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With climate and social sustainability clearly shifting from a niche in the market to a significant driving force, graduates of sustainability programs are being entrusted with significant roles in companies across all sectors. Those adopting circular economy perspectives in their work are in demand and working as leaders to drive change in their industries.

As employers consider their own practices for the culture and identity they desire within the changing market, it is important to consider what future leaders are looking for.

  1. Genuine interest in sustainability from the top down

As businesses grow increasingly interested in sustainability investment, many companies are creating new positions and departments in an effort to join the climate economy. Thus, intentionality is a key component to ensure meaningful action will flow from those positions.

When leadership is truly focused on sustainability, those filling the newly-created positions will be sufficiently supported to pursue sustainability measures across departments and teams. With the top-down focus achieved, and sustainability considered throughout an organization and its operations, those in sustainability roles will feel valued as impactful members of the culture. Most importantly, companies with sustainability-minded leadership are able to make impacts within the communities they serve.

  1. Deep understanding of the social piece to sustainability

Sustainability is not just about the environment. Recent graduates of sustainability programs have become more aware of the social sustainability component of their work, and it is important for companies to include this in their discussions regarding sustainability.

Climate change disproportionately affects minoritized populations, a reality of which many are unaware, thereby exacerbating both equity and sustainability simultaneously. By considering the triple bottom line — people, planet, profit — companies can align their sustainability vision around equitable solutions for their communities. Those entering sustainability are excited by the opportunity to make a change and are looking for companies that include social components in their sustainability view.

  1. Prioritization of diversity, equity, and inclusion

Focusing on sustainability in the community and around the world is an important part of an overall sustainability approach. However, it is also important for companies to remain vigilant in their own pursuit of equitable internal operations.

By prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in meaningful ways, companies invite various perspectives and voices to their decision-making processes. That includes the voices of those typically excluded from being stakeholders, and attracts recent graduates tuned in to the systemic issues surrounding implicit bias in the workplace.

  1. Collaborative efforts

Recent sustainability graduates value the opportunity for collaboration and sharing ideas between teams and companies to establish and spread best practices. While a more competitive atmosphere has traditionally existed in business — one in which companies strive for and measure success based on their own results — those starting sustainability careers want their success to spread and inform the practices of others.

This spread of information and sharing of insight may level the playing field for companies pursuing sustainability goals, but bringing more companies along allows for sustainability practices to spread, grow, and be refined at a much quicker pace.

  1. True transparency

Those entering the sustainability profession have come to terms with the state of environmental and social efforts and are eager to pursue their passions in the field. With that in mind, recent graduates are looking for companies that are transparent in their practices — both good and bad — as well as their internal practices.

By being aware of and making clear what steps have or haven’t been taken towards sustainability goals, companies are able to make meaningful change sooner and allow sustainability roles to thrive in their settings. Additionally, by providing transparency towards internal operations, including hiring practices and salaries, companies can remove barriers to equity that plague the current market.

A version of this post was originally published on GreenBiz in our “Thinking in Systems” column on October 28, 2021.

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