January 23, 2008

MBAs: Your Future (Green?) Execs

BusinessWeek seems to have taken on the self-appointed role as debunker of green business, which as I've written before is an odd switch from the beginning of 2007. This week the magazine takes a harsh perspective on an interesting new survey about interest in green values at work.

PR firm Hill & Knowlton talked to MBA students globally and asked them what factors would influence career and job choice. They ranked the factors by % that said it was "extremely" or "very" important. Here's the list from the study:

Career opportunities.......................................95
Corporate culture/working environment.............86
Compensation and benefits package................85
Employee satisfaction....................................84
Quality of products and services......................75
Financial performance/growth potential.............73
Corporate governance and ethics.....................58
Social responsibility/community involvement.....49
Brand and marketing message........................48
Environmental/green policy..............................34

BusinessWeek looked at this and declared "Green Isn't Gold for MBAs" and pointed out that green stuff is at the bottom. Now, color me optimistic, but I think these numbers -- 49% on CSR and 34% on green -- are actually pretty high. Of course career opportunities and money are going to be nearly universal; it's like asking consumers about price and quality versus other considerations -- of course they come first. I would expect that very few MBAs would pick on environmental considerations alone.

But I'm amazed that one-third or more of these MBAs consider green as important as those other factors (remember, this is 'extremely' or 'very' important). And where would those numbers have been 5 years ago? What's the trajectory on this?

What was interesting, and BusinessWeek does get to this after its sensational headline, was what happened when the questions got more specific. Two-thirds won't work for tobacco and half don't want to work for energy or autos -- those are just the two biggest sectors in the world. Finally, to cap it off, 1 in 5 American MBAs -- and 42% and 38% in EU and Asia respectively -- would be inclined not to take an "attractive" job offer from a company with a poor environmental reputation.

If you're recruiting for top talent, and you're not tackling green issues, wouldn't it worry you that 20-40% of your pool of applicants may have no interest in you?

And the numbers may be rising as you look at even younger cohorts. Monster.com did a survey of undergrads recently and found that 92% wanted to work for a green company. They were so impressed by this finding, they launched a green careers website. The recruiting giants are convinced even if BusinessWeek isn't.

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