How to create a sustainability-focused recruitment strategy to attract emerging talent

Want to attract emerging talent to help drive sustainability goals and SDG initiatives in your organization?

Employers, hiring managers and recruitment specialists take note. Emerging talent want work that supports a greener and more equitable future. By 2025, Generation Z (Gen Z), will account for 27 per cent of the workforce. Born between 1996-2014, Gen Z is the most diverse group to ever hit the workforce. Research from Waterloo’s Work-Learn Institute (WxL) shows that Gen Z values differ from those of previous demographic cohorts.

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Gen Z wants to make an impact!

As employees, they value benevolence (helping others), hedonism (enjoying life) and self-direction (exploring curiosities). Gen Z was raised in a digital world and lived through a global pandemic. Today, they experience the effects of climate change and ongoing racial injustice. They want to drive change. 

Advancing sustainability goals through the strategic framework of environmental, social and governance (ESG) are an important reflection of Gen Z’s lived experience. Research from WxL indicates Gen Z talent expect balance and security in the workplace.

They will prioritize a workplace culture that considers equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism (EDI-R). These are at the foundation of ESG and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Is focusing on sustainability and ESG key to Gen Z?

Yes, according to research from WxL. Before working at a company, Gen Z talent will look at the company’s ESG goals and performance:

How employers are utilizing co-op students to support ESG


For biotechnology company Ceragen, reducing waste is key.

The company works to help farmers increase crop yields through plant microbiome engineering. Ceragen hires co-op students as laboratory research assistants and bioinformatics assistants. The company is focused on improving the environmental impact of their products, services, protocols and processes. Ceragen’s initiatives include:

  • Plastic use reduction: Finding alternatives for single use plastics in their labs includes replacing petri dishes from plastics to glass and switching to reusable inoculating loops.
  • Introduction of new technology: The company has created a custom rack that helps to reduce laboratory waste. Employees use 3D printing innovations and laser cuttings to replace plastics in the lab.
  • New products: Ceragen develops plant growth microbial inoculants that increase crop yields in hydroponic fruit and vegetable production. This helps growers sustainably intensify their production systems by improving the plant’s ability to uptake nutrients and respond to environmental stress.

Ceragen’s efforts directly contribute to SDG 7 affordable and clean energy, SDG 9 industry, innovation and infrastructure, SDG 12 responsible consumption and production, SDG 13 climate action and SDG 15 life on land.

Ceragen wants to maximize our positive environmental impact through our products. We’re very cognizant of the fact that a lot of biology labs traditionally produce a lot of waste, so we strive to minimize our environmental footprint generated by the research and development process.

ASHLEY STEGELMEIER (MSC '17), director of product development

Definity Financial Corporation (Definity)

At Definity, environmental sustainability is a top priority.

The property and casualty insurance company makes informed decisions to protect the environment. Co-op students play an active role in shaping a culture of sustainability at the organization. A recent Waterloo co-op student organized and led a sustainability-themed case competition for all the co-ops at Definity. The competition showed how helping clients and the community can build a better world.

The organization’s goal is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Some of the initiatives to achieve their goals include:

  • Monetary investments: More than $4.6 million invested for energy-efficiency focused office retrofits such as upgrades to lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation systems since 2019.
  • Product and service discounts: They offer discounts to incentivize customers to install backwater valves and sump pumps.
  • New measures and regulations: Definity is reducing paper consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with its investment portfolios.
  • Community involvement: The company engages industry groups, community organizations and other partners to support progress on climate change and other environmental issues. For example, they are members of Sustainable Waterloo Region that works to promote corporate climate action in the community.

Definity’s efforts directly contribute to SDG 7 affordable and clean energy, SDG 9 industry, innovation and infrastructure, SDG 11 sustainable cities and communities, SDG 12 responsible consumption and production, SDG 13 climate action and SDG 17 partnerships for the goals.

Definity recognizes the role we can play in reducing emissions to mitigate climate change and support Canadians and their businesses to be more resilient to the effects of our changing climate.

VICTORIA SALIM, campus and brand program manager at Definity

Roles sustainability-focused co-op students are taking on

Ayman Mahin Gostar

Environment and Business co-op student

With the effects of climate-related events becoming increasingly visible, for Ayman Gostar, sustainability can help contribute to a better future. Through co-op, Gostar has gained valuable experiences while working with talented individuals passionate about ESG. Gostar’s co-op roles include:

Gostar hopes to advance SDG 12 responsible consumption and production. 

Co-op has allowed me to work at organizations across countries, sizes and industries. I’ve learned that the sustainability field is experiencing significant growth and will be a crucial element for organizations in the present and future to drive progress and positive change. This has driven me to develop my career in the sustainability field.

Aymin Mahin Gostar, co-op student

Nigharika Senthil Kumar

Environment, Resources and Sustainability co-op student

Nigharika Senthil Kumar is drawn to the transformative power of education in developing countries. A member of Waterloo’s SDG Impact Alliance, her co-op experiences have played a crucial role in shaping her decision to pursue sustainability in her future roles upon graduation. Senthil Kumar’s co-op roles include:

Senthil Kumar hopes to advance SDG 4 quality education and SDG 7 affordable and clean energy.

Co-op has provided me with practical insights, hands-on experience, and a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in this field, affirming my desire to pursue a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of others. 

Nigharika Senthil Kumar, co-op student

Waterloo co-op students and employers champion sustainability