Most people want to work in jobs that have a positive impact on the world

A new poll from hiring platform Indeed suggests that people now consider working in jobs that positively impact society (57 percent) and the environment (55 percent) more important than they did when they started their careers. Just over a quarter (26 percent) say they would take a pay cut and 44 percent would consider retraining to enter the environmental sustainability sector. The survey of more than 1,000 workers and job seekers and 500 employers in the UK, highlights the ongoing green skills challenge. Despite the clear appetite for sustainability-related jobs among working people, 42 percent believe there are still too many barriers to entry. More than a quarter (27 percent) have been trying to transition to the sector but have been unsuccessful so far.

Location is a key barrier to applying for sustainability jobs, with 42 percent saying where they live significantly holds them back. Those in the West Midlands are more likely to feel this (47 percent), while those in the South East of England feel best placed to secure a sustainability-related role with only a third (33 percent) saying their location is a barrier.

Pay is another factor deterring job seekers. 1 in 5 respondents feel that there aren’t enough paid positions to apply for, while more than half (52 percent) believe that ESG or sustainability roles are predominantly volunteer-based or fundraiser roles. Even when there are paid positions, a third (33 percent) say that inadequate pay puts them off applying.

Despite challenges with pay, just over a quarter of respondents say they would take a salary cut for a job that contributes to sustainability initiatives. Yet there are generational differences with willingness, with 42 percent of 18-24 year-olds prepared to take a pay cut, compared to only 23 percent of 35-44 year-olds, and even less for 45-54 year-olds (18 percent).

Employers and jobseekers alike are wary of greenwashing. 1 in 5 jobseekers are put off applying for sustainability jobs due to an employer’s sustainability credentials not matching claims. Equally, 1 in 5 (20 percent) of employers say the fear of being perceived to be greenwashing is a barrier to recruitment in this sector.


Misalignment between employers and jobseekers 

The data shows a disconnect between employers’ and job seekers’ perceptions regarding the prevalence of sustainability skills. Almost a third (29 percent) of employers say there is a lack of candidates with the right skills, and while 25 percent of workers and job seekers say they don’t have the right qualifications (such as a scientific degree) for many of the roles, 44 percent feel employers are not open enough to transferable skills.

Over a fifth (22 percent) of employers believe that having better support systems for onboarding skilled workers from other industries could effectively address the recruitment challenges in sustainability-related positions. While employees think sustainability education should start early: with 63 percent agreeing more should be done to encourage young people into environmental or sustainability jobs.

Regardless of this misalignment, of the respondents currently trying to transition to a sustainability role, more have been successful (32 percent) than unsuccessful (27 percent). However, younger applicants are finding it more difficult with 35 percent 18-24 and 25-34 year-olds reporting their attempt to transition has been so far unsuccessful compared to only 19 percent of 45+ year-olds.


Growing confidence in sustainability jobs but intervention is needed 

There’s a promising future for ESG-related jobs as, according to ONS data, employment for these roles rose 8.4 percent higher in 2022 than originally estimated in 2021. Indeed’s survey was equally optimistic, with almost half (48 percent) of working people feeling more roles will become available in environmental sustainability following new EU legislation dictating business metrics around sustainability.

Although there are an estimated 639,400 green jobs in the UK, reflecting the three-quarters (76 percent) of British businesses surveyed that said they have a sustainability department or point of contact in their organisation, almost half of the businesses that don’t have a sustainability function say they don’t plan to set one up; more needs to be done to truly make a positive impact on climate change.

“With the increasing pressures of climate change, it’s encouraging to see there is a growing interest in sustainability-related jobs from both employers and job seekers in the UK. On the Indeed platform, there has been a 116 percent increase in ESG/sustainability-related job postings between 2019 and 2024, highlighting a greater commitment to sustainable business practices. This shift is reflective of the growing societal, investor, and regulatory expectations” comments Jack Kennedy, Senior Economist at Indeed. “In order to take full advantage of this momentum and effectively fill these roles, more education, investment and incentives are needed to support job seekers and employers throughout the recruitment process. Employers need to be open-minded to transferable skills and remote working, it would open more doors for more people to enter this sector. Ultimately, this will not only meet the needs of the growing job market but also strengthen the UK’s efforts towards Net Zero.”