Students See Potential Employers’ Social Conscience as Admirable, But Not Always a Deciding Factor

Future Energy Industry Workers Weigh the Options in University of Houston Survey

students in lab
University students have a lot to think about when it comes to launching their careers. Many hoping to join the energy industry must contrast the potential adventures of working at young companies dedicated to exploring renewable forms of energy against the familiar advantages of established jobs in traditional parts of the industry. The quandary is likely to grow more significant in years to come.

When the time comes to pick the job that will launch their career in the energy industry, 38.6% of a sample group of University of Houston students said they will favor companies committed to improving social and environmental challenges – even if that choice requires a sacrifice in salary.

That finding is one key aspect in a survey released today by UH Energy and the UH Hobby School of Public Affairs. The report, “Environmental Stewardship and Employment Choices in Energy: Evidence from a Survey of University of Houston Students,” presents responses from current students preparing for careers in the energy workforce. Survey questions focused on potential employers’ stances on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) practices and the influence ESG stewardship has on respondents’ future employment decisions.

“While the survey indicates many students would prefer to start their career with companies that are noted for good corporate citizenship, it also shows such opinions are far from universal,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, UH's chief energy officer. 

“The survey also gives a picture of students’ opinions on climate change, the environment and preferences for working at renewable energy companies over natural gas or oil employers, and it takes a deep look at how demographics explain variations in the importance of ESG stewardship practices,” said Gail Buttorff, director of the Survey Research Institute at the Hobby School. It also presents a set of comparisons, in which respondents were asked to choose among hypothetical jobs – each with different starting salaries, industries and levels of ESG stewardship – to determine their points of compromise.

By the Numbers

While all survey respondents stated preferences for high salaries (not a surprise), 38.6% said they would compromise on the money for an opportunity at a company that prioritizes ESG stewardship. A majority said they leaned toward renewable energy companies over natural gas (by about 12 percentage points) or oil (by 18 percentage points) companies in identifying potential employers. A majority of 68.4% favored leaders in ESG practices; only 28.3% of survey participants wanted to consider an offer from a company that did not meet minimum standards.

Among all participants, two of the survey’s ethical and environmental standards were ranked as either important or very important by 80% of respondents (ethical standards for products) and 77% (fair procurement practices). More than 70% of female respondents ranked all of the survey’s ethical and environmental attributes as important or very important.

Across racial identities, representation within a potential employer’s workforce was identified as an important factor in weighing a job offer; 82% of Black, 81% of Hispanic, 73% of Asian, 71% of two or more and “other races,” and 60% of white respondents were in agreement.

Ideology played a role in respondents’ likelihood to consider ethical and environmental practices as factors when making employment decisions; 77% of the survey’s liberals viewed a company’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as an important factor compared to 68% of moderates and 52% of conservatives.

Concerning the environment in general: A large majority (96%) of all survey respondents said they believe climate change is real. Sorted according to political ideology, that represents 99% of the survey’s liberal respondents, 97% of its moderates and 85% of its conservatives agreeing climate change is happening.

“An interesting aspect of the survey is that respondents seemed to believe their friends and peers are less serious about the environment than they are. Eleven percent of respondents described themselves as extremely concerned, but fewer than 5% viewed others as sharing the same level of worry,” said Pablo Pinto, director of the Center for Public Policy at the Hobby School. The same gap was noted in a similar Hobby School of Public Affairs survey in 2018.

In a close majority, 57% of respondents attributed climate change to both human and natural environmental changes, with differences noted among students’ gender, political ideology and field of study. Business management and administration majors were less likely to be concerned about the environment compared to students studying natural sciences, engineering and social science. More men than women, and more conservatives than liberals said they had no worries about the environment.

About the Survey

The survey results were based on 1,068 responses gathered between March 7 to April 22 from University of Houston.

Click here for the complete report on the “Environmental Stewardship and Employment Choices in Energy: Evidence from a Survey of University of Houston Students” survey.