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The year 2014 marked the tipping point in recovery from the global financial crisis, with housing and stock prices rising as unemployment fell. In sustainability, the jobs market is also on the upswing.
As a sustainability recruiter, my last few years have held numerous conversations with discouraged candidates and inundated employers. In 2014, that all changed.
The calls from the frustrated, long-unemployed candidates slowed, replaced by urgent calls from employers struggling to find suitable candidates. Formerly anxious applicants seeking work were increasingly replaced by aggressive bargainers leveraging multiple job offers. In 2014, US employers found that landing talent became increasingly challenging as candidates found more options.
Employers based in the UK had a similar experience. Andrew Cartland, founder of UK sustainability recruiter Acre, observed a significant increase in his firms’ searches, particularly from apparel, retail and consumer goods companies increasing resources in their supply chains.
Looking forward to 2015, I expect these early trends will begin to drive significant shifts in the sustainability job market, with far-reaching implications for employers. Here are three predictions for the new year:
For businesses, demonstrating earnestness in sustainability will be essential in 2015. It has already been established that consumers prefer to do business with responsible organizations. A new driver – the need to attract competitive employees – has also added pressure for companies to broadly integrate sustainability into their operations.
Millennials want to see how their work connects with the greater good. The 2014 Deloitte Millennial Survey, for example, emphasizes the generation’s eagerness to make positive contributions to society and to work for ethical organizations. “To attract and retain talent business needs to show millennials it is … in tune with their worldview,” the survey concludes.
Millennials’ newfound bargaining power means that employers will need to ensure that every job function is tied to creating value for the world, not just for the company. It means that retail buyers at Target will have targets around findingproducts without toxic chemicals, marketers at Dick’s Sporting Goods will promote philanthropic efforts, and accountants, category managers and programmers throughout different industries all feel they can help create meaningful change.
Intrapreneurism will become the rule rather than the exception in sustainability. Creating value for society will be written into every employee’s agenda and every employer’s job announcement.
Placing a C-level executive at the helm of corporate sustainability efforts is a highly visible indicator of commitment to responsible business. Although the role is still nascent, my firm’s research on chief sustainability officers, CSO Back Story, identified marked growth in their ranks. The total number of CSOs in the US grew 24% last year – from 29 CSOs in 2011 to 36 in 2014 – and the growth is likely to continue this year.
The case for executive-level involvement is clear. To quote from the research, naming a CSO sends “a strong message, both internally and externally, that [a company is] serious about building excellence in the CSR area”. Internally, hiring a CSO leads companies to build out its sustainability program from a separate, isolated effort to a central and innovative platform that touches all functions and employees.
The convergence of several key factors birthed the independent economy: a sluggish job market, a new generation’s appetite for innovation, technological advancements and cultural shifts. Indeed, as Sara Horowitz wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “almost half of millennials prioritize job flexibility over pay”.
Now that the independent economy is well-established and rapidly ballooning, it’s only a matter of time before it impacts sustainability professionals.
Currently, sustainability freelance workers are still the exception rather than the norm – even as sustainability-focused businesses launch and thrive, some with the help of startup accelerators focused on environmental and social impact. Online workplaces Elance and oDesk boast over 8 million consultants and $750m worth of work, but there is, as yet, no public marketplace geared toward enabling connections between independent sustainability professionals and hiring managers.
As business practices are redesigned to better integrate independent workers, I expect to see many more contract, part-time, temp and startup-owning sustainability professionals thrive in 2015.
Without question, the coming year will bring pronounced change to the sustainability jobs economy. I look forward to seeing 2015 headlines reflecting renewed optimism, innovative approaches to the future of work and meaningful positive impact.
Ellen Weinreb is the founder of the Weinreb Group, an executive search firm specializing in sustainability and corporate social responsibility.