​Top Tips for Hiring Sustainability and ESG Talent

Posted on 06 June 2024

Top Tips for Hiring Sustainability and ESG Talent


Whether you are looking to hire your first Sustainability or ESG employee or your twentieth, the global market remains extremely challenging and complex. This is driven by a number of factors, foremost is the lack of maturity in the employment market, married to the fact the sector itself is rapidly evolving.


The result is a fractured employment market where terminology, salaries, job titles and responsibilities rarely align and the number of acronyms for anyone looking to understand it for the first time is baffling.


In this article I have outlined what I feel are the best ways to hire successfully in the space, overcome these challenges and give yourself the best chance of securing the sustainability talent you are seeking. In the hope of keeping the article concise I have avoided getting into any in depth explanations on the technicalities so if you have any questions please feel free to contact me, serrol@verdantsearch.com or 02038351616.


Firstly, it is vital that you appreciate everyone working in this space is driven by an urge to make a difference, whether that is towards climate change, improving a company’s social impact or on an ecological level. It is therefore important you highlight your values, achievements and / or ambitions, purpose lead businesses have higher candidate attraction and retention.


Job Title, I have not witnessed a market in the last 20 years where job titles are so confusing, from the use of Decarbonisation to Net Zero, Carbon to Climate and Energy to Emissions, even experienced candidates (and recruiters) are baffled by where to look and what employers are truly seeking. If you are looking to attract candidates via an advert you need to use the more common terminology of Sustainability or ESG for the vast majority of roles. Sustainability will nearly always cover net zero, emissions and decarbonisation and very few candidates will type them when seeking a new role.


Duties, I regularly see roles advertised that are more than one candidate could be expected to do, either because someone who inherited the sustainability title at work has left and the employer is seeking a like for like replacement, or the employer is ambitiously hoping to solve all their ESG reporting, carbon accounting and footprint, LCA, sustainability strategy and implementation, investor relations and communications challenges in one go. Ensuring the role is correctly balanced will enhance candidate interest and display you have an understanding of the role, a lot of candidate’s feel adverts asking for everything shows employers either do not appreciate what they are hiring for or do not value the role; both of which will limit candidate interest.


You can quickly acquire the knowledge you need by utilising a specialist in sustainability recruitment, there a few of us around now and no one will charge you for providing market information or salary advice. All recruiters will try and hire a sustainability or ESG role for you if you ask, but only the specialist recruiters have an accurate understanding of the market, it’s nuances and what the candidates in the space actually desire.


In addition, sector specialists will have better candidate attraction, networks and know what a good candidate looks like compared to the average one, meaning if you do choose to utilise the services of a recruiter please only use one the actually works purely in the market; all others will simply be putting out an advert and looking at a shallow candidate pool.


Salaries are obviously important and currently there is significant disparity across the market, even within the same sectors. The traditional variations for location and sector are consistent, but you will find a wide range of salaries on offer. This is even evidenced in the more established ESG markets such as the built environment and financial services. The key driver for this increase has been the rapid expansion of demand for candidates, with salaries moving quickly it is difficult to know where to place a role, companies looking to replace leavers that have not hired for a year will often be surprised at the new levels. Equally, candidates in the market are very aware when their colleagues and professional acquaintances are moving for substantially higher levels than they are on.


The solution is to gather market information before going to market, recruitment agencies can immediately let you know what the range looks like, if they are a specialist. Personally, I would always advocate offering a range to keep your options open, advertising a role as a “competitive salary” not only decreases the number of candidates that will apply but also can lead to a lot of time being wasted later in the process. If you advertise a role with a substantially below market salary you risk candidates believing you do not value sustainability and potentially damaging your corporate brand.


I do believe though that for the majority of candidates, the key driver is an impactful role in a purpose led business.


Reporting lines, where you position the sustainability and / or ESG team in a business is incredibly varied at the moment, with HR, Marketing, Communications and Legal all being less attractive options. This is because it can be viewed as the business (rightly or wrongly) not understanding or valuing ESG and Sustainability.


To deliver a sustainability strategy you need it to align with the commercial strategy and understand that delivering it is a complete business transformation process; therefore the function is best placed under departments used to delivering companywide change management. Also, marketing or communications can imply that as a business you are more interested in optics than real change.


Lastly, for companies beginning your sustainability journey the process can look incredibly confusing and complicated. Rather than immediately calling in a consultancy, I am an advocate of hiring an interim sustainability specialist. The contract market is not yet as mature as sectors such as finance or technology, but there are some very experienced and knowledgeable candidates in the market that could come in at short notice, initially even for 2 weeks and outline what your position is, explain the jargon and remove the confusion. If you wish they can be extended to construct a strategy for you, most sustainability strategies are very similar across sectors and will simply need tweaking to suit your purposes.


This approach gives you a better understanding of what your company’s specific business needs are and also what options would be best suited to you going forward, it might be a consultancy to deliver the reporting or technical analysis, utilising a specific ESG software, hiring a lower cost sustainability manager to deliver the strategy, or it could be a mixture.


There’s a considerable amount of candidate’s pivoting into and up skilling themselves in the field, plus a huge number of new graduates entering the market all seeking to aid the transition to a decarbonised economy. The hardest roles tend to be the mid-level ones, as all the candidates in the market that previously filled these have been sucked up into more senior positions and those entering the marketplace still do not yet have enough experience to fill them.


The market continues to change at a rapid pace, but we are beginning to see a condensation of some of the frameworks and more international alignment on regulation, however with so many challenges still ahead I expect that it will remain fragmented for some time.


If you are seeking support with your hiring place feel free to reach out we will always be happy to provide advice and support you in any way we can.

Share this article