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min read

Why interns care about ESG — and why you should, too

A whopping 54% of Gen Zers would dodge a firm that doesn’t share their values

Generation Z is demanding corporate sustainability, and employers interested in filling their talent pipelines with top interns are listening. Firms should follow through on their sustainability commitments with ESG in mind.

“ESG” stands for:

1. Environmental: The environmental impact of corporate resource consumption. 
2. Social: How a firm treats stakeholders like employees, customers, and suppliers.
3. Governance: The organization’s ethics and transparency, including corporate disclosures and executive compensation.

Building your policies around ESG doesn’t just enhance your corporate sustainability (which is important to enterprise clients, employees, and your Board of Directors), it also catches the eye of top college students and graduates.

Your workforce is at stake

Image - Your workforce is at stake

Young professionals — who fill most internship positions — are choosing employers based on corporate morals. In fact, 54% of Gen Zers would turn down a firm that doesn’t share their values.

As a result, your company’s mission and purpose are vital to the intern value proposition. To attract and retain the right intern talent, your organization must meet ESG criteria in alignment with Gen Z’s core values. To engage this talent from the start, firms should revamp their intern programs with ESG in mind.

Interns and environmental health

Gen Z is certainly placing the responsibility for the health of the environment upon themselves. According to Deloitte’s Global Millennial and Gen Z Survey, this young cohort is:

• Recycling more.
• Increasing their use of public transportation.
• Changing their eating habits.
• Evolving their clothing purchases.
• Considering the environment when deciding how many children to have.

Gen Z is also limiting consumption, volunteering for community cleanups, and calling out greenwashing.

Furthermore, this cohort is expecting digital experiences. After seeing the positive environmental impact of working from home during the pandemic, Gen Z learned firsthand how technology can support sustainability. Now, this cohort won’t settle for less than hybrid jobs and virtual medical appointments.

Gen Z isn’t yet able to fight climate change from the decision-maker’s seat. To win over this cohort, firms must:

• Support the actions they are taking for the environment, including providing volunteer opportunities.
• Implement digital solutions that deliver services and facilitate collaboration with a lower environmental footprint.

Organizations that succeed in these efforts will draw in intern talent. 

Interns and social equity

Image - Interns and social equity

Like environmental well-being, social equity is important to Gen Z. As the most diverse generation in the United States historically, Gen Z looks for employers to meet criteria around social equity. In fact, 76% of this cohort think employers must address DEI, and 53% want to see increased diversity within C-suites.

When it comes to meeting social criteria at the intern level, supporting the search for temporary housing is one of the biggest opportunities employers have to attract college-age talent. Finding affordable housing in expensive markets is a huge challenge for today’s interns, especially minorities. 

Interns might struggle to meet strict landlord requirements, such as:

• Providing a guarantor who earns four times the monthly rent.
• Providing a guarantor with an annual income of more than $100,000.

To enable interns of all backgrounds to source housing, firms can provide home-finding support, stipends, lump sums, and other benefits that help young professionals participate.

Like housing assistance, community involvement shows social responsibility. Gen Z loves to give back, so letting interns engage with local initiatives related to your corporate purpose is a standout benefit that creates a positive employee experience

Another way organizations are improving employee experience (while also meeting diversity goals) is implementing long-term DEI strategies. For example, some businesses engage students down to the kindergarten level in underserved school districts. Such an initiative diversifies talent pipelines and reflects true dedication to social equity, which appeals to Gen Z candidates.

Interns and corporate governance

Corporate governance is as important to Gen Z as social equity and environmental stewardship. In fact, according to an Ernst & Young’s Center for Board Matters brief, Gen Zers “...stand up to corporations that they perceive as unfair, unjust or unethical.” 

A well-governed organization with a sustainable business model:

  • Manages risk: Providing Duty of Care for relocating interns is essential for risk management. Duty of Care is the moral obligation of employers to protect transferees during assignment and relocation from undue risks. Considering Duty of Care is essential because interns, especially relatively inexperienced ones, are at high risk of falling victim to leasing scams and violent crime. 

    To participate in your internship, interns might be relocating for the first time, and, if they’re cash strapped and unfamiliar with your office location, they might not know where to find safe housing or transportation. Moving becomes even more difficult if interns haven’t navigated competitive housing markets or unforeseen expenses before. That’s why ensuring Duty of Care safeguards your talent (and your firm) from risk. 
  • Partners with ethical companies: According to AIRINC Workforce Globalization’s 2022 Mobility Outlook Survey, “...the most common way Mobility [meets corporate sustainability objectives] is by partnering with vendors committed to environmentally and socially sustainable operations.” Good candidates for partnerships are transparent organizations with anti-corruption and anti-bribery practices.

    When it comes to interns, recommending ethical partners for home-finding, commuting, and other moving needs provides transparency, builds trust around your program, and fosters greater Duty of Care.
  • Pays fair wages: According to the American Psychological Association, 81% of Gen Zers cite money as their greatest stressor. This demographic has drifted into financial insecurity because 11% of them lost their service-sector jobs during the pandemic. In fact, Gen Z saw more job loss in 2020 than any other age cohort.

    Even in 2023, pay is still a major concern for Gen Z because inflation and student debt are at play. (Roughly 75% of Gen Zers owe $25,000-$50,000 for student loans.) Employers should account for these circumstances when designing internship programs.

To summarize, managing risk, partnering with ethical firms, and offering fair compensation are best practices of well-governed businesses.

What goes around comes around

Image - What goes around comes around

In conclusion, employers recruiting top interns are focusing on ESG, while firms that don’t align with Gen Z’s values are losing the top talent of this latest generation. 

Current environmental, social, and governance challenges are leaving plenty of room for firms to improve ESG within intern programs via:

• Volunteer opportunities to benefit the planet.
• Digital solutions and services.
• Housing assistance.
• Community involvement.
• Risk management in compliance with Duty of Care.
• Fair pay.
• Guidance about vetted providers on housing and transportation.

Employers that do right by people and planet aren’t just attracting and retaining intern talent, they’re strengthening their brand reputations and positioning themselves for the future.

Learn more about recruiting top interns, or schedule time to see Relocity's intern solutions in action.


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