How you attract the best talent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals

8 min read
Mar 20, 2020 12:37:00 PM

Today we’re exploring  what modern employees seek in their job roles, the centrality of social enterprise, and how you can actively leverage sustainability as a tool to improve your recruitment processes. 

The importance of talent acquisition

To say that staff are the lifeblood of your organization seems like such a truism that it hardly bears repeating. Except that all too often, this fact is so fundamental that it actually gets overlooked. One of the key elements that causes business stagnation is a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality – and this applies more than ever in the field of employee recruitment, motivation and retention. 


All businesses should be seeking to engage in a process of continued reanalysis and incremental improvement across their full range of processes, but HR departments arguably need to be more on the ball than ever. This stems not only from changing legislative frameworks, but also a fundamental culture shift in how employees work and what they expect.

sdg_icon_08_en-300x300There is of course little benefit in engaging in a dismissive and simplistic assessment of ‘millennials’ versus ‘boomers’ – this type of discourse is as banal as it is unhelpful. But, markets are changing and evolving; modernising and demanding different priorities of the services and products they engage with. To meet this changing demand, the first vital step any firm can make is to make sure its workforce is aligned with its markets

There are a couple of features which characterise the wishes (or, increasingly, demands) of the modern workforce. One of the elements that receives the most attention is a more effective work-life balance. This doesn’t necessarily mean that modern workforces are seeking to work less, or that they are lazy. But what they are seeking is a flexible work environment that fits in with other aspects of their lives, and which judges merit not by the ‘first in, last out’ workday mentality that previously characterised success, but by outputs, effectiveness, efficiency and creativity. 

"...companies need to facilitate ways of engaging with their workforce in more innovative ways; making use of communications, management, motivation and monitoring systems which can accommodate remote activity and different concepts of out

This means, first and foremost, that companies need to facilitate ways of engaging with their workforce in more innovative ways; making use of communications, management, motivation and monitoring systems which can accommodate remote activity and different concepts of output.

More than this though, research indicates that modern employees seek to derive satisfaction from their jobs by knowing that they are making a difference. This difference can be in feeling like they have a voice that genuinely influences the direction and success of the company, but, more frequently, it also refers to the idea of social enterprise and making a difference to the lives of others. 


Statistics back this up. The Pew Research Centre says that 40% of those born between 1981 and 1996 (making them 23 – 38 in today’s workforce) have chosen a job because of its environmental policies, whilst 40% would take a pay cut to move into a job with better sustainability credentials. 70% indicated that a strong sustainability plan influenced their decision to remain at a workplace - GA Institute, 2019.

"...82% of millennials will seek opportunities to assist in making the company more sustainable, and 67% valued being able to hold the influence to make this change."

Moreover, modern employees feel motivated to not just passively accept the sustainability initiatives of a firm, but actively seek to contribute to them and enhance them. An IndustryWeek report indicated the 82% of millennials will seek opportunities to assist in making the company more sustainable, and 67% valued being able to hold the influence to make this change. In essence, firms which support sustainability produce committed, driven and actively engaged employees

There is one more fact which marks modern workforces from those that have gone before, and this one is the real kicker. Today’s employees are much less attached to the idea of a ‘job for life’, and far more willing to change if their current environment does not satisfy them in terms of pay, work-life balance, satisfaction, fulfilment and benefits according to the Gallup Report, 2019.


The upshot of all this? If your business isn’t working to deliver on the factors that make modern workforces happy – such as corporate ethical responsibility, social enterprise and sustainability – you aren’t going to keep the best workers within your grasp. 

So what now?

From the quick review of evidence undertaken above, it seems readily apparent that integrating elements of sustainability into your business practices can carry strategic advantage across the board, but particularly in relation to recruiting top talent. But this leads on to a broader and arguably more complex issue.

What exactly is sustainability? How can it be conceptualised, and most importantly, how can it actually be implemented and integrated into your business to improve not only your talent acquisition process, but your overall strategic core?

Conceptualising sustainability 

The problem is that issues of ‘sustainability’ can often be conceived of in quite ambiguous or nebulous ways. There are so many different dimensions of sustainability that it can be difficult to find a way to incorporate and structure them effectively.


There is a severe risk that if you simply dive into ‘sustainability implementation’ without a structured approach, and without building upon established research principles, you’ll end up creating an unwieldy system of hastily conceived, poorly monitored ideals which lack measurable metrics. 

As they say, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions, and if your sustainable aims are implemented poorly, they can end up not just lacking in value, but being actively counterproductive. But what framework to use? The world of sustainability is littered with various models of application – all built on differing ideals, conceptions and agendas – some of which themselves have an underlying commercial motivation. It is a field littered with acronyms, contradictory and conflicting information and opinions masquerading as facts. 

For those starting off on the process of integrating sustainability into their businesses, it can be a daunting journey. 

Choosing a model 

At Task, we’ve spent an entire career engaging with the concept of sustainability and ideas of social enterprise, so fortunately we’ve done a lot of the hard work for you. We’ve waded through the competing literature and identified the most effective and sensible models for application. 

We strongly support the use of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These are a set of 17 goals for sustainability that nation states have made a commitment to pursuing. But these goals aren’t the singular preserve of countries and governmental officials, they are goals that can be worked towards by individuals, charities and commercial entities alike. 

We won’t waste your time with a long list and boring explanation of each goal, so here’s a neat little infographic that summarises the 17 SDG focus areas. 


However, if you would like to explore the specifics of each SDG further, we strongly recommend visiting the UN’s development program site, which allows you to click through on each goal to discover the precise nature of the goal, and the metrics and global statistics that underpin it.

The benefits of the SDG model 

So why is it that we think the UN SDG model particularly is the most effective way to frame your sustainability thinking?

  • The goals themselves are not nebulous ideals, but instead each broken down into a set of specific targets and indicators. This provides strong direction to those seeking to implement them within a business.
  • The goals are created by and supported by 193 states, meaning that they have a level of global backing, recognition and potential support which can make it easy for businesses to access the resources they need when pursuing them. 
  • The creation of 17 goals allows for a level of specificity in action and aim, and it allows for businesses to ‘pick and choose’ or hone in on goals that are most suitable or complimentary to their overall strategy. However, taken together, the 17 goals aim to achieve an effective balance across the three broad sustainability ‘spheres’; economic, social and environmental. 
  • The goals have been developed with a wide and holistic perspective in mind – based on knowledge and empirical research that takes into account the lived experience of an incredibly diverse range of stakeholders; from individual farmers living on the poverty line, to multinational companies that span the globe. Essentially, they are universal in their applicability. 

In addition, when we return to our initial point regarding the ability to use sustainability practices within your firm as a way to attract talent, then there are a number of additional reasons for applying and integrating the UN SDGs specifically. 

  • The goals carry an instant point of recognition –something concrete and tangible that can be used in recruitment communications and that will be recognisable to candidates. 
  • The goals carry authority. By integrating the UN goals specifically it is clear that research and consideration of sustainability issues has been undertaken – rather than simply leveraging catchy buzzwords in recruitment materials. This adds to the authenticity and credibility of the sustainability message that you are promoting to potential hires. 


Implementing the UN SDGs

As identified above, the UN SDGs carry value because they aren’t merely nebulous goals, but instead have within them targets and indicators. But what does that mean from a practical standpoint for your business? What is the process of translating theory to action?

This is where Task comes in. Task has a background in helping businesses of all sizes to integrate concepts of social enterprise into their operations – using technology to engage members throughout the organization, orientating them around specific sustainability projects, and helping them to integrate socially beneficial practices into their daily organisational activities. 

This means that after making a commitment to integrate the SDGs into your business, Task can iron out the specifics – providing a meaningful guide to action, and a way of effectively measuring metrics associated with this. These metrics can be used to satisfy legal compliance, stakeholder reporting, or within marketing activities. 

But more than this, it can provide incredible motivation to existing employees, and proof to potential employees of your commitment to sustainable practice. Through the provision of visible metrics, goals, leaderboards, competitions and reward systems, the Task system can make employees feel even better about doing good. The value this carries in terms of job satisfaction – and thus recruitment, productivity and retention – cannot be understated. 

As a result, the Task system doesn’t just help business to ‘do good’ because of a moral imperative to do so, but because companies which follow sustainable practices flourish more than those that don’t. Increased competitive advantage, better brand equity, better performing employees and – ultimately, a better bottom line. 


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