Recruitment trends – Is resilience sustainable?
Recruitment in the sustainable business sector has bucked the trend and remains relatively buoyant.
We ask some recruitment experts why
Against the backdrop of a stagnant global economy in 2012, recruitment prospects in sustainability
and corporate responsibility might be expected to be bleak. Additionally so, if you also consider that
in the recent past many companies have grouped corporate responsibility within marketing and
communications – always the first budgets to be cut in difficult times.
The reality, however, is far more positive and a testament to how far corporate responsibility has
become an integral part of business rather than a veneer to appease stakeholders.
Georgina Stevens runs sustainability consultancy One Pumpkin, which offers a range of sustainability
services, including recruitment support. She says: “I am regularly asked by people in my network to
help them either get into or move up/around in the CR and sustainability world, and the last year has
felt like there has never been a better time to work in the sector.”
Stevens has seen “a lot of new jobs around”, as companies expand their teams upwards and
outwards, and other companies “hiring their first dedicated resources”, particularly those within the
supply chains of those companies with strong sustainability initiatives.
“There has been a continuing trickle of chief sustainability officers being added to boards, with
Unilever adding one this year,” she adds. “Many companies, particularly in the US, are also following
suit. In the UK, 20% of FTSE 100 companies now have someone on the board or at director level
responsible for sustainability or CR.”
One of the factors driving this trend is that many companies no longer view corporate responsibility
as a cost, but rather a function that should yield profits. This move is associated with the increased
integration of corporate responsibility into the operations of companies, which in turn has had an
impact on the skills being sought.
Paul Gosling, managing director UK and Europe at sustainability recruitment consultants Allen &
York, believes there has been “continuing incorporation of a wider range of social as well as
environmental issues, particularly in the extractive industries”. He says sustainability professionals
are increasingly coordinating and facilitating activity, pushing responsibility deeper into their
organisations, particularly into procurement. Most successful programmes have been driven by
“pragmatic need rather than altruistic drive”, where there is more clarity about the value the
sustainability sector can bring.
The past year has seen “more defined demand for industry-related qualifications – eg engineers
within engineering businesses,” says Andrew Tew, senior consultant at Acre Resources. He also
notes the increased need for the sustainability function to be profitable, the increased focus on
energy efficiency and the continuing integration of sustainability and health and safety.
The skills being sought in candidates bears this out, with recruiters looking for a much wider range of
“As the number of different roles in the [sustainable business] sector increases, so do the skills
required, but the core ones remain the same,” says Stevens. “Comprehensive business acumen and
the ability to collaborate, inspire, problem solve, innovate, negotiate, and of course finish a job.”
Hard nose needed
Increasingly companies are also realising that candidates need to be resilient, because often they
will be pitching against other business units for budget, resources or prominence, and often face
resistance in some key areas of the business.
Tew agrees that commerciality is a key strength: “Sustainability professionals need to be able to sell
the benefits of the function to the business.”
Gosling adds: “The CR function is increasingly finding a voice in the day-to-day operation of
organisations. The risks of not taking sustainability seriously can impact in both a financial and
Gosling argues that every company demands something different from its corporate responsibility or
sustainability professional and therefore a breadth of skills can be an advantage; health and safety,
marketing and PR, management skills can all be part of the mix, he says. The key for many
corporate responsibility roles is a passion for the subject, a drive to make things happen and “very
good understanding of the current issues and technologies within the sustainability arena”.
In many companies, these skills are employed across the organisation, while in other organisations,
corporate responsibility is focused more within a dedicated department – although this is likely to
“More than ever, the role of the sustainability professional is in the facilitation and co-ordination of
projects rather than as the sole delivery function,” says Gosling. “The trend is very much towards the
incorporation of sustainability into the activities of all parts of an organisation and is no longer the
sole preserve of the corporate responsibility team.”
Stevens agrees, saying: “The most effective place for an understanding of the opportunity
sustainability presents remains at board level, but the skills to deliver on that know-how are
essential across every business unit.” However, her personal experience is that the trend still
remains for most companies to build a dedicated department, “albeit with the increasing realisation
that these teams need to be mobilised across the business effectively to make change.”
“For people working in the sector this is placing an increasing importance on their non-technical skill
set,” says Gosling. This includes the ability to influence decision makers, manage projects and
maximise the commercial value of their day-to-day work. The trend is for companies to absorb
sustainable practice into each business unit, so that such practice becomes part of the fabric of the
The purpose of the sustainability team, says Tew, is to effect that change as it reaches into all facets
of the company and, ultimately, integrate its practices into the day-to-day working of all employees.
“Where the actual function sits varies massively from company to company, but it tends to be a
central corporate function sitting with health and safety or operations.”
In the know
The past year has seen a shift in the way companies recruit. Stevens notes that one of the more
interesting trends in sustainability recruitment has been the increase in personal referrals. “This is
the result of an increasingly networked sustainability community, which looks set to continue,” she
explains. Of course, saving on expensive recruitment fees will also help to drive this, she says, as
well as the ability to get a variety of views of the candidate from a range of sources, rather than just
from their carefully prepped referees.
Gosling believes that it is becoming increasingly difficult for more junior candidates to break into the
sector, due to limited opportunities for individuals to immediately start their career directly in
sustainability. “The route in is increasingly through the existing teams rather than to move straight
into the CR or sustainability team,” he says.
The consensus is that the trends of 2012 will continue into 2013. There will also be additional
impetus in the UK from new carbon legislation. From April, the mandatory carbon reporting for
FTSE-listed companies will have a significant impact.
The fact that energy prices are high means that everyone is more focused on efficiency. Gosling
agrees. “2013 will see a continuation of this process, with carbon reporting coming into force and the
continuing upward pressure on prices.”
He also predicts that changes in how big energy users source their power will boost the utilisation of
micro-generation. “We see this being an accelerating trend in 2013, with very significant
developments and sophistication in energy systems and decentralised energy generation.”
It might also be a good time to be in human resources. Stevens believes that the companies that are
committed to embedding sustainability at the heart of their businesses will be building sustainability
into all of their job descriptions and individual targets. “So what the industry needs now is innovative
HR experts who can help drive this change.”