible light on social media

As an employer, the last thing you want is word spreading on social media about your company's reluctance and general detest towards ESG and sustainability practices.

Creating a phenomenal product that adds value isn't always the most important objective for a company. It is necessary to invest in and focus on far greater agendas that supersede your basic need to earn more profit. One such avenue is ESG, and it's one that could set your brand apart from others.

The effects of sustainable employer branding are seen in the social media age, where swift and lasting praise is given to organizations that prioritize environmental conservation efforts, and viral callouts are reserved for brands found lacking in CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives, respect for women's rights, or those with a poor diversity and inclusion policy.

Recent data ranks ESG as the second-highest mentioned attribute on social media. Besides, 85% of commentary around it has been positive. This means that if you build a sustainable employer brand that's ESG-conscious, you're already a darling on social media. And that's bound to have a positive effect on your talent acquisition efforts.

3. It gives you an edge over your competitors

A poor stance on ESG can cost you a lot—investors' resistance, a chance at topping social media charts, etc. But notably, being known as a company where sustainability isn't a top priority can literally cost your organization a spot at the top of market rankings.

Today's savvy customers, just like employees, are putting their money where their mouth and morals are. Adopting a more sustainably-focused business model puts you in the good graces of consumers and subsequently increases your market potential and growth opportunities several-fold. Even McKinsey is in support of this notion, arguing that "a strong ESG proposition helps companies to tap new markets and expand into existing ones." It's the classic case of killing two birds with one stone.

Take Autodesk, Inc., for example. They're currently regarded as a leading tech company in the U.S., but that didn't stop them from being sustainable and ESG-focused. Just recently, Corporate Knights ranked them as the 3rd most sustainable corporation in the world, earning a strong A in the process. As you can see, it's possible to do both.

Clearly, building a sustainable employer brand is crucial. But what does it take to bring such a framework to life?

Let's dig into that now.

How to build an employer brand that's sustainable and ESG responsible

There's never been a—dare we say?—wiser time to cultivate a sustainable employer brand. With job boards like Hired, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn flocking the internet—employees now have the upper hand in deciding what companies are worth investing their abilities and time into. And with the ESG debate gaining momentum every other day, office place perks aren't going to be enough to cover for a workplace that lacks a strong sense of purpose, a drive for lower carbon emissions, meaningful sustainability practices, and so on.

However, while it's crucial to build a sustainable employer brand, it's valuable to achieve this correctly for sustained talent attraction, employee retention, and engagement. These tips will help you put your best foot forward in this regard:

1. Conduct a thorough self-audit

As a hiring manager or employer, it's easy to assume employees are satisfied with your approach on ESG and the sustainability agenda, provided no outright complaints have been made on the same. However, while assumptions are great to have, they are rarely an accurate representation of the state of things, especially where brand perception is concerned.

For a rigorous diagnosis of how your brand is perceived by both current and prospective employees, these approaches provide a good starting point:

  • Ask around—there's immense power in internal surveys and questionnaires
  • Look through social media searches, accounts, and individual posts
  • Hire firms that observe, gauge, and rank reputation

2. Create a unique, ESG-focused value proposition

Next, it's time to craft a value proposition that takes into account the modern, ESG-aware employee. And it should be unique too.

To do this, you'll want to go back to the drawing board—the same one that houses your company mission, values, purpose, and vision statements.

This purpose statement from Sony should you give a rough idea of how to craft your own value proposition:

"…fill the world with emotion, through the power of creativity and technology. For people to be connected through emotion, it's necessary for people, society, and the planet to be healthy."

Better yet, consider embedding a sustainability mindset within your mission statement, as Sony did above. Let the two form a strong value proposition that future and current employees won't help but fall in love with at first glance.

3. Polish and augment your onboarding process

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression. This is especially true for candidates who may already have had a rather terrible onboarding experience.

As a hiring leader, consider it a worthwhile investment to pull out all the stops to get new hires excited about joining your company. And since there's nothing the modern candidate relishes more than joining a sustainable employer brand, it would do you (and your talent attraction strategy) a world of good to paint your brand as one from the get-go.

This means:

  • Educating new hires about how they can be involved in CSR and sustainability initiatives from day one
  • Mentioning how your company will support their personal CSR efforts as well
  • Introducing them to the CSR technology your company uses (if any)
  • Allocating them a Cause Card, given in their first week. Not only will the cause card encourage new employees to go back to the CSR technology and become familiar with it, but it will also let them experience the company's support of their own giving efforts.
  • Setting up a volunteering event for your new hire class in their first week. Beyond reflecting your overarching ESG mission, the event will familiarize new hires with your non-profit partners, and perhaps more importantly, allow them to form concrete connections outside of their immediate teams.

While this might seem like too much work, it's often worth it in the long run. Remember, no top talent will ever sign for a brand that's doing little in the way of creating good, ESG-rooted first impressions.

4. Use social media to get the word out

When looking to build a sustainable employer branding strategy, social media and alternative communication avenues are easy routes to shape how the job market perceives your organization.

This can mean having interactive, ESG-focused pages on Twitter, Facebook, or even TikTok. These pages should highlight the sustainability initiatives you're taking on internally and externally. Even if you aren't posting on a daily, rest assured that the occasional posts will catch the eye of a few prospective candidates. It's the age of social media anyway, where 79% of job seekers claim they've used social media in their job search in the last year.

5. Leverage your current employees

Social media and paid advertising can be big promoters for your ESG practices, but sometimes all that's required to spread the word are the stakeholders with company ID cards. In other words, your existing employees.

Interested candidates can get firsthand information on the impressive work your organization does for the planet and the ESG world in general by reading testimonials shared by current employees. These testimonials may be displayed on the company's website, career pages, and social media accounts.

Beyond that, consider sensitizing staff members to publicize ESG events and fun outings sponsored by the company on their individual social media accounts. This adds authenticity to how outsiders perceive your employer branding strategy.

6. Sprinkle your ESG ideologies inside the job description

Lastly, consider mentioning your ESG efforts in the job description, mostly where it aligns with your target candidate persona.

To that effect, use witty or relatable language to signal what might be expected of the prospect in terms of sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Wrapping up

Sustainable employer branding is a sure-fire way to place your organization in the minds, hearts, and souls of employees, both current and prospective. And it should be a focus for this year because of the ongoing labor shortage.

Past employees might have been impressed by big checks and yearly trips to Malibu, but the current crop of talent is not that easy to lure. They value sustainability and a strong stance on ESG above all else. Recognizing that reality, and acting on it, will put you head and shoulders above the competition.

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