Attention: The New Currency

Many would agree that Western societies are immersed in cycles of production and consumption. There is no end to what can be marketed and sold; products, food or even intangible items such as information or ideas – contemporary society demands that everything is a commodity and as such must have a certain value assigned to it. The fact that we’re living in a digital age, coupled with an economy that thrives based on these cycles, the possibilities of what one can buy, eat, hear, see and so on is endless and in many ways exhaustive. The messages we choose to ‘download’ and focus our attention on has pegged human attention as a valuable resource. As businesses compete for visibility in an overcrowded marketplace, the value of collective attention can be considered almost priceless.

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If we consider attention in terms of scarcity, it is perhaps the most valuable market resource of the 21st century. Personally, it’s not often that I find a billboard that I pass on the train, or an obligatory 30-second advert on a YouTube video will resonate with me. I’m sure a lot of people have experienced similar feelings of ‘tuning out’, a perfectly normal response to avoiding sensory overload. While there seems to be no limit to the number of things that can demand our attention, on the flip side we only have so much to give – attention spans decreasing as humans get better and better at filtering the unimportant.

In a marketplace saturated by advertising, it is interesting to watch how profitability and sustainability begin to intersect. Businesses can no longer simply demand consumer attention, but now they must also earn it. A plus side of living in the information era is that there is now increased awareness across environmental and social issues, which has guided consumers to become smarter, more informed and more selective than ever before.

In fact, a study by Nielsen in 2016 showed 66% of respondents were willing to pay more for sustainable goods; a figure that has risen steadily for the past 5 years.

As supply chain transparency increases and brands with questionable practices come under fire, consumer attention is turning to those who are actively working to change their business functions to create positive social impact. Prevalent issues regarding animal cruelty or child labour within industries such as food manufacturing or textiles are being driven through multiple platforms and forums, exposing ethical concerns and bad business practices. This use of technology continues to increase, intuitively interacting with its users and highlighting information, so much so, that it could soon be used to hold people and businesses accountable if they are not adhering to sustainable and nurturing practices.

Perhaps the most empowering realisation is that choice can lie with the individual consumer. As a society, we are moving into a unique position where we can use our collective attention to support brands that are tripling the bottom line. By saving our most valuable resource, our attention, for the companies who are addressing environmental or social issues, we can play our part in pushing for positive systemic change. Digital expert Kevin Kelly states, “when there are millions of options out there, most of which can be found for free, choosing something you really want or better still “being found” is extremely valuable”.

Collaborative Consumption: Are we living in a Shareconomy?

Have you ever used a car-sharing service like Uber or Car Next Door? What about an experience with house swapping by staying in a stranger’s home through sites like Airbnb? Perhaps you have rented a bike to explore a new city, or hired a surfboard to test out your skills on the waves?

These are all common examples of how our economy is shifting towards sharing, as people find it financially beneficial to rent out their idle assets and others see no point in purchasing when it proves inexpensive to hire items as needed.

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Rachel Botsman notes that this form of collaborative consumption is the ‘reinvention of traditional market behaviours.’ The Share Economy fosters relationships between people for the purpose of exchange, powered by new technologies and online platforms. The ‘Peer-to-peer’ model of sharing goods and services is steadily gaining momentum, as individuals realise the benefits of increased flexibility and the opportunity for self-governance.

So, what does this have to do with the sustainability sector? An economy based around sharing decreases negative consumption habits. It paves the way for more sustainable use of underutilised resources with an emphasis placed on access rather than personal ownership. If we take the example of car-sharing, it has been estimated that for every car-share vehicle, car ownership is reduced by 9-13 vehicles*. Just a few benefits of this to our environment include lower production rates, less pollution, less congestion on the roads, lower petrol costs and positive shared experiences.

By allowing people access to ‘more’ while minimising waste, there is a real potential for a shared economy to become a tool for ecological transition.

While there is still undoubtedly many kinks to be ironed out in terms of maximising the positive impact of peer-to-peer lending, the core vision of this system surrounds disrupting the traditional social and economic structures around consumption, which could create a new and exciting pathway towards sustainability.


* Reference: Owyang, J Tran, C & Silva, C 2013 ‘A Market Definition Report: The Collaborative Economy,’ Altimeter Research

How to Make Difficult Decisions with Empathy

Life is full of difficult decisions and a career in recruitment certainly provides no exception. As an organisation that maintains focus on specialist areas where we can maximise our positive impact, Talent Nation is often dealing with decisions that are particularly hard to make. Defining who we are and who we want to be has allowed us to develop a framework on how we can act empathetically and stay true to our values when it comes to the crunch.

A common dilemma we find ourselves in is deciding which organisations we can work with. We take pride in having strong moral and ethical standpoints and we look to engage with clients that reflect this in their own business and people as we do. It may also be that by recruiting the best person for the role they require, we will aid their sustainability journey by helping them to build impact from within their organisation.

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There is a wonderful quote by Marie Poulin that says,

“You will be defined more by the clients you turn down than those you work with.”

This rings particularly true in the ‘for purpose’ space, as every role undertaken is done so with our B Corp certification commitments in mind. This means we must consider the environmental, social and economic impacts of our actions. It is unfortunately too easy in the recruitment industry and especially in a small business, to get weighed down by ‘short-termism’; in other words, making decisions based on the general short-term profits of a business. After all, there is a need to generate enough revenue to pay salaries, overheads, continue to do pro bono work and invest more into the progression of the business. While it can be stressful at times, it is important to have the ability to maintain a long-term view of profit which includes building a sustainable business with sustainable relationships and if need be, sacrificing the short-term comforts for long-term value.

A general framework we practice at Talent Nation emerged from our Managing Directors involvement with the Centre for Sustainability Leadership’s Future Leaders Program. We acknowledge the need to consider how we generate revenue for the business, but also reflect upon what positive interactions can take place between us, our clients and candidates. How the work we do affects our reputation is very important to us and we want to leave a lasting impact from the work we commit to for all the business’, the people involved and of course the planet.

As an industry that is all about people, it’s extremely valuable to be able to run a hiring process that is, at its core, human.

For us, this means having mutual respect and acting with empathy when dealing with candidates – putting ourselves in the shoes of those who will be affected by our decisions. If a candidate is not quite the right fit for our client then no one wins. When dealing with high impact and for-purpose roles, we are mindful of how we can maximise our efforts toward positive impact by placing someone with the skillset, cultural awareness and impressive history so they are fit to go above and beyond what is expected.

At Talent Nation, our core values underpin everything we do. We have had to walk away from taking on roles that compromise these values and this has taken much consideration and been particularly difficult for us. We are often having hard conversations with candidates who may have just missed the mark, as we try to support them through their disappointment. Overall, our goal is to communicate and have meaningful interactions whilst staying true to our values. Our mission, despite the industry’s hardships, is to make the recruitment process as positive as we can so that amazing possibilities are fulfilled for the good of our future planet.

Biofuel the Forgotten Renewable Energy, Report Says

Australia’s biofuel industry has the potential to add more than 8000 jobs and $1 billion a year in revenue to the economy despite being neglected for more than a decade.

Queensland University of Technology economists have outlined how Australia could lift its energy security by increasing the levels of locally-produced biofuels and bioproducts.  The first step was to grow our bioethanol and other biofuel industries, lead author Ian O’Hara said.

“Biofuels are the gateway to creating a bioeconomy, and biofuels production and consumption in Australia lags behind benchmark countries such as the United States and Brazil,” said Professor O’Hara, the principal research scientist at QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities.

Professor O’Hara said ethanol-blended (E10) petrol accounted for only 1.1 per cent of Australia’s  total petrol sales in 2015-16. Increasing that figure to 10 per cent could create more than 8600 direct and indirect jobs, attract $1.56 billion in investment and generate more than $1.1 billion in additional revenue a year in regional areas.

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The QUT study said other benefits of growing Australia’s bioeconomy included: a potential increase in farmers’ revenue from biomass-based industries to $11.4 billion a year by 2050, from $7.8 billion now; reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 8.9 million tonnes annually by increasing the use of biofuels by up to 10 per cent in both petrol and diesel; and improving the balance of trade by about $1 billion annually through substituting 10 per cent of our petrol imports with ethanol produced domestically.

Bioenergy Australia director Heather Bone said the industry in Australia had lagged other jurisdictions for a number of years, despite global consumption of biofuels as a proportion of all energy sitting at 10.4 per cent.

“Biofuels have been the forgotten renewable, it has been the ignored cousin of solar and wind,” Ms Bone told Fairfax Media. “The last 10 to 15 years, the industry in Australia has suffered from a lack of supportive policies or frameworks and risks emerged from policies that flip-flopped and moving goalposts.”

She said it could play a greater role in the current energy debate. “Biofuel should be front and centre under the National Energy Guarantee and the dispatchable energy debate as it is a renewable and dispatchable, which is unique compared to wind and solar,” Ms Bone said.

She added that Australia’s biofuel industry differed significantly from both the US and Europe’s industries and did not present a threat to food security like biofuel production in those regions.

“Our energy feedstock comes from waste streams, like from tallow and waste cooking oil instead of using corn – we’ve avoided the fuel versus food issues.”

There are currently only three commercial producers of bioethanol fuel in Australia.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) research forecasts the global demand for biofuels to triple by 2050 and expects it to reach around $US1.13 trillion in value by 2022, with the majority of this demand to be met through ethanol.

In January, Qantas carried out the world’s first biofuel-powered flight between the US and Australia, running on about 24 tonnes of blended biofuel made from non-food mustard seed oil.

Late last year, ARENA announced $11.9 million in funding for Ethanol Technologies (Ethtec) to build a biofuel demonstration facility to commercialise their technology. The facility, in Muswellbrook in the NSW Hunter Valley, is expected to produce about 270,000 litres of biofuel annually.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald