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The ESG Review: Are climate quitters all mouth and no trousers?

A survey published this week was framed around the phrase “climate quitters”: the supposed notion that young workers would increasingly be prepared to leave a job if they saw an employer as having poor environmental credentials.

The study, carried out for KPMG, found that 46% of all workers wanted their current employer to publish and demonstrate ambitious ESG commitments. It questioned 6,000 UK adults who had left higher education in the past six months.

It makes for a neat headline, and gives management consultancies a platform for advising companies on how to meet that talent challenge. But does it really tell us much about whether the environmental aspects of ESG are truly a make-or-break for young talent coming into the workforce?

If asked what level of scrutiny they applied to the business before accepting that first rung on the ladder just six months ago, what would they have said? Now, with inflation rising and companies in some sectors laying off in vast numbers, would they be quite so choosy when push came to shove, rather than agreeing with a statement in a survey question?

And what about the 54% who wouldn’t consider quitting a role because they saw a company’s climate credentials as lacking?

The demand for businesses to link action on the most important ESG factors to their stated values has surely been on the rise for years. But when it comes to walking out on a job at the moment, the whole notion of a rising tide of climate quitters based on responses to a few survey questions does feel like some of those answers were a case of all mouth and no trousers. Just 30% had looked into their employer’s ESG credentials before taking their jobs, so it’s easy to take the alternative angle of young workers should be doing much more to consider their career paths if they are truly passionate about tackling climate change..

Regardless of the outcome of a snapshot of attitudes though, the story does underline the broader point that ESG communication does need to consider how companies can convince and engage prospective talent through the way that they share their commitments and achievements. ESG reports may largely target investors, partners and customers, but may not be given more than a cursory read the night before an interview by potential recruits.

Yet according to Bloomberg recently, there is also a growing number of younger workers leaving jobs not because of their current employer’s action, but because they want to take a role elsewhere that helps to tackle climate change.

More sustained and creative communication may have more impact. With ‘clean industries’ aiming to create many new UK jobs in the coming years, and a need to convince skilled young workers that they offer more than just higher pro-rata salaries, there will likely be a war for talent. For employers in conventional firms transforming operations and production to meet environmental goals, and indeed multiple social and governance aims, the need to make those achievements resonate directly with candidates will likely only increase too.

The ESG News Review is written by Steve Earl, a Partner at BOLDT.

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