The New Normal: Perspectives From Students on How Organizations Can Be More Sustainable

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Evidence shows recent graduates want to work for sustainable, responsible organizations.

How can organizations compete for top talent?

The evidence shows that recent graduates want to work for sustainable, responsible organizations. Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2009 found that 75% of U.S. workforce entrants saw social responsibility and environmental commitment as important criteria in selecting employers. A 2003 study from Stanford University found that MBA graduates would sacrifice an average of $13,700 in annual salary to work for a socially responsible company.

But your future employees don’t just value sustainability – they also have specific ideas about the steps organizations should take towards becoming sustainable.

In the fall of 2009, 180 student leaders from across Canada (selected from nearly 1,000 applicants) assembled in Guelph, Canada for Impact! The Co-operators Youth Conference for Sustainability Leadership. Working under the guidance of experts from industry, government, and academia, these student leaders identified the sustainability practices they expect the business community to adopt.

Although the students studied a number of sectors – including insurance and financial services, manufacturing, retail, municipal services, food systems, energy production, information and communications technologies, and hospitality and tourism – six specific recommendations were common to all sectors:

  • Minimize waste through closed-loop business models: Students wish to see new business models that engender environmental (and economic) efficiency through reduced waste.

  • Establish and enforce clear sectoral standards: Students call for clear standards coupled with third-party checks and balances to ensure organizations are meeting their social license to operate and to enable benchmarking.

  • Increase transparency: Students strongly believe that better information should be made available to the public regarding the social, financial and environmental factors that impact people’s lives.

  • Encourage carbon regulation: Students called on government to regulate carbon emissions in all sectors.

  • Increase student involvement in business: Students want to get more involved in business through networking, internships, course-based research, and jobs upon graduation.

  • Increase community engagement: Students believe that engaging communities at the grassroots can lead to sustainable communities and organizations.Representing the expectations young leaders have for prospective employers, the insights captured in this report can help you attract, retain and engage top minds — as well as identify the public opinion issues on the horizon.

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