Sustainability: Taking a responsible view to improve employer brand and staff retention  

27 November 2007:

Nick Horslen, an entrepreneur and business mentor working with small- and medium-sized businesses, says sustainable development - the ability to reduce a company's carbon footprint - is one of the first things graduates look for when choosing an employer.

"The issue of 'sustainability' is of far greater significance to graduates and other new recruits than it was 10 years ago. It's much more on their radar," he says.

Horslen works with business start-ups on the South East England Regional Development Agency (SEEDA) programme, to help them grow sustainably and boost regional regeneration. The programme is linked to Henley Management College's established business accelerator course, designed to develop a long-term approach to continuous development (see box, right, for details of Henley's new Leading for Sustainability course).

A quick glance at a recent BT survey of 120 young professionals shows corporate social responsibility - including sustainability - is more important to them than salary, according to one-third of participants. "Young people want to help define a new economy. Delivering sustainable economies is high up on that agenda," says Horslen. So it makes clear business sense, especially in recruitment and retention terms, for employers to create and implement an active sustainability policy.

Making it happen

Tim Fenn, managing director of construction firm Oakwood Builders, and member of the SEEDA and Henley business accelerator programmes, has noticed a concrete link between having an active sustainability policy and being able to attract and retain the best staff.

He explains that being proactive in sustainability gives Oakwood clear competitive advantage, and even enables the company to attract people at lower salaries than they may expect from larger employers.

"We can get people in who are prepared to accept less money to come and join us, even at a senior level, because we offer something different to our competitors," says Fenn. "One of our directors took a £60,000 pay cut, and a middle manager took a £30,000 reduction. It's because new recruits see sustainability as a growing area, and we offer a package for staff to take advantage of this."

Oakwood is the first construction company in England to attempt building zero-carbon houses, years ahead of expected legislation in 2016, which will make such building compulsory. Fenn knows this aim is critical in making his business stand out from the rest in a crowded market. But from an HR perspective, he says he must take his employees with him through training and continuous development to truly succeed.

"To achieve our vision, we needed to develop a major new training ethos within the company. Over the last seven years, we have had a massive training budget of £70,000 compared with a £2m turnover. We wanted everyone to have a training programme, from labourers to production, which included basic craft and IT skills."

Fenn explains that once all 55 members of staff have gone through the basic training programme, each then has a budget of £500 to train specifically in eco-build.

"Decorators have been practising with eco paint, joinery managers have attended courses about sustainable timbers, and plumbers have looked at solar panels," he says. "Because of these eco-friendly training policies, we are more able to attract the right people."

Fenn also claims the strong training ethos has helped staff retention. "We keep our people because we're so strong in what we do. Our goal is for all labourers on site to have knowledge of wind turbines, solar panelling and so on, so the whole organisation becomes environmentally aware and included."

Source: Personnel Today

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