Hiring for change: tips for implementing sustainable practices through co-op

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Two co-op students walking and engaging in a greenscape setting

By: Micaela Kelly (she/her)

As we head into 2023, climate change, social unease and economic instability are issues that may affect all businesses and their bottom lines. Prioritizing sustainability and developing eco-efficient systems can be challenging. However, these systems can help manage economic influx and create a great social impact.

Are you looking to help your organization advance sustainable initiatives?

There are many ways organizations can pursue projects and initiatives to help create stability for the future. Here are four tips to help implement sustainable practices through hiring co-op students:

1.    Hire for a specific project

Icon of a project document and green leavesHire a co-op student to manage and implement a specific sustainability-related project. For example, completing an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) annual report or implementing a community-focused event or fundraiser. Ishani Gupta was hired as a sustainability analyst by Liberty Mutual to complete their annual ESG report.

Students can dedicate their time and resources to your project and see it through from inception to implementation. You may qualify for Mitacs project funding to help subsidize up to 50 per cent of a co-op student salary.

Don’t have office space? Don’t worry, co-op students learn self-management skills and are able to work virtually. Most have grown up using technology from birth!

2.    Hire for continuous improvement

icon of a light bulb and circle of arrows around itConsider a position dedicated to implementing sustainable practices in your organization and hire continuously. When dedicating a position to continuous improvement, you reduce the chance of a project being stalled or put on hold due to lack of personnel resources.

Co-op students have experience in creating transition plans to ensure projects continuously progress and do not lose momentum between work terms. When considering this option, keep in mind there are many funding opportunities to help subsidize a portion of student salaries.

3.    Focus on sustainability impact

icon of a planet with a heartOur research, using data from a work term activity and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), shows students are most engaged when making an impact on specific sustainability challenges. The SDGs are 17 goals for all countries, both developing and developed, to align priorities and make a better planet for all.

The goals that students self-reported that their work had the greatest impact and engagement on were clean energy (SDG 7), sustainable land use in urban centres (SDG 11), and responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).

In addition, research shows that Gen Z is looking to help others and make a positive impact through their work. By providing emerging talent with opportunities to address current and pressing needs, like sustainability, co-op students will see value in their work while advancing your organization’s core business needs.

4.    Discuss sustainability regularly

icond of a conversation between two peopleData from our recent pilot study shows that awareness of sustainability issues increases significantly with ongoing discussions between supervisors and co-op students. With regular discussion, students are motivated to address sustainability challenges and look for opportunities to do so through both their work and studies.

Your organization can benefit from these conversations in many ways. Discussions can lead to students developing and implementing new strategies, practices or initiatives for sustainability. By adding sustainability discussions to the workplace, students can help find efficiencies that may otherwise be missed and incorporate sustainability considerations into long term planning.

See how organizations advance SDGs through co-op

Corporate social responsibility is essential for brand management. Let co-op students help by participating in your sustainability initiatives or helping to lead them! 

Doctor holding a phone at his chestWaterloo student’s experience and technical skills help growing health-care startups

Empowering patients to make informed health decisions inspired the mother-daughter combo, Jessica and Jordan Lunshof, to create a health management platform called TAMVOES and to launch a company called TAMCARE Home Health.

People mingling in an office building OMERS and Oxford Properties invests in future talent that aligns with their values

OMERS and Oxford Properties embrace co-op students for their curiosity — which fuels innovation and brings fresh ideas. Students work on meaningful projects and gain experience across all departments.

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