Green Recruiting Helps Bring in Top Talent

By Charlotte Huff

Aug. 17, 2007

When GE teamed up with mtvU, MTV’s 24-hour college network, in 2006 to float an enticing challenge to U.S. college students, its motives weren’t completely altruistic. The challenge to students was if $25,000 in grant money were on the line, could they develop an environmental project to implement on their own campus?

    The contest’s primary goal was to boost GE’s profile among collegiate consumers, says Steve Canale, manager of recruiting and staffing services.

    “But as a byproduct, we were helping to attract and recruit students,” he says. “It definitely helped with the overall image on campus of GE as an employer.”

    The contest, called the Ecomagination Challenge, fielded more than 100 proposals, later winnowed down to 10 finalists. Earlier this year, a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won for its solar-powered processor. Throughout the contest, a snazzy Web site detailed its progress. On the lower left-hand side, a discreet link glowed in a moss-green color, announcing: “Jobs at GE.”

    In the race to attract the most talented, innovative employees, some companies like GE are painting themselves in green—a rich environmental green—to boost their recruiting leverage. An environmental pedigree, recruiting experts say, can help lure applicants.

    In a 2006 Conference Board report, 78 percent of 198 multinational companies surveyed described corporate citizenship, including good environmental practices, as very or extremely important in recruiting and retention. And employees are paying attention: One-third reported that they would prefer to work for an environmentally sensitive company, according to a 2007 Harris Interactive survey of nearly 2,500 U.S. adults conducted for staffing firm Adecco USA.

    Still, so-called green recruiting has only emerged in the past couple of years, even among companies with ample reason to tout their credentials, says John Sullivan, a human resources consultant and professor of management at San Francisco State University’s College of Business. “If you want an advantage in recruiting, here’s one of them,” he says. “At this point, it’s not one that many companies are using.”

Grooming talent
   Job applicants themselves are driving this recruiting shift, says Nicholas Eisenberger, a managing principal at Green Order. The New York-based firm, which consults with companies on environmental strategy, helped develop the Ecomagination Challenge.

    At a law firm, Eisenberger says, it’s not uncommon now for applicants to ask: Where does that wood paneling come from in the lobby? Paul Richard, vice president of human resources at Shaw Industries, says younger applicants don’t mince words, asking: What are you doing for the environment?

    Midcareer professionals, those with a spacious office and title to match, also may be searching for a new job, one with a higher purpose, says Lisa Walker, a senior client partner at Korn/ Ferry International, the Los Angeles-based executive recruiting company. Environmental sensitivity is one shorthand way to assess how a company treats its employees, she says. “It shows that this company cares for something more than just profits.”

Burnishing your green … credentials
   Want to highlight your company’s green credentials? You need to offer potential employees more than a hybrid car reimbursement, although that’s a good start, Sullivan says.

    Plug environmental successes wherever possible—in job descriptions, recruiting advertisements and during interviews with applicants, Sullivan says. Raise your stature as a “green” resource by getting quoted in the press. And maximize the company Web site, Sullivan says. Don’t just describe your company’s recyclable products, but also estimate how many pounds they keep out of the landfill.

    On its Web site, GE does just that, touting that the company’s wind turbines “prevent as much as 18.3 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, an amount roughly equal to keeping over 3 million cars off the road.” But there’s always room for improvement, Canale says. An ongoing redesign of the careers section will more prominently display such environmental information, he says.

Assessing results
   To sell green recruiting to upper management, be sure to track data and measure results, Sullivan suggests. A good strategy is to survey job prospects, once they accept a position, to determine whether the company’s environmental record played a role, he says.

    During Shaw’s latest employee survey, conducted in late 2006, a few environmental questions were added, Richard says. Shaw has a number of environmental initiatives, including a recycling program projected to keep as much as 300 million pounds of carpet waste annually out of the landfills.

    The employee responses to the survey were overwhelmingly green, Richard says, revealing a recruiting sweet spot. Of the 2,520 Shaw employees surveyed, 80 percent said they were very or extremely interested in environmental concerns.

    Assessing the direct impact of green recruiting isn’t always easy, GE’s Canale says. During the college challenge, job applications did increase, he says. But those related to the challenge weren’t tracked separately from other college recruiting activities.

    Canale, however, doesn’t need to be convinced. To his recruiting list, he’s added at least one member of MIT’s winning team.

    Shaw’s Richard says, half-jokingly: “I hope that other companies don’t catch on too fast, because that will continue to give us a competitive edge.”

Charlotte Huff is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.

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