How do sustainable practices impact graduate attraction and retention?

Nov 8, 2022 | Attraction & marketing, Research

Words must be backed by accountable actions if companies’ sustainable practices are to have an impact on graduate attraction and retention, explains Chris Rea, a careers expert at Prospects for Jisc.

Do people starting out in their careers really care about the sustainable practices of potential employers and do policies make a difference to the attraction and retention of graduates?

Prospects at Jisc surveyed more than 1,000 graduates to find answers to these questions and more, shedding light on how an interest in sustainable development is having an impact on young people’s employment decisions. 

The aim is to inform graduate recruiters of the reality, so they are in a better position to engage young people in the most effective way, avoiding inadvertent greenwashing.

Make a difference

Our data shows that the majority of graduates want to make a difference in people’s lives, favouring companies with sustainable policies that they can get involved in.

The majority (91%) of graduates who responded to the survey reported that it was important that their job enables them to make a difference in people’s lives. A further 86% said that it was vital that the company they work for has a positive environmental impact and 85% said it was important that a company has sustainable practices.

We also found evidence of how a strong commitment to sustainable practice is increasingly important for both the attraction and retention of graduates.

Three quarters of respondents said that they would be more likely to apply to a company with strong sustainable practices and two thirds said that they would stay longer in a job if they knew it had a positive impact on sustainability.

Active stance

Moreover, when asked what they would do if they discovered that a company they were working for didn’t make sustainable choices, the majority (71%) said that they would raise the issue with management and try to make a positive difference. That might be by influencing policy or making more sustainable choices within their role in the hope of influencing their colleagues.

On the other hand, more than a quarter (28%) said that they would look for a new job.

Only one in ten respondents said that they would do nothing. For some, this stemmed from a lack of concern for sustainability, but others expressed feelings of powerlessness, suggesting that they would like to take a stance in such a situation but might fear repercussions.


Greenwashing is about making unsubstantiated environmental claims about company aims, policies or products. Our survey showed that it is important that graduate employers don’t just raise awareness of what they are doing or their support for the principles of sustainable development in job adverts or employer branding, but that words are backed by accountable actions.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of the graduates surveyed felt that job adverts should include an employer’s sustainable policies.

More than half (52%) of the graduates who responded said that they have looked at a company’s sustainability plan or corporate social responsibility policy when looking for a job, and of those, 59% said that they did further research into the company’s sustainable practices to verify that they were actually being proactive in this regard.

Although younger respondents were more likely to say that they had looked at a company’s sustainability plan when looking for a job, older respondents were more likely to follow up and do further research into the company’s sustainable practices.

Candidates are acutely aware of aware of environmental and social challenges, and we’re seeing evidence of this spill over into their employment choices and decisions. This interest in sustainable development is wider than those pursuing direct careers into environmental or sustainable jobs.

Whatever their chosen career path, young people want to work for companies that can demonstrate they are making a difference and have the opportunity to get involved. It’s important that student employers don’t just communicate their sustainable targets and policies but that this is backed up by clear evidence of actions.

Read more insight and advice on sustainability in graduate recruitment and development

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