Be prepared: research allows a candidate to probe beyond what is in the public domain © Getty Images

The writer is Diageo professor in organisation studies, Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge

With growing interest in purpose-driven work, MBA graduates are increasingly quizzing potential employers rather than just answering their questions. We offer suggestions on what they should consider regarding a company’s sustainability policies.

Why should MBAs care about sustainability in future employment?

Long-term job satisfaction and security

Academic research shows that, when companies prioritise sustainability, they can better adapt to changes in the business environment, securing their long-term financial performance, and providing greater job security. A commitment to sustainability showcases their dedication to lasting resilience, which boosts employees’ confidence in their future. A greater focus on employee wellbeing leads to higher job satisfaction, reduced burnout, and a more harmonious workplace. When employees feel valued and supported, they become more engaged, productive and committed to an organisation’s success.

Shared values

For those who value sustainability, aligning with organisations committed to making a positive impact on the environment and society enhances the meaning they derive from work. When considering a new job, most workers take a prospective employer’s values into account. With commitment to sustainability on the rise, those who align with their employers are much more likely to be exposed to new opportunities within a company, and employers will benefit from a workforce with shared values and aspirations.

Professional development and career options

Sustainability presents an opportunity for graduates to carve out new career pathways and bolster professional development. It requires contributions from all functional roles as regulations and disclosure evolve, and as opportunities for innovation and new business models arise. Graduates possess skills that enable them to foster collaboration, break down silos, drive change, and adeptly manage business risks. By leveraging their expertise, MBAs can play a pivotal role in propelling sustainable practices and position themselves at the forefront of this era.

How to become more informed about sustainability credentials

Every good interview starts with preparation. Research the organisation’s progress reported in the public domain. This allows interview time to be used more effectively to ask bolder, more inquiring questions to probe beyond what is publicly available.

Explore an organisation’s relative strengths and weaknesses in their sustainability strategy, goals and targets, commitments and measured progress. For example, the Embedding Project has a Sustainability Goals Database reviewing 15,000 goals at more than 1,300 companies, and criteria for assessing commitments. The Carbon Disclosure Project runs a global disclosure system for environmental impacts.

What questions should MBAs ask their future employers?

Incorporating sustainability into an organisation’s business model works best when done holistically across its operations. Based on the conviction that sustainability can and should be present within, and cross-cut, all business functions, the following 12 questions can be used as starting points to scrutinise extent and reach.

Strategy and decision making

  • What are the company’s long-term strategic sustainability goals, and how are they set, communicated, cascaded and measured across functions?

  • Is sustainability embedded in decision making at every level of the organisation, and if so, how does this happen in practice?

Operations and value chain

  • How do you consider, evaluate and prioritise sustainability impacts across the value chain? Do you use environmental or socially focused lifecycle assessments or other formal tools?

  • Can you share specific instances or collaborations where your organisation has taken steps to foster sustainability in the value chain, partnering with suppliers, competitors, associations, non-profits or customers?

Pay and people

  • How is remuneration structured to incentivise senior management and employees to further sustainability objectives?

  • What forms of education and training are available to promote employee learning and development, awareness of responsible consumption and sharing knowledge to foster systemic change?

Innovation and technology

  • How have long-term sustainability strategies led to new business models and revenue streams? Could you give examples of new products or services that directly support sustainability targets of the organisation or its partners or customers?

Finance and accounting

  • Does the company develop, use or access any sustainability-related funding, such as green, blue, or social bonds, sustainability-linked loans or government subsidies, and how are these used?

  • How is the finance function incorporating non-financial, sustainability-driven data and metrics into forecasting and reporting? How is this leading to new or different decisions or actions?

Marketing and communication

  • How is marketing driving consumer awareness and action around the organisation’s sustainability strategy, products and services, and how is this contributing to the evolution of your core offerings?


  • What decision-making structures and processes at board level support and challenge the sustainability strategy and actions?

  • For organisations that have worked with voluntary frameworks — such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or in partnerships with relevant industry associations or non-profits — how have specific initiatives moved them forward? Where do you see further developments?

An interviewer may not know the answers to all these questions, but asking them will prompt leaders within the organisation to reflect on the reach and ambition of its sustainability integration. Only by recognising that MBA graduates and employers alike must raise the bar will we collectively shape the resilient organisations needed to tackle the world’s challenges.

Joanne Tilley, strategy and sustainability consultant at Investec and Cambridge Judge Business School MBA graduate, and Priya Saikumar, doctoral student and ESG consultant and Cambridge Judge Business School MBA graduate, contributed to this article

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