Making a positive impact by creating a more just and sustainable world is increasingly an important goal for many graduates coming out of university.
When thinking about your career options, investing some time to reflect on ethical considerations is a smart move – this can help you map a fulfilling and rewarding career path and unlock opportunities that match your strengths.
In this blog, Charles Joly, Head of Sustainability at Sustainable LSE, explores some steps you can take to align your career choices with your values and assess what makes an ethical employer.
Is my career choice compatible with my values and ethics?
The level of importance you place on your values can be a critical factor in your choice of career. Before starting your role search, take the time to reflect on your values and identify what matters most to you. Bear in mind the activities of a specific company or industry sector may be incompatible with your ethical beliefs and views – for example, the use of animal testing.
If you’re a value-driven individual, you may be particularly attracted to work in the not-for-profit and charitable sector. The demand for environmental and social impact professionals in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘impact sector’ is rapidly growing, with diverse roles across a range of themes including climate and biodiversity, corporate responsibility, responsible supply chain, circular economy, human rights and sustainable finance.
Beyond the impact sector, in the modern workplace everyone has an opportunity (and increasingly will be expected) to drive sustainable good practice regardless of their role. Whether you’re an architect or an accountant, building a basic understanding of the environmental and social issues relevant to your sector is important, be it for interviews or over the course of your career.
What makes an employer ethical?
An obvious starting point is to reflect on the company or organisation’s core business purpose. Traditionally, specific sectors have been classed as strongly controversial for their negative impacts such as armament, tobacco, alcohol, or gambling. As awareness of the environmental and social impacts of companies continue to rise, many will now consider a new range of industries to fall into this category, be it oil and gas companies or fast-food outlets.
However, in our globalised economy all companies will to a degree be exposed to controversial practice risks, from human slavery in their supply chain to the impact of their carbon footprint. A key question is how they approach and tackle these issues…
Beyond a company’s sector or core products, there are a number of factors you can consider when making your own assessment of the ethical and sustainability credentials of a prospective employer, also known as ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) performance.
A company’s website is a first point of call, where information may be found under different names: sustainability, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), responsible business. A general internet and news web search may also return articles reflecting the credentials of a company, be it positive or negative.
When conducting your research, some ESG indicators to look out for include:
- How prominent and comprehensive is ESG information on the company’s website and corporate literature (for example, their Annual Report)? This tends to reflect its level of commitment on this agenda.
- Has the company secured ESG related third-party certifications (for example ISO 14001, B Corp, Carbon Neutral, Planet Mark, Ecolabel) or industry awards?
- Is ESG performance data readily available, including goals and targets (for example carbon emissions Science Based Target?
- Is progress regularly reported? For instance, through a dedicated CSR or sustainability report, or as part of the company’s Annual Report or accounts.
- Is the company a member of or do they participate in industry sector sustainability initiatives or trade bodies (for example Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil for food producers, Net Zero Lawyers Alliance for law firms, etc)?
- What level of seniority backs ESG initiatives? The CEO talking about sustainability is a good gauge to test whether it is part of the company’s culture.
- What commitments, if any, does the company make to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion? For example, do they publish information on Gender Pay Gap? Are they members of larger directories like the Stonewall Global Diversity Champions? Are there active EDI staff networks?
If you choose to apply following your research, the interview is another great opportunity to ask questions about the CSR or sustainability initiatives of your prospective employer, and test if the answers you hear are consistent with your findings.
Finding a career and employer aligned with your values and ethics can be a critical factor in being engaged and motivated by your work. Passion and pride for the work you do is perhaps the biggest ingredient for long term career success.
Charles Joly is Head of Sustainability at Sustainable LSE. He leads the sustainability team overseeing the implementation of strategy and delivery of services across campus and LSE residences.