Students reject corporate swag

May 24, 2023 | Attraction & marketing, Home Featured, Research


New research shows that students and employers are helping the environment by saying goodbye to recruitment freebies.

Are the days of the graduate freebee coming to an end? For decades employers have enticed students to career stands with free corporate swag, everything from branded coffee mugs to phone chargers.

Since launching the Sustainable Recruitment Alliance (SRA) in 2020, 85 employers have signed a pledge to cut waste and make carbon savings when recruiting students.

Half of students reject merchandise

The issue is important to students. In an online survey of almost 2,400 university students and recent graduates conducted by market research consultancy Cibyl, nine out of 10 students said employers should take action on environmental sustainability.

One in 10 students say that environmental sustainability is a top consideration when choosing an employer

The research also shows that students are increasingly turned off when offered free merchandise by employers.

One in two students say free merchandise has no influence or makes them less likely to apply. As one student said, ‘Merchandise is irrelevant. I will apply to work with them if I have a good experience with their representatives, and if they have a post that I wish to pursue. Merchandise feels like bribery and I’m not a fan.’

‘Over nine in 10 students agree that the issue of environment and sustainability is important to them and one in five students think about environmental sustainability in graduate career engagement,’ says Lisa Maris, head of research at Cibyl.

Read more about how sustainable practices influence student attraction.

Recruiters reduce CO2 emissions by 95%

New research shows that graduate recruiters have significantly reduced their carbon footprint by cutting back on the amount of freebies they hand out.

The specialist sustainability reporting firm Greenstone provided an impact assessment of the early recruitment activities of 38 of SRA signatories planned between September 2022 and August 2023.

They found that emissions have fallen by 95% over the last three years from 91 tons of CO2 to 4.5 tons. And these cuts have been achieved despite on-campus events returning to pre-pandemic levels. 23 signatories have committed to purchasing no merchandise at all, meaning they will produce zero emissions.

“Our audiences expect us to be bold and ambitious in our sustainability efforts and this drives us to further challenge our practices, identify partnerships, and innovate wherever we can,” says Toby Horner, early talent acquisition manager at Clifford Chance.

How to make a difference

The SRA make a number of recommendations for employers to reduce their carbon footprint.

  • Reduce the amount of merchandise purchased for events or replace altogether with a different way of attracting talent.
  • Phase out merchandise made from textiles. These products have made up just 11% of the total weight of merchandise but constitute 60% of overall emissions.
  • Products manufactured from recycled materials should be favoured as they produce less emissions than those produced using virgin material.
  • Interrogate supply chains as part of early talent strategies.
  • Continue to think creatively about how you engage with students.
  • To correctly manage and monitor emissions, track your merchandise consumption at events and look to expand into other data source areas, including attendee travel.


Sign the pledge

Most organisations rely on merchandise, travel and even catering when attracting early talent. All these play a part in the waste of resources and that all-important production of 
carbon dioxide. Sign up to the SRA pledge and commit to finding more sustainable ways to attract early talent.

When you sign up to the SRA you can use the logo on your collateral and your organisation’s name will appear on the signatories page. You’ll also be part of the community who can access roundtables, podcasts and share best practice along with the option to highlight your success stories through case studies.

‘This provides a great opportunity for early talent recruiters to think differently about their approach to candidate engagement and to put meaningful interaction that genuinely upskills candidates at the heart of their attraction and selection strategies,’ says Laura Yeates, founder of the Sustainable Recruitment Alliance.

Read more from Laura Yeates on sustainable practices.

The Sustainable Recruitment Alliance Impact Report was produced in collaboration with Cibyl, Greenstone, and Blackbridge Communications.


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