Driving the green agenda

Written by: Maud Hollis is consultant – executive search practice at Tile Hill
Published on: 11 Jan 2024

As the New Year rolls in, it’s all about setting big goals, not only for individuals but also for organisations. With that spirit in mind this is an ideal time for local authorities to re-focus on their green agenda and understand the vital role recruitment and retention strategies have to play in reaching those environmental objectives.

A lot of great work is already underway and the recent achievement of B Corp status by Treveth Homes in Cornwall, with whom we  at Tile Hill have collaborated extensively, is a significant milestone. This prestigious certification underscores the Cornwall Council’s dedication to high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. It stands as an example of the progressive and impactful work being carried out and sets a benchmark for sustainable and responsible practices in both the public sector and private sectors.

However, success stories such as these should not obscure the wider picture. The fact remains that UK councils face a significant challenge balancing limited budgets and the need to prioritise essential services such as social care against the long-term investments in sustainability necessary for achieving net zero targets. With reduced levels of government funding over the past decade, the goal of net zero has been made increasingly difficult to accommodate within the wider demands.

Net zero requires substantial investment in green infrastructure and environmentally friendly policies that cut across all council services. Political landscapes can sometimes favour short-term challenges, which means the long-term investment in sustainability is put at risk to meet more immediate priorities. This inconsistency can disrupt longer-term environmental strategies and make it difficult for councils to commit to extensive sustainability plans amid what is often perceived as more pressing and immediate challenges.

Environmental sustainability is not just a political ambition. It is shared by many in society and those working in the public sector. Greatest traction in adopting policies that drive towards net zero and implementing innovative practices happens best when there is sponsorship from the top table. It needs to be seen as a priority alongside the other competing and obvious priorities. The question is, how do we effectively recruit individuals with the necessary skill set and knowledge to integrate environmental sustainability into all aspects of a council’s work?

This is particularly challenging when often senior roles are responsible for a broad spectrum of other council services. Experience has shown that candidates with a background in service delivery often outperform those who are exclusively experts in environmental sustainability. This is largely because the former are perceived as being more adept at managing operational aspects and meeting the short-term pressures on council services. Coupled to this, many sustainability specialists may not have extensive experience in large-scale service management or in local government itself. This raises a key question; can we find candidates who are able to integrate innovation seamlessly into service delivery?

Those candidates can be found if recruitment aligns with senior leadership’s commitment to sustainability, reflected in tailored job descriptions that emphasise sustainability and operational excellence. It also requires investing in professional development, fostering a culture of innovation, while encouraging collaboration and partnership building. Additionally, using assessment centres to evaluate candidates’ real-world sustainability integration skills, possibly with input from external sustainability experts, would also help keep sustainability front and centre when looking for talent.

Recruiters can also significantly contribute to helping councils achieve net zero goals by steering the supply chain towards sustainability. By endorsing remote work, flexible hours, and energy-efficient virtual interviews, alongside adopting paperless processes, we can actively participate in this endeavour.

Key to this approach is highlighting sustainability in job roles and assessing candidates’ commitment to environmental issues. Additionally, incentivising sustainable practices and providing green training can amplify our impact. By fostering a culture where suppliers are chosen for their environmental commitment, such as lower carbon emissions and sustainable practices, we will be able to collectively drive towards a greener future.

At the heart of realising these net zero ambitions lies the role of talent. Despite the challenge of stretched resources, good leadership, both political and within the council, can drive the required change forward, making what seems impossible possible.

A prime example of effective collaborative leadership is evident at Brighton and Hove City Council in their pursuit of their Carbon Neutral 2030 programme. Their initiatives encompass a broad spectrum, from targeted urban planning and housing policies to expansive city-wide strategies, all aimed at promoting sustainability and climate action.

Ultimately, the journey towards a greener future in local government hinges on a collective commitment to sustainability, where every policy, initiative, and individual plays a vital role. This commitment is bolstered when political and council leadership combine forces, setting a strong example for others to follow in the pursuit of a sustainable and net zero future.

Maud Hollis is consultant – executive search practice at Tile Hill