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Hiring corporate sustainability leaders - what you need to know

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 year ago



The case for action

As business emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic the demand for sustainability leadership underwent a quantum leap.

Driven from multiple angles; regulations, investors, consumers, customers, 2021 was the start of a dramatic change in how business leadership saw, and responded to, the broad ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) agenda.

Theses drivers combined have created a business environment in which sustainability is no longer a nice to have, but rather an essential corporate function, intertwined with established departments like Finance, Procurement, Marketing and Operations.

The effect of this has seen “Green Jobs” grow by 8% year on year, with Sustainability Manager ranking as the second highest job title ranked by growth.

So, what do you need to know about recruiting into Corporate Sustainability?

Understanding the role of a Sustainability Leader and the market in which you are hiring at outset is key.

Get in touch for our expert Executive Search & Recruitment support by calling us at: 01202 888986 or email us at:

The role

In what was already a nuanced and composite role, modern Sustainability Leadership roles have emerged with even greater complexity. This is in response to a myriad of new requirements; from mandatory reporting such as TCFD, CSRD, GRI and SASB to consumer, customer and employee demands for ESG related action, visibility, and accountability. All of this means that the role is often subtly different and bespoke to each organisation.

The market

Not immune to the normal rules of supply v demand this talent pool has come under unprecedented pressure. Combined with the complexity of the role criteria, the recruitment process arc often requires informed, creative thinking to reach a successful conclusion.

In our 30th year Allen & York’s team of Sustainability recruitment specialists have depth of experience, with individuals having over 20 years of personal market knowledge and broad experience of recruiting in sectors ranging from Apparel to Agriculture, FMCG to Finance, Manufacturing to Mining…. And more!

Here are five tips on how you can hire better, faster and get ahead of your competition, throughout the recruitment process:

1) Define the brief - Multiple stakeholders can make for muddled thinking.

Whilst it is important to gather all stakeholders’ requirements and build a complete picture of what would be ideal in the incumbent, this can create a muddled and potentially unachievable profile and lead to a clunky process. Sustainability strategies effect all parts of the business bringing a host of potential “would like to haves” to the profile.

In what is a competitive and fast-moving market, clarity on what is absolutely required and what falls into a larger group of preferred characteristics will enable the process to flow, reduce time to hire and importantly present far better to the candidates themselves at interview.

2) Know your audience – Frame the opportunity

The adage that relationships are a two-way street certainly applies when hiring and especially when hiring Sustainability Leaders.

Mission and purpose driven, the Sustainability Leader wants to know what the role is but even more acutely why it exists, what it is hoped to achieve, who amongst the SLT is behind the role, what their operating parameters will be, and how the role fits into the overarching company culture and values.

Typically, a Sustainability Leader’s career decisions are heavily influenced by these factors, more than might be expected so framing the opportunity in this way is crucial. Every new hire comes down to that crucial moment of acceptance, in a tight candidate market for Sustainability and ESG talent, options are being compared with human factors like purpose and impact likely outweighing fiscal ones.

3) Consider the right recruitment methodology for the hire – Search, advertising, external, internal

As specialists we would of course advocate you partner with a specialist recruitment provider. Any methodology might and can work, but with experience of the market and an understanding of what has worked for others, a specialist recruiter will advise clients accordingly and help them navigate the challenges ahead.

Furthermore, market penetration is key to gaining applicants in a candidate short and risk adverse market. A specialist partner should significantly add value to the process and the candidate options available.

4) Iterate and innovate – Prepare to adapt

With no composite candidate profile in a complex and changing sustainability landscape your role may evolve as the process progresses. New information will certainly come to light that changes the priorities or adds to the brief, it may also include the possibility that the ideal candidate with all the required attributes listed at outset does not exist.

We work with clients to inform their decision making through an iterative process, offering a range of solutions including ones that may not have been anticipated.

5) Iron out the wrinkles - in the hiring process.

Due diligence and standard processes are important to maintain. We recommend you plan for what may be a highly competitive landscape, having a smooth process that maintains energy and can be reactive to circumstances (if needed) is recommended.

In 2023 an initial Teams meeting to get a feel for the candidate and in return showcase the opportunity is the ideal first step. Overly onerous first interviews will lose candidates before they have had a chance to become engaged.

Delays in arranging interviews due to multi stakeholder diary clashes are a huge own goal.

Engagement is key to securing that acceptance in the Sustainability sector.

6) Make the offer difficult to refuse.

If you know your audience and their motivators, have clearly matched to your agreed spec and have a robust yet engaging recruitment process, your candidate is almost one foot in the door. Ensure you have discussed all the elements that are important to the individual in play and design your remuneration and benefits package around them. Once you have the ideal person engaged, closing the deal by knowing what you both need and expect should be the easiest part of the process!

Allen & York’s market knowledge and understanding of Sustainability & ESG recruitment - combined with our network built over 30 years in - sets us apart from others in the Green Executive Search and Recruitment space. If you’re looking to hire in ESG or Sustainability, and need some help and advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by calling: 01202 888986 or email us at: today.