How to win the war for talent? Lead on climate.

Today’s business students want the private sector to do more – a lot more –  to address the climate crisis. That’s one of the key takeaways from a new report by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment. The thousands of global students surveyed in the report also share a strong belief that climate change is a business issue, and that “companies have the majority or an equal role to governments in addressing social and environmental crises.”

Amidst the current war for talent, the new report reinforces the immense opportunity for businesses to lead on climate as a means to attract and retain talent. While leading companies attract workers by setting and taking immediate action to achieve net zero goals, other companies are missing key opportunities to connect with potential employees. It also highlights the immediate risk that companies face if they do nothing, fail to be transparent, or are seen as “all talk, no action.”

In the last 24 months, climate leadership has gone mainstream. Net zero pledges among the largest publicly traded companies climbed 70% from 2021 to 2022. Today 34% of the top 2,000 global companies have established net zero goals. Climate-forward thinking is now synonymous with innovation. Look no further than Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2022. The top eight companies all incorporate environmental solutions as part of their business models. And investors are watching. Investments in climate tech surged 210% over 12 months, reaching nearly $90 billion in late 2021. 

This new and growing crop of companies focused on solving the world’s toughest environmental problems, from climate change to hazardous chemicals, all share a common critical input – people. And, if the findings of Yale’s study (and many other recent reports) are any indication, these are exactly the kinds of companies the world’s top talent want to join. Millennials and Gen Z care more about climate change than any other generation and are clear in their desire to work for organizations that share their values. According to the recent Yale study, the majority of business students said that they would accept a lower salary to work with a sustainability-forward employer.

Here at Environmental Defense Fund, we’ve seen this increasing demand first hand. Fifteen years of growth data from Climate CorpsⓇ has shown a surge in both fellowship applicants as well as host companies and organizations over the past two years. In response to this historic interest, we’ve expanded the program into India, along with our suite of resources and support that we offer to anyone and everyone seeking a purpose-driven career.

Diversity of educational backgrounds from applicants pursuing a Climate Corps fellowship
Total applications to Climate Corps fellowship program

For example, we launched the podcast Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers to help meet the demand for training, information and networking that the fellowship program alone cannot meet. EDF’s series Land a Green Job 101 draws expertise from Sustainable Career Pathways, GreenBiz and Net Impact to help guide green job seekers. Since the transition to net zero will require new skillets across industries, the next season of the Degrees podcast will focus on the jobs we need for the future.  

EDF’s podcast Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers

Meanwhile, the green jobs market is booming. LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills report found that hiring for green jobs grew globally by almost 40% since 2015. And 76% of respondents in GreenBiz’s forthcoming State of the Profession survey reported growth in the headcount of corporate sustainability departments last year – a 20 point jump from 2020, and a 35 point jump from 2018.

As companies continue hiring sustainability professionals at record rates, the competition for attracting and retaining top talent will also increase. Likewise, some of the most sought after talent in the job market are likely deciding between employers based on the quality of their sustainability plans. 

So what’s the best way for companies to stand out in a very crowded marketplace? Lead on climate. 

As the latest IPCC report made crystal clear, cutting emissions at the level and pace needed to secure a climate stable future will require a radical transformation of our economy – including unprecedented private sector leadership. 

Leadership means climate action. It means turning climate pledges into climate progress. Companies that neglect to act with urgency risk getting left behind, and losing the war for talent.