Net Impact was founded in 1993 with the belief that business could be about more than profit -- it could be a force for good. There are more ways than ever for graduating students to work in large corporations and make an impact. While you can work in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate citizenship departments, you can also find companies compatible with your values and contribute to sustainability initiatives in a mainstream business role.
This could be through daily work or activities such as participation in green teams or projects that support communities. For more information on a career in corporate responsibility, visit our For Profit Impact career profile.
This toolkit features tips and resources to help students better evaluate prospective corporate employers and job opportunities in order to determine where they can best make a positive impact.
Research Employers, Part I: Primary Sources
A significant amount of information is available directly from a company that can help job seekers learn about and evaluate a prospective employer’s sustainability practices. This includes:
As a starting point, job seekers can review the company’s mission. As a prospective employee, does this resonate with your values and goals to make an impact?
2. Key executives
Key executives play a significant role in shaping the culture of a business and the impact it makes. Accordingly, job seekers may find it useful to research the backgrounds of a prospective employer’s Board of Directors, senior executives, and other key leaders. Job seekers can also determine whether the company has a senior executive for sustainability or global ethics and compliance.
Research strategies include reviewing the company’s website, business publications, and articles or books written by company executives. Additionally, try to locate speeches or presentations from company leaders. How often does sustainability come up as a topic in these presentations? This factor can be very telling about a company’s priorities.
3. Annual reports
Many companies summarize their philosophy and action around sustainability in publications, such as an annual report or sustainability report. The latter may exist under a range of different names, such as “Global Citizenship Report” or “Corporate Sustainability Report.” Sources to find these reports include the company’s website and the Sustainability Disclosure Database (from the Global Reporting Initiative).
4. Charitable and community activities
A company’s philanthropic and community activities can serve as a tangible illustration of its impact. Job seekers can research the amount of charitable contributions made by a prospective employer (financial or in-kind) as well as the presence of policies that support employee charitable and community activities (such as employee volunteer days or a matching-funds program for employee donations). Sources to find this information include speaking with current employees, researching news sources, and reviewing the company’s website and annual sustainability reports.
5. Internal Sustainability Practices
A job seeker can also evaluate a prospective employer’s commitment to sustainability by its internal practices. Examples of such practices include supporting employees’ use of public transportation, having active recycling and compost programs, and implementing energy efficiency strategies in business operations. It may also be helpful to determine how widespread these practices are implemented across a company’s locations. Many of the research strategies listed for Charitable and Community Activities can be applied in this area.
Research Employers, Part II: External Sources
Reviewing information directly from a company can be helpful, but it’s important that job seekers also utilize third party sources as part of conducting due diligence on a prospective employer. This section outlines some of these external sources, such as rankings of corporate ethical and sustainability performance.
While useful, these external sources shouldn’t be viewed as the final word on a company’s sustainability practices. Just as consumers are cautioned to be mindful of “greenwashing,” job seekers should maintain a critical perspective on both third-party sources and company-produced information on sustainability.
1. Third-party rankings and ratings
There are a number of rankings and ratings that can assist job seekers in evaluating a prospective employer’s sustainability and ethical performance. For example, Newsweek has published an annual Green Rankings, in which it analyzed data from the largest 500 American companies, comparing their environmental footprint, corporate management, and transparency, in order to determine which are the most environmental-friendly. There are other sources as well -- including GoodGuide, which provides health, environmental, and society scores for thousands of consumer products.
2. Participation in sustainability trade groups
There are a growing number of business associations that promote sustainable practices in different industries. Job seekers can look at whether a prospective employer actively takes part in such organizations, as well as what impact has been made. One example is the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which promotes sustainability and responsible business practices in the apparel and footwear sectors.
3. Presence in SRI funds and indices
Socially responsible investment funds often have criteria for evaluating companies that could be consistent with how job seekers evaluate prospective employers (for example, see the criteria outlined by Neuberger Berman). Job seekers may therefore find it useful to determine whether a prospective employer stock (for public companies) is present in socially responsible investment funds or indices. To get started, see SocialFunds and the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.
Job seekers may also find it worthwhile to evaluate a company in comparison to its competition. How sustainable are the company’s practices and products in relation to its peers? Sources such as Hoovers can assist in identifying competitors.
Conducting independent research directly from a company and external sources is valuable, but asking questions is one of the most powerful tools a job seeker has at his or her disposal. Asking questions can be used to better understand the reality of sustainability at a company and the potential for impact in a prospective role.
This section contains a list of questions that job seekers can ask to different people, including:
- Your network – People in your network (e.g. friends, alumni, members of Net Impact) who are current or former employees can provide extremely valuable insight. They can be a source of honest feedback on a company’s sustainability philosophy and practices, which is critical to making an informed decision as a job seeker.
- Company representatives – The interview process (from initial on-campus information sessions to final offer negotiations) provides job seekers with a key opportunity to ask questions. In addition, the Net Impact Conference, local Net Impact chapter events, and other conferences and meetings are great ways to meet corporate representatives and inquire about a company’s sustainability priorities and culture.
When asking questions to company representatives, be mindful of how you may be perceived. For example, only asking sustainability-focused questions throughout the interview process may indicate that a candidate is not interested in other aspects of the job. Also, you should be mindful of who you are asking – specific questions may be better suited for certain people rather than others.
What are the company’s core values? Do employees find these reflected in their work?
How does the company measure its social or environmental impact?
How does the company define sustainability?
How does the company culture promote sustainability?
What progress has the company made in sustainability? Where do you think the company will be in five years?
Does the company’s sustainability practices vary by office location?
How does the company culture support employees with new ideas?
How does the company deal with bad news?
How has the company’s sustainability report resulted in new business opportunities or new evaluation tools for business units?
Can you describe a specific case in which a business unit collaborated directly with the sustainability or CSR team?
What are some of the company’s best environmental programs and practices?
What are the top business challenges this role will be addressing?
How is success measured for this role? Will sustainability metrics be factored into my evaluation?
Will this role have an opportunity to contribute to the company’s sustainability efforts? If so, how?
Note that these questions are intended as a guide; job seekers are encouraged to use these to spark ideas for other questions. Regardless of the specific questions asked, job seekers should strive to understand key issues related to the opportunity for impact in a prospective job, including:
- How sustainability is internalized at the company. Ideally, asking questions can provide a reality check to other information learned about a company’s sustainability practices.
- Potential for impact in the role. Working in a traditional role (e.g. marketing, finance) gives an employee the opportunity to have a direct impact on a company’s operations. Accordingly, job seekers should strive to understand the core functions of the prospective job and the opportunity to address sustainability in the business through it.
- Potential for impact beyond the role. Job seekers should seek to learn about the opportunities for intrapreneurship and the ability to make an impact beyond the formal definition of a potential job. Ideally, job seekers should discover the scope of community- and sustainability-focused programs that employees can participate in and how the company’s culture supports employee initiatives.
This page contains links to sources that can be used to search for an impact job and to research prospective employers.
1. Corporate Sustainability Rankings and Reports
- Ethisphere World's Most Ethical Companies
- The Companies With The Best CSR Reputations In The World In 2016
- GameChanges 500
- GRI Sustainability Disclosure Database
2. Product Ratings
3. Sustainability-Focused Business Associations
- American Sustainable Business Council
- B Corporation
- Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy
- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
- Sustainable Apparel Coalition
- Sustainable Packing Coalition
- US Climate Action Partnership
We’d like to thank Katie Kross (author of Profession and Purpose), Gary Klasen of Eaton, and Ted Howes for their helpful feedback on this publication. We are also grateful for the involvement of power management company Eaton as a sponsor of this toolkit. Please note that this is the first edition of this publication and we welcome your feedback, which can help shape future editions.