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Sustainability knowledge grows as hiring factor

Joint research from GreenBiz Group and National Environmental Education Foundation finds close to 80 percent of companies will value sustainability knowledge more heavily within next five years.

The issue of how involved the rank and file employees of a company are when it comes to environmental or corporate sustainability initiatives -- as well as what makes them want to be involved -- is one that I've been following with interest for some time.

For some companies, such as technology giant Intel, it has been a matter of incorporating sustainability directly into compensation plans ( "Intel rewards employees for thinking sustainably. Do you?" ) If thinking about sustainability was part of your bonus or paycheck, wouldn't you pay more attention? Yep.

For other companies, notably carpet maker Interface, sustainability permeates the entire company , from the bottom up. It was employee activism that got the sustainability movement started, so to speak. Once the company's late CEO took up the mantle, it simply became part of the end-to-end thinking and psyche.

Different approaches: both arguably effective.

The degree to which employees are engaged with sustainability or environmental varies from company to company, of course. But now some joint research by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and GreenBiz Group finds that knowledge is in higher demand among hiring managers. The poll found that 65 percent of companies value knowledge about these issues. Close to 80 percent said that experience of knowledge of sustainability and the environment would become a larger factor in the hiring practice over the next five years.

The research is discussed in the NEEF/GreenBiz report, "Toward Engagement 2.0: Creating a More Sustainable Company Through Employee Engagement."

Internally, more companies are investing in sustainability education for their staff, according the research. Approximately 75 percent of the responding companies have a plan in place to train employees about corporate sustainability goals, while 56 percent have a more advanced plan in place. Among the companies that didn't have an engagement program related to operational sustainability, about half of the respondents said their company's strategy called for one to be introduced within two years.

There were 1,183 survey respondents for the study, which was conducted in August 2011.

For those of you who like to go beyond numbers, the report cites a number of case studies to illustrate what GreenBiz and NEEF describe as the five steps toward establishing a culture of sustainability.

  1. Permit (letting employes become involved)
  2. Educate and engage (communicating initiatives)
  3. Act (giving staffs specific marching orders)
  4. Embed (integrating sustainability into common practices)
  5. Evaluate (measuring sustainability performance)

The extent to which your company has embraced sustainability, or not, will make a difference in how heavily it will be weighed in hiring -- when it starts to pick up again. I found it especially relevant that the survey base included not just large companies but also small businesses that see sustainability as a way to distinguish themselves from the competition.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com